For over 100 years, taxonomists have debated over the identity of the Egyptian jackal: was it a jackal or a wolf? Now, there’s a definitive answer. DNA analysis, conducted by scientists from Norway, Ethiopia, and the UK, shows that it is a wolf subspecies. As a result, the Egyptian “jackal” has been tentatively renamed the African wolf. Dr. Eli Rueness, an author of the study, said,
We could hardly believe our own eyes when we found wolf DNA that did not match anything in GenBank [a database of publicly available DNA sequences].
Gray wolves, otherwise simply known as “wolves,” have a wide range over Europe, Asia, North Africa, and North America. Within the wolf species are several subspecies such as the Eurasian wolf (Canis lupus lupus), the small-statured Arabian wolf (Canis lupus arabs), the small and very rare Tibetan wolf (Canis lupus chanco), and perhaps our favorite wolf of all, Canis lupus familiaris, the dog. This menagerie has now been joined by a rare new relative, the African wolf, which may be taxonomically renamed as Canis lupus lupaster. It’s so rare that we’ve been unable to find verifiable photos of it!
Professor David Macdonald, an author of the paper and director of Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, remarked,
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.
Added Professor Afework Bekele at Addis Ababa University,
This shows how genetic techniques may expose hidden biodiversity in a relatively unexplored country like Ethiopia.
Shireen Gonzaga is a freelance writer who enjoys writing about natural history. She is also a technical editor at an astronomical observatory where she works on documentation for astronomers. Shireen has many interests and hobbies related to the natural world. She lives in Cockeysville, Maryland.