Archive for March, 2016



12/03/2016

New predator sniffs out the Netherlands: golden jackal adds another chapter to its mysterious range expansion

By Arie Trouwborst (TLS)

In February 2016, Dutch researchers discovered unique footage captured by some of the automatic wildlife cameras – ‘camera traps’ – they had installed in the woods to study deer behaviour. Experts abroad confirmed the initial hunch that the animal in the pictures is a golden jackal (Canis aureus). Golden jackals are canids that howl like wolves but are as omnivorous as foxes, and in size are in between the latter two. The golden jackal is sometimes called the European coyote – and the coyote itself sometimes dubbed the American jackal. The ‘Dutch’ jackal was caught on camera in the extensive woodlands of the Veluwe area, which is part of the European Union’s protected area network Natura 2000.

Photo by Miha Krofel.

Photo by Miha Krofel.

Whereas it cannot be ruled out entirely that the jackal was released by humans or escaped from captivity, there is nothing to indicate this. The assumption, therefore, is that the animal walked into the country by itself. Indeed, the sighting concerned – however spectacular – it did not come as a complete surprise. Biologists have been documenting an impressive expansion of the golden jackal’s range in the last few decades, northward and westward from its traditional distribution in the southeast of Europe. The drivers of this expansion are not yet fully understood. Jackals have already been spotted as far north as the Baltic states and even Finland, as far west as Switzerland, and as far northwest as Denmark. Different sightings in the west of Germany in 2015 suggested it was a matter of time before the first jackal would be spotted in the low countries as well.

The recent camera trap images constitute the first confirmed record of a golden jackal in the Netherlands ever. Although it cannot be ruled out that jackals inhabited the Netherlands (very) long ago, there is no evidence to indicate they did. This makes the jackal’s visit different from the lone wolf (Canis lupus) that made a brief but exciting trip through the Netherlands last year. As discussed in a previous blog, wolves were part of the native fauna of the Netherlands until they were exterminated in the 19th century. The expected colonization of the Dutch countryside by wolves is therefore a proper comeback.

Given that the Netherlands constitute apparent terra incognita for golden jackals, the question arises how the species’ arrival should be appraised, and what government policy regarding the species would be most appropriate. This question has been faced in quite a few countries where jackals turned up beyond the species’ known historic range in recent years. In particular the question whether such animals are to be considered as an ‘alien species’ – whether invasive or not – has been a source of confusion. Such confusion is unnecessary. Widely accepted definitions agreed under international legal instruments (e.g., Convention on Biological Diversity, Bern Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats) make it quite clear that the term ‘alien species’ only encompasses creatures originating from introductions outside their regular range by man. Jackals that have arrived on their own feet should thus not be regarded as such, and are not subject to international commitments concerning the control or eradication of invasive alien species.

The legal status of the golden jackal in the national legislation of the many countries where jackals have been recorded varies considerably. However, current international legal obligations limit the freedom of countries to decide how they wish to deal with golden jackals, including recently arriving ones. In general terms, the Bern Convention requires European states to keep jackal populations out of danger. Moreover, in EU member states like the Netherlands, the Habitats Directive imposes distinct limitations on national policy and management options regarding the golden jackal, including in scenarios where jackals are spreading to areas without historic records of their presence. The species is listed as a ‘species of Community interest’ in Annex V of the Directive. As the jackals venture across the EU, the corresponding legal regime travels along with them. For EU member states, this entails that any killing of golden jackals must be compatible with the maintenance or achievement of a favourable conservation status. To ensure this, the species must be systematically monitored. National policies preventing golden jackals from settling down and aiming for the species’ eradication are incompatible with obligations under EU law.

 Meanwhile, we can take comfort from the notion that our camera-trapped jackal is probably still out there somewhere, trotting along, sniffing for edibles and eventually a mate to settle down with, and blissfully unaware of the legal issues it is raising.

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For more detailed discussion of the golden jackal’s European range expansion and the associated legal issues, see:

A. Trouwborst, M. Krofel & J.D.C. Linnell. 2015. Legal Implications of Range Expansions in a Terrestrial Carnivore: The Case of the Golden Jackal (Canis aureus) in Europe. 24 Biodiversity and Conservation 2593-2610

 

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