Brave Golden Jackal Seen in Subarctic Russia for First Time Ever

A golden jackal has been spotted in subarctic Russia for the first time—far from the normal home of the species, according to a study.

The golden jackal (Canis aureus) is a wolf-like species belonging to the canid family, which includes domestic dogs, wolves, foxes and coyotes, among other animals.

The species is native to eastern Europe, southwest Asia, southern Asia and parts of southeast Asia. But the range of the golden jackal in Eurasia has undergone significant changes over the past few decades as the animal has moved into new territories.

The current distribution of the species in Russia, for example, is much larger than it was in the 20th century, when it was generally only found in a relatively narrow strip along the northeastern coast of the Black Sea, on the western coast of the Caspian Sea as far as the city of Makhachkala, and along some river valleys to the west of the Caspian Sea, according to the paper, published in the journal Polar Biology.

Now, the golden jackal is found across almost the entire North Caucasus region—located in southwestern Russia—from the Caspian Sea to the Sea of Azov, and continues to spread into some regions further north.

Prior to the latest study, individual golden jackals had been spotted much further north from the species' historical range. For example, an adult male jackal was shot in the Leningrad region of Russia in 2007, while an adult female was killed in the Moscow region in 2016.

Changes in Behavior

It is possible that the jackal that appeared in the Leningrad region in 2007 could have arrived from the neighboring Baltic state of Estonia to the west, where breeding pairs have been observed, although the first golden jackal encounter in that country was only reported in 2013.

Outside of Russia, the distribution of the golden jackal in mainland Europe has also been changing significantly, with the species making an appearance in locations where it had never been seen before.

"Even more incredible is how jackals are invading new areas of Europe. Now they have reached Finland and Norway," Konstantin Tirronen, an author of the study from the Institute of Biology Karelian Research Centre of the Russian Academy of Sciences, told Newsweek.

"But the northern areas of Europe are impossible to compare with Russian ones. [They are] absolutely different areas" when it comes to human activities, landscape transformation and the structures of ecosystems.

As for the jackal that is the subject of the latest study, a male of the species was legally trapped in the Arkhangelsk Region of northern Russia, on the outskirts of the village of Tsimola, on February 24, 2021.

The trap had been deployed by a hunter in order to catch wolves that been visiting the site of a local cattle farm.

Russian Subarctic

When the paper was sent for publication last year, this was the first time the golden jackal had been recorded in the Russian subarctic. The village of Tsimola lies even further north than the previous sighting in the Leningrad region, which occurred around 500 miles to the southwest.

According to the authors of the study, the region around Tsimola is agriculturally undeveloped, and far beyond the normal range of the species, not to mention very different to its usual environment. But where could this jackal have come from?

Genetic testing conducted by the researchers on the jackal specimen revealed close associations with populations from Europe and the Caucasus, located to the southwest and south respectively.

But Tirronen told Newsweek that it is not possible yet to answer the question of which population this particular jackal belonged to.

If the jackal came from the nearest breeding groups, which are located in Estonia, then the animal may have traveled more than 600 miles, Tirronen said. If it came from the Caucasus, it would have traveled potentially more than 1,100 miles.

In addition, Tirronen said: "It is not at all necessary that this individual has traveled all this way [by itself.] It may well be that they got there after a generation."

"To my mind this brave individual got there from the west but I cant say it for sure," he said, noting that further research would be needed to understand more about the jackal's origins.

The authors pose the question of how a relatively small carnivore like this could survive the harsh winter in this sparsely populated northern region of Russia.

"Deep snows, extreme cold, and large forested massifs were considered as factors limiting the spread of the jackal population to the north," the authors wrote in the study.

In December, the snow thickness was nearly 8 inches, and by March it had reached over 24 inches, making movement difficult for many animals, the authors said. In addition, the average monthly temperatures in December, January and February were lower than the long-term monthly average—coming in at around 15, 2, and -5 degrees Fahrenheit, respectively.

One reason the jackal may have been able to survive is the presence of the small cattle farm operating in the area, according to the authors.

The reason why jackals are being found further and further north, in places such as the Russian subarctic and Norway, is primarily the result of species expansion—when animals reach beyond their historical distribution—the authors said. Global climate change and the human transformation of ecosystems may be playing a role in this process.

But given the extreme climate of the Russian subarctic and the low level of animal husbandry or agriculture, the authors conclude that the golden jackal is unlikely to establish breeding populations in areas like the Arkhangelsk region.

A golden jackal
A file photo of a golden jackal. A golden jackal has been spotted for the first time in subarctic Russia, far from the normal range of the species, according to a study. iStock