“Am I a jackal? Am I a wolf? I am both and I am neither. What is my name?”
Apparently the African Golden Jackal is not the African Golden Jackal, but actually the African Golden Wolf, an entirely new species of wolf. A study anew tells us more about this, in an intriguing and quite convincing story about the African Golden Jackal’s identity crisis.
Research on the subject of dogs has not been light. And, yes, it does seem pretty strange that after such a massive amount of solid papers, we still don’t know all or much about our canine compadres. The Canis family is pretty extensive: from the fancy foxes, to mangy coyotes, from scary wolves, to domestic pooches, they’re all part of the same family tree.
But, according to tradition and folk tales, the jackals have always been the tricksters of this family. The prodigal sons which went off to explore the worlds of Asia and Africa. Really.
Now, theoretically, or up until now, there have been two species of golden jackals: the Eurasian golden jackal and the African golden jackal. Believed to have been separated just about a million years ago. That’s a lot of time to evolve separately. Apparently too much time.
In 2012, Montpellier University’s Philippe Gaubert postulated the theory that said that the African golden jackal, native to the eastern part of the continent, were not jackals, but a subspecies of the common grey wolf. In his paper, Gaubert said that the Eurasian golden jackal’s DNA was far too different for it to be considered of the same species.
Klaus-Peter Koepfli, a biologist from the Conservation Biology Institute of the Smithsonian, located in Fort Royal, Virginia, is the one with the new study. Aiming to further confirm the findings of Gaubert, he found completely different results, much to his surprise.
Using DNA samples of grey wolfs, domestic dogs, Eurasian jackals and African ones from different areas of the continent (in total 128 samples), he realized two main things. The first was that yes, as Gaubert said, the African and the Eurasian jackals have much too different a DNA to be of the same species. The second was that no, the African jackal was not a grey wolf subspecies, but an entirely new species of wolf.
Keopfli now advocates the renaming of the African golden jackal to the African golden wolf, or from Canis aureus to Canis anthus.
Gaubert himself has studied this new research, and, while he has praised the quality of the work, he says that there is still much work to be done to find out the exact solution to the dilemma.
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