A surprising finding brings the African golden jackal in the limelight and calls it what it truly is: a wolf.
Until recently it was believed that golden jackals, common to Eurasia, Africa and also the Middle East are one and the same. The Eurasian golden jackal and the African golden jackal in particular.
Also known as the common jackal and sometimes the reed wolf, the golden jackal common to the African continent was found to share more with the gray wolf than its Eurasian relative.
Golden jackals are highly adaptive animals. They are omnivorous and survive in the wide range of very different geographical locations, each with its specific climate, vegetation and perils. Since the discovery of the golden jackals dating back to almost 200 years ago, the newly found wolf has been hiding in plain sight under the denomination.
A new study published in the Current Biology journal dissipates the mystery as it specifically analyzed genetic markers and DNA sequences of what was known as the African golden jackal in comparison to those of related canids – Eurasian golden jackals, the gray wolf, the Ethiopian wolf and others.
Commonly sketched as a trickster in the folklore of the regions where it found a home, the African golden jackal tricked scientists until a study was published in 2012 stating that in fact the golden jackal of Africa is not related to the Eurasian golden jackal, but that it should be revised as a gray wolf subspecies.
At the time, Philippe Gaubert analyzed mitochondrial material of both species. Drawing on these findings, biologist Klaus-Peter Koepfli came to a similar conclusion after his analysis spanning 128 Canid species and 38 genetic markers. The species were scattered throughout North Africa, Eurasia, as well as Kenya.
“Evolutionary history is best verified through concordance among genetic markers from across the genome that are inherited maternally, paternally and bi-parentally and that evolve at different rates to capture different stages of divergence. Therefore, we wanted to test the conclusions of the two previous studies by adding data from the nuclear genome”,
stated Dr. Koepfli in an email sent to the Guardian.
And while the result strengthened the idea that the African golden jackal is closely related to the gray wolf, it did not support the thesis according to which it is a subspecies of gray wolf.
However, as it is was found that the last common ancestor that the Eurasian and the African golden jackals shared was 1 million years ago, Koepfli proposed that the wolf-jackal would receive a name of its own:
“We propose that the African golden jackal be re-named the African golden wolf and the scientific name be Canis anthus,” said Dr Koepfli.
The same name had been proposed almost two centuries ago when Frédéric Cuvier described the species.
Photo Credits: Guardian