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Sunday, March 31, 2013

Golden Jackal survey in W. Estonia

BALTICA 2013, wildlife survey in W Estonia, 27th-29th of March 2013

In “President’s corner” of EUROPARC Nordic –Baltic Newsletter No.1:2013, Mrs. Kaja Lotman announced that in Matsalu National Park Reserve a golden jackal has been bagging.

The Estonian Television ERR, presented the news on 13th of March 2013: “Feral Animal Killed by Hunters Identified as Jackal” after Estonian Environment Information Center's expert Mr. Peep Männil analyzed the specimen in Tartu.
EUROPARC Federation represents and unites over than 440 protected areas and organizations from the 8 Nordic and Baltic countries. In 2012-2014, the presidency and secretariat of the Nordic-Baltic Section are hosted by the Estonian Environmental Board. 

Winter was nice in Matsalu National Park - snow and cold persisted for several months. Spring is now knocking on the door. However a couple of geese has been seen, tits and nuthatches are singing, woodpeckers are drumming and owls are hooting. Most surprising event has been bagging of a golden jackal (Canis aureus) by local hunters - we are far away from the known range of the species! Efforts are made to find out if it has been released by humans (and by whom) or if indeed the species has started to spread at an unusual speed in Europe,  Mrs Kaja concluded.
Matsalu National Park is situated in the western part of Estonia. A reserve was founded in 1957, mainly to protect nesting, moulting and migratory birds. Since 1976, Matsalu is included in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance (

Since 2003, Matsalu National Park, as the only park in the Baltic countries, holds a European Diploma for Protected Areas of the Council of Europe The diploma is awarded protected areas with outstanding scientific, cultural or aesthetic qualities.The areas must also be subject to a suitable conservation scheme, often in combination with a sustainable development programme.

Matsalu National Park (  area is about 48 610 hectare and it embraces Matsalu bay, around the delta also partly Väinameri, Kasari river lower course, wetlands of the bay and river, flooded Kasari river meadow, coastal grazing areas, wooded meadows and about 50 islets. The average depth of Matsalu bay is only 1,5 metres. Almost 6500 hectares of semi-natural landscapes are maintained by local people and 5368 ha is traditional farmlands.

Altogether Matsalu has registered ca. 280 bird, 49 fish, 47 mammal and 772 vascular plant species. The eastern Atlantic migration route runs along the western Estonian coast, which means that millions of migratory birds follow this route on their way from western Europe to breed in Arctic regions. Many of these birds stop on our coast for quite some time.

During the spring time over two million of water fowls migrate through Matsalu, this includes 10 000-20 000 small swans, 10 000 Scaup Ducks and Whistlers, numerous Tufted Ducks and Goosanders. On the coastal pasture lands up to 20 000 Barnacle Geese, over 10 000 Geese and thousands of Waders come for resting. Numerous migrating birds are Long-Tailed Ducks (up to 1,6 million), most of them stay in Väinameri. During the autumn almost 300 000 water fowls migrate Matsalu area. The wetland is well-known as one of the biggest resting sites in Europe for Cranes, up to 21 000 specimen.
On this beautiful landscape, an area of more than 3000 ha reed-bed covers the western part of the Kasari River delta and eastern part of Matsalu Bay. Coastal grasslands are widespread, boreonemoral grasslands, alvars, juniper scrubs are found in higher areas. Fields and grazing lands surround small hamlets. Mixed oak forest, sparse minerotrophic mobile water swamp forests, and march birch forests include patches of wooded meadows. Broad-leaved forest grows at the foot of Salevere Salumägi (Leito et al, 2008).
In this Landscape only two spots are higher: Kirbla Hill (33m) and Salevere Salumägi (23m).

Jackals in West Estonia

By Ovidiu C. Banea
Environmental Ecologist MSc, Ecology Department of Crispus NGO Sibiu, Romania


Autumn 2011, a lady from Salevere region assured that she heard a group of animals screaming very rare and she didn’t know what kind of noises were. Now, after she heard jackals on our broadcast devices she found that the noise she heard two years ago are the same.  Different people also reported other sightings as canid cubs being found in a boat near the bay or last of them, like three medium-sized animals were seen on the road.

Winter 2011-2012, Liisi Laos, wildlife researcher in Peep Männil team, during herbivorous game species snow track survey, identified parallel snow tracks of more than 4 individuals in the area of Salevere, which cannot be related to jackal correlatives as foxes or wolves. As is well known jackal group tracks are not in the line as for wolves and also the size of the group it couldn´t be related as being fox group.

Liisi Laos and Peep Männil

February 2013, a jackal seems that it was bagging by two hunting dogs. Soon the hunter announced the authorities of Matsalu National Park Reserve and specimen was send to Tartu to be analyzed.

11th of March 2013, a message from PhD Magda Sindičić DVM, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine University of Zagreb was resend after 6 minutes to me and Miha Krofel by MSc Environmental Ecologist Ivana SELANEC, our colleague from Golden Jackal Informal Study Group in Europe in Croatia (

27th-29th of March, BALTICA 2013

After several discussions with Peep Männil and Alex Lotman, we decided to perform a survey in the area of Kasari River, Matsalu NP Reserve and south terrestrial part of the bay, based on bioacustic stimulation and also to analyze the carcass of the harvested specimen. We set 19 calling stations covering about 20km from the sea coast and we performed snow track survey after analyses of the landscape and topographic features.

Matsalu National Park Reserve, old map

An important ecological network analysis related to species suitable to interaction with jackal species in this wonderful protected area was conducted together with Mrs Kaja Lotman on the field during 28th of March and also during the night, when second half of points were installed. Interesting phenomena was discussed most on Cormorants and also Racoon dogs, both species being affected by human activities, particularly hunting. Red foxes, small game ungulates and bird communities also could have direct interactions with jackals.

In Estonia, a number of 13700 breeding pair were counted in 2009 with 2000 more than in 2006 (Population Development of Baltic Bird Species: Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo sinensis) Shooting of Cormorants was started in 1997, but the bag remained low in all years, reaching a maximum of 707 in 2009. The total number of Cormorants shot in the Baltic Sea area is in the range of 10 000-20 000 birds annually and should not affect significantly the population development.

Racoon dog, threats to native fauna (Kauhala and Kowalczyk, 2011)

Racoon dog (Nyctereus procyonoides) distribution map and year map when first reported

Raccoon dogs were found all over Estonia in the 1950s (Lavrov, 1971). Their numbers remained low however, because of numerous wolves Canis lupus and  lynx Lynx lynx, the natural enemies of raccoon dogs. An important factor behind the raccoon dog’s success is the very high plasticity of the species. They are true omnivores and eat anything they can catch (Sutor et al., 2010). In Białowieża Forest, the index of food niche breadth for raccoon dogs was 6.25, nearly twice as high as in the next species with the widest niche – the red fox (3.77; Jędrzejewska and Jędrzejewski, 1998). Frogs, lizards, invertebrates and birds are also frequently consumed (e.g., Barbu, 1972; Jędrzejewska and Jędrzejewski, 1998; Sutor et al., 2010). Raccoon dogs eat berries and fruit, especially in late summer and autumn because they serve as an important food source when raccoon dogs fatten themselves before entering winter dormancy (e.g., Nasimovič and Isakov, 1985; Kauhala  et al., 1993a; Kauhala, 2009; Sutor et al., 2010).

The successful expansion of raccoon dogs in Europe was also possible due to the secretiveness of the species and low persecution at the beginning of invasion. Raccoon dogs are nocturnal animals, utilizing mainly wet habitats covered with dense vegetation and showing  inactivity in winter.
A predator removal study in Finland indicated, however, that raccoon dog removal might have had some effect on the breeding success of ducks (Väänänen  et al., 2007), but the change was not significant. Furthermore, chick production of, for example, mallards Anas platyrhynchos and coots Fulica atra, increased at first but then declined after the second year of raccoon dog removal. This happened simultaneously with the decline in the raccoon dog index. These results resemble those of the predator removal study described above and probably relate to the interactions between different predators. On the other hand, when different areas were compared there was a negative relationship between the breeding success of mallards and raccoon dog abundance index, so more research is needed on this topic in order to understand these contradictory outcomes.

Competition of Racoon dog with native carnivores
According to Sidorovich et al. (2000) raccoon dogs compete with native carnivores for carcasses in Belarus in late winter. This competition can be so severe that the increasing raccoon dog population appears to have caused a decline in native carnivore populations, including the red fox, brown bear Ursus arctos and pine marten. The polecat Mustela putorius has probably suffered most from competition with raccoon dogs (Sidorovich et al., 2000). This information is, however, based only on correlative data and firm evidence is lacking. However, in Białowieża Forest, the rate of food niche overlap was very high (59%) among raccoon dogs and polecats in spring and autumn (Jędrzejewska and Jędrzejewski, 1998). The polecat population has also decreased in Finland during recent decades. The probable reasons for this include habitat changes and competition with other carnivores (Liukko et al., 2010).
In northern Europe, the red fox and the badger might compete directly or indirectly with raccoon dogs for food, habitats or den sites. Correlative data from Finland showed that when raccoon dogs were heavily hunted and their population decreased, the fox population started to increase (Kauhala, 2004). This may be a coincidence, but it can also indicate that raccoon dogs and red foxes compete for some resources in Finland. In southern Finland, there was some overlap in the diet of raccoon dogs, badgers and foxes but differences also existed: the badger consumed more invertebrates and the fox more mammals and birds than the raccoon dog (Kauhala et al., 1998a). Furthermore, female foxes in Finland have become more carnivorous after the arrival of the raccoon dog, as revealed by a study on dental morphology (Viranta and Kauhala, 2011). This case of character displacement points to the conclusion that foxes and raccoon dogs have competed for food resources in Finland.

Red Fox Vulpes vulpes, near Tallinn

The success of the raccoon dog invasion in Europe was enabled thanks to an exceptional combination of factors including: widely distributed and multiple introductions, great migratory ability and the high reproductive capacity of the species, plasticity of food habits, hibernation in areas where climate is harsh and its general adaptability to different climatic and environmental conditions, and the admixture of individuals from divergent matrix lineages (e.g., Lavrov, 1971; Helle and Kauhala, 1995; Kauhala 1996a, 1996b; Kauhala et al., 2007, Kowalczyk et al. 2008, 2009; Pitra et al., 2010; Sutor et al., 2010). Few projects have been conducted in Europe on the ecology of the species, so little is still known on the impact of raccoon dogs on native fauna. It seems that in many areas raccoon dogs fit very well into the local communities and successfully coexist with native medium-sized carnivores. Locally, the raccoon dog may be an important threat to populations of waterfowl and amphibians. In protected areas, intensive and long-term control should be conducted to preserve local fauna. The raccoon dog is a very important vector of rabies, sarcoptic mange, trichinellosis and Echinococcus multilocularis. This is no doubt the most severe consequence of the colonization of this alien species in Europe. Since it is continuing its expansion as well as increasing in numbers in some areas where the population has been established, control measures against rabies must be reviewed.

Ecology of the golden jackal species

Matsalu National Park Reserve, Penijoe

Penijoe, snowtrack survey

Few studies were done in different countries from Europe on jackal distribution and densities in specific areas. Diet composition studies were performed recently in Greece, Serbia, Turkey and Israel (Giann atos et al. 2005, Cirovic 2011, pers. comm.). Overlapping of the jackal trophic niche and foxes was also studied in Hungary (Lansk i and Heltai 2002, Lansk i et al. 2006). In Pench Tiger Reserve, Madhya Pradesh, India, has been studied the temporal activity patterns of the Golden Jackal Canis aureus and the Jungle Cat Felis chatus (Majmuder et al. 2011). In a stomach content of a Canis aureus young female, shot in August 2011 in Alba County, we found more than 98% of corn Zea mays. In Bulgaria, stomach content analysis identified Ulmus and Querqus sp leaves, Gramineae, fruits of Smilax excelsa, (Atanasov 1953). Another analysis of stomach contents of 10 jackals showed: 2 stomachs full of grapes, one with pig ears probably from a beat waste, 2 were full of plums, 2 had remains of sheep, but not being able to be recognized and 3 had feathers and bones of poultry (Genov, Wass ilev 1989). These facts motivate to study jackal diet for different seasons and in different habitat types.
Interspecific relations and food habits studies have to be continued with the aim to define the jackal importance in their specific ecological systems, as spreading and reproduction of plants, control of increased rodents’ populations, role of scavenger, etc. and do not overestimate their predation habit on livestock and small game species.
It is assumed that where all vegetation layers are present, as for example at the edge of a woodland, or in open-woodland habitat, species diversity will be high, (Gilb ertson et al. 1985), with increased mesopredators occurrence along habitat edges and small forest fragments (Cervinka et al. 2011). Thus the cumulative predation pressure on prey species (e.g. reptiles, birds, small mammals) should be monitored and/or controlled to maintain high biodiversity in these types of habitat where also many of carnivore species are present.
Landscape ecology has to be part of future studies of golden jackal expansion to focus on the relations between anthropic effects of the land use, presence of settlements and lakes or lowland streams. Intensive and extensive agriculture could also modify the number of individuals differently (e.g. by using of pesticides and reducing rodents’ populations - one of the most important diet components for jackals). The other effect on biology diversity and jackal movements can be monitored through the modern techniques as continuous video and photo trapping, stomach content analysis or telemetry. It is necessary for maintaining this species, for its stabilization, but mainly for landscape management that would be friendly to this species and other wildlife.
For the European jackals population is characteristic a dynamic change of its number in pulsations with rapid decreases and increases. This was observed despite the low economy of hunting land and livestock activities, that kept up to date food sources, and despite the small number of jackals in the neighboring countries (Spassov 2007). We think that abandoned of agriculture use terrains could explain these observations by increased number of species in pastures or free of pesticide terrains, as i.e. rodents. For jackal dispersal into Central Europe, according to Giannatos (2011 in verbis), positive factors could be: plains and low altitude as no barriers, daytime refuge (lowland plantations, few small forest remnants, riverside or channel-side dense vegetation), Danube River catchment, probably less snowy winters, large food base from anthropogenic sources (agriculture, livestock, hunting terrains).
Last decade’s distribution maps, environment factors and land use change studied by generalized linear model (GLM) shows by 2030-2050 in Ukraine Region that the dominated pressure against jackal dispersal is represented by land use change without any effect by the global climate change, (Prydatko , Kolom itsev 2011), in concordance with natural resettlement.
We think that neighboring clusters and population density are also important for the recovering capacity of an area where jackals decreased their level and for areas where jackal wasn´t reported before (Banea et al, 2012).

Estonia, case report

On 27th of March 2013 near Salevere, bioacoustics stimulation was successful. At the third playback it was listen at least one group of jackals (2-5 ind) N58.70217º, E 023.57977º. Despite rigorous and systematic survey on grid style 3-4/4km in other 18 calling stations, was not heard any other group of jackals.

Morning fieldwork, Penijoe

The bridge on channel near the Administration building, 
a wonderful path suitable to photo-trapping in summer

Reed-bed in Kasari River Delta

First jackal alive photographed in Estonia (28.03.2013, Baltica 2013 Team). Photo Mr Tõnis

 Jackal is photographed for the first time in history in a juniperus scrub habitat
58º Latitude, 0-2m below sea level (Baltica 2013 Team)

It seems that territoriality behaviour belongs to the female. Today, this group of jackals 
is moving to the eastern part of the bay, where the reed-bed will guest the coming birds.

The boats are waiting us for the next survey and ENA

On 28th in the morning all employers of Matsalu National Park Reserve participated to a presentation of a brief conference about jackal spreading in Europe and different survey campaigns. Later in the same building was calculated the score of the skull of the jackal harvested on the end of February and an accurate craniometrical analysis was performed.
Larger nasal bones was seen until frontal bone, wider communication between temporal and orbicular fossae, borrowed angle of mandibular, all typical for jackal species. We calculate 25,7 points (Prosthion to Acrocranion 16,8 cm and Biarcade of 8,9cm) and according  to CIC(Angelescu 2004), this specimen could be presented for silver medal conquest.

Silver medal option for 10 months year old female, killed by the hunting dogs. 

The covers (trifoi, trevol) is easy seen on the upper incisive, normally in jackal species definitive dentition appears at 4 months and the covers desappear at about 1,5 year old age.


Peep Mannil scoring the external/inner arrows rapport. In younger juveniles should be more than 0,45. 
The specimen killed in Estonia had 0,56 meaning that is less than 1 year old.

The age was calculated as being 10 months, in base of presence of clovers on incisive (they are present until 1,5 year age), the rapport of the empty inner and external  arrows (more wide than 0,45 typical for juvenile, at least for C. latrans) and then we correlate with the chronology of possible birth (April 2012).
Internal organs and perineum were inspected again and measured. Stomach content weighted the maximum reported in literature (900g) and the macroscopic analysis showed 49% adipose tissue and skin, 49% hair and 2% vegetable (hay). We agreed that this is characteristic of a dropped fur of a wild or domestic animal. Intestine length showed omnivorous behavior (more length).

Internal and oro-traqueal organs (spline, kidney, tong, heart, lever, traquea with esophagus)

In the evening of the same day camera trapping showed 5 images of jackal which were analyzed as belonging to at least 2 specimens. Analyze was done by timing and distance from the camera.
Day fieldwork was also successful with monitoring of 2 tracks of jackal species in the area of vocalization and another track on Penijoe. Also droppings were collected in the area and were sending to analysis in Tartu.
Day fieldwork

Kaja Lotman, Liisi Laos and Peep Männil, part of new GOJAGE team in Estonia

Typical jackal track

Jackal footprint

Jackal footprint and track, W Estonia, 28.03.2012

Day winter fieldwork in Juniperus scrub habitat

The occurrence of the species in the River Catchments of Elbe and Rhine shows its continuous process of expansion; in these zones also the barrier of the major Mountain Chains has been already crossed (Lapini and Banea, 2013 in press)

Placenta and new born are part of jackal opportunistic food behaviour

11 Black Grouse Tetrao tetrix

Baltica 2013 Team

Sunset before bioacoustic stimulation monitoring

Margarit and Michael, Estonian Television Team, are interested in jackal ecology

The jackal, like foxes, could also act as a carrier of rabies, or other zoonosis. Rabies mostly affects members of the dog family, but can also be passed on to humans, livestock and native mammals.


(Here, I am sharing my personal thoughts about this wonderful nature phenomenon: Jackal species arrives to the Baltic Sea. Please take into consideration that these ideas are not representing any Environmental Board or authorities.)

  • Jackal species is present in Matsalu National Park Reserve. The specimen killed at the end of February by hunting dogs belongs to a 10 months year old female.
  • In the area of Salevere are present at least 3 more alive individuals, probable 2 of them are a reproductive group looking for a den these days (for Europe the gestation period normally is related to 15Feb to 15 April).
  • The source of the cluster (probably stable cluster) is unknown, both hypothesis being now analyzed by Estonian Environmental Board: naturally colonization and intentionally introduced species.
  • My personal opinion on occurrence of jackals in Estonia is that colonization of Salavere region and Matsalu National Park Reserve happened naturally, from Northern Coast of the Black Sea and Azov Sea to Dnieper River Catchment and Daugava River Catchment. Missing natural barrier as in western parts favor the hypothesis. The unique landscape with the reed-bed, salt marshland and meadows of Matsalu NP and the amount of migratory birds in the delta of Kasari River could explain the presence in this area and not in other closest area from Latvia, Lithuania or Poland. The cumulative positive results of direct and indirect methods of jackal monitoring in Salevere could be explained by the presence of Salevere Salumägi (23m) where the jackal could assure the cubs survival during floods; the hypothesis should be reinforced with demonstration of another cluster near Kirbla Hill (33m).
  • Ecology of the species is unknown in Matsalu National Park Reserve, but a possible interaction with Racoon dogs, foxes is possible. Also vertically relation with amphibians, reptiles and birds, especially waterfowl, could be possible.
  • When hunters organize the hunting for birds, a better counting of dead birds should be done and the dead individuals harvested in totality.
  • Cormorants increased their number despite hunting campaigns. Jackals could reach these ecosystems and control at least those which nests on the ground.
  • The incontestable role of scavenger could benefit the area by consumption of dead carcasses and dead animal biota and when acts as predator jackals are good regulators of natural selection.
  • Internal organs of game species should benefit by a special attention of the hunters and authorities and all biological tissues have to be removed from the hunting terrains.
  • Campaigns for dis-infestation and anti-rabies vaccines should be organized and released as for foxes.
  •  Monitoring of the species must always precede management measures.
  • Human-jackal conflict started in Estonia and depends on how it is managed from the beginning the species could survive and give Matsalu National Park Reserve more dynamic balance. Finally biological diversity means health of an ecosystem.
  • Invasive term must be avoided if we cannot demonstrate predation on protected species with consequent menace to their populations and if we cannot identify jackals as allochtonous species.

1.03.2013, Ovidiu C Banea, Environmental Ecologist

Cathedral of Saint Mary the Virgin in Tompeea Hill, Tallinn

Kiriku street

Down Town


Old Town

Alexandr Nevsky Church

History and medieval castles are the image of Tallinn

Aida Street

Estonian Natural History Museum

Down Town

City Hall Tower

We do not know how jackal arrived to Estonia, maybe crossing from Dnieper River Catchment to Daugava River Catchment or also brought as pets 3 years ago. The fact is that jackals are now in Matsalu NAtional Reserve Park and this demonstrates that nature is a dynamic balance with unknown variables.

Who knows if the Red Fox we see on this roof it will be good neighbour of a golden jackal puppy.

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