Back in the early 1800s the North African wolf was defined as a separate species, why did this wild canid get redefined as a golden jackal?

Back in 2015 genetic analysis prove conclusively that a strange looking type of golden jackal in North Africa was actually and African wolf. Genetic analysis shows that is descended around 75% from grey wolves, with the other 25% of it’s lineage coming from Ethiopian wolves.

However when first described by science back in the early 1800s it was recognised as a wolf. So what happened more than 200 years? it was not the first time that the someone had noticed significant differences from the golden jeckells of Europe to the African wolf.

There are a number of things that African wolves do. Golden jackals do not howl in the same way (their call is quite distinct), and African wolves can be heard howling across their range on occasion.

As an aside, it would appear that golden jackals are increasing their range into Western Europe-humans clearly need to become better at telling the difference between European wolves and golden jackals.

Golden wolves as they are often called, have been given the scientific name canis anthus. It should be noted that the morphology of golden wolves and golden jackals is extraordinary similar, it is very difficult to tell the difference on sight.

In Morocco little work has been done to understand the African wolves: to fill in the information that we otherwise would have gained had we understood what they were for the last 200 years. 

This makes the researchers work in Morocco very difficult. If the researcher comes up with an estimate for the number of African wolves living there, there is nothing to compare it to. We will not know if if they are being hunted to extinction or their population is growing.

One big advantage of studying wolves, is their howls. Wolves have a very distinctive howl, so playing a howl into the dark and listening to the response can give you a good idea of both numbers health and gender of the wolves in the area (something that cannot be done to the same extent with jackals).

The research carried out has largely been around the Ifrane National Park, over an area of about 330 miles they have discovered 10 wolf packs through howling and a further two through tracks.

As in many other places, there is a problem with blame. Wolves are blamed for any attack on sheep, and despite the fact that this part of Morocco has a significant problem with feral dogs (well documented as being a far bigger issue when it comes to attack on livestock) the locals always blamed the wolves.

Frankly what they’re called is irrelevant: the loss of golden wolves from this corner of Morocco would upset the ecosystem balance (as is standard when the loss of wolves occurs in any ecosystem around the world).

The hope is that this information and the draw of wolves will bring money and governmental recognition that will protect the park more effectively. The Barbary macaques that also inhabit the reserve already help in this regard though further recognition would be helpful. One of the most useful things about knowing that these are wolves and not golden jackals, is that this recognition can help get better methods to stop predation of the sheep

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