WWF fights to save the jackal from extinction

One of the many wild species threatened with possible extinction in Greece is the jackal, that much-maligned creature whose poor image, according to conservation experts, is largely undeserved. On Monday, April 14, Giorgos Yiannatos, a wildlife biologist who is a field researcher and consultant for the environmental organization WWF Hellas, is to speak about efforts to save this misunderstood animal, at the Hellenic Society for the Protection of Nature. Yiannatos is part of a WWF project which started in 2000 to ensure the long-term preservation of the golden jackal in Greece, currently found in two southern areas of the country, in Fokida and on the island of Samos. In Greece, hunting jackals was legal until 1990. A WWF Hellas survey conducted in 2000-2001 showed that no more than 160 breeding groups have survived across the country, in around 19-21 scattered population clusters. Golden jackals live for up to eight or nine years in the wild, are monogamous, territorial, and usually live in small family groups consisting of a mating pair and some of their offspring. The largest group observed in Greece had seven individuals. In areas studied by WWF Hellas, the animals are strictly nocturnal and only come out of dense cover 15-30 minutes after sunset. Another facet of the project is improving the animal’s public image. For centuries, golden jackals have suffered from the perception that they decimate livestock – although in fact, studies in other EU countries have shown that pet dogs are the major cause of livestock deaths by carnivores. Golden jackals are nearly 50 percent vegetarian, feeding on fruits and berries. The other half of their diet comes mainly from carrion and hunting small animals like reptiles, frogs, fish, rodents, rabbits, insects, and ground-dwelling birds. As the jackal is at the top of the local food chain, it is an important indicator of the health of the ecosystems it inhabits. The jackal population is declining, primarily due to changes in habitat, including a reduction of day cover and food resources as a result of intensive farming, destruction of wetlands, changes in animal husbandry practices and urbanization. A secondary cause is the killing of individual animals through road accidents and hunting. Yiannatos’s lecture will be held at the headquarters of the Hellenic Society for the Protection of Nature, 20 Nikis St, near Syntagma Square, tel 210.322.4944.