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By Vicki Mozo
Aren't we all familiar with this infamous line: "a wolf hiding in sheep's clothing…"? Well, how about "wolf hiding in a jackal's cloak"?
Hey! I speak no fairy tale… nor am I making a modern version of the idiom. I am in fact referring to the animal species believed to be a wolf despite of the physical resemblance to the jackal species.
The animal group in question has long been referred to as the Egyptian jackal. It is also often mistaken for a golden jackal, which belongs to a different animal group. Certain researchers believe that the animal has been correctly classified as a jackal and a subspecies of grey wolf.
For one, a researcher from the University of Leeds believes that this animal group is a true jackal according to the genetic analysis involving the jackals from Egypt and Syria and wolves from Saudi Arabia and Oman. 1
This notion was countered by a team of researchers from Oxford University's Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU), the University of Oslo, and Addis Ababa University. They argue that the animal is not an Egyptian jackal based on their own genetic studies. 2
Dr. Eli Rueness of the University of Oslo (Oslo, Norway) recounted how they could not believe when they found that the animal's DNA did not match any animal genome in the GenBank, including that of the Egyptian jackal. According to them, the animal is not a jackal but a grey wolf, closely related to the wolves in the highlands of Ethiopia. This new genetic evidence indicates that the animal is potentially a new species, likely from the lineage of grey wolves in Africa.
As the name "Egyptian jackal" implies, one can easily assume that such animal is native to Egypt. However, the team's discovery indicates that such animals settled in Africa million years ago before they reached other locations in the northern hemisphere, including Egypt.
David Macdonald, a professor and the Director of Oxford University's WildCRU, said: "A wolf in Africa is not only important conservation news, but raises fascinating biological questions about how the new African wolf evolved and lived alongside not only the real golden jackals but also the vanishingly rare Ethiopian wolf, which is a very different species with which the new discovery should not be confused." 3
Claudio Sillero of the WildCRU further claims that their discovery is essential in contributing to the understanding of the biogeography of the fauna in the highlands of Ethiopia. With this new discovery, the team is set out to rename the animal from "Egyptian jackal" to "African wolf".
A likely new species of African wolf
[Image credit: University of Oxford]
1 Nassef, M. (2003). "The Ecology and Evolution of the golden jackal (Canis aureus) Investigating a cryptid species (Master thesis)". The university of Leeds.
2 Rueness, E. K., Asmyhr, M. G., Sillero-Zubiri, C., Macdonald, D. W., Bekele, A., et al. (2011). "The Cryptic African Wolf: Canis aureus lupaster is not a golden jackal and is not endemic to Egypt." PLoS ONE 6(1): e16385.
3 University of Oxford. (2011, January 31). New African wolf discovered. Retrieved from http://www.ox.ac.uk/media/news_stories/2011/110128.html
Mozo, Vicki (2011, March 28). Nope, not a jackal but a wolf! Biology-Online.org.
Retrieved (date), from http://www.biology-online.org/articles/nope-jackal-wolf.htm
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