Jackal’s vital origins finally discovered in Africa

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By Employee reporter June 2, 2021

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New research published in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society has identified the origins of some of the most emblematic groups of African carnivorous mammals: jackals.

The international research group describes a new species of canid (current family that includes foxes, wolves, and jackals) called Eucyon khoikhoi, which provides vital information about the group’s ancestry outside of North America – where the Canidae family originated from more than 35 million years ago.

The name of the new species honors the legacy of the Khoikhoi (KhoeKhoen) who lived in the Western Cape, where this species was discovered.

“Eucyon khoikhoi marked a critical moment in the evolution of African jackals five million years ago when they began to diversify outside of North America, and later became more diverse and common in the Pleistocene, until they were found in the four species living on the African continent: the striped jackal (Schaeffia adusta), the black-backed jackal (Lupulella mesomelas), the African gold wolf (Canis lupaster) and the Ethiopian wolf (Canis simensis) ”, said lead author Dr. Alberto Valenciano, a former researcher at UCT and the Iziko Museum.

He is currently a postdoctoral paleontologist on the Juan de la Cierva program at the University of Zaragoza in Spain.

Its morphological features suggest a direct relationship with the striped jackal and confirm the presence of this group more than five million years ago.

“This study also has important implications for understanding the evolution of medium-sized canids outside North America and for fossils from the Iberian Peninsula, where the oldest canid outside this continent was found – Canis cipio 7.5 million years ago in the Spanish sites of Concud and Cerro de la Garita. It later appeared with Eucyon debonisi in the Spanish town of Venta del Moro and Eucyon intrepidus in East Africa (Kenya and Ethiopia) six million years ago, ”said Professor Jorge Morales of the National Museum of Natural Sciences (Spain). wrote the paper.

The study involved researchers from the Iziko Museum of South Africa, UCT, the University of Zaragoza, the National Museum of Natural Sciences and the Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences of Aragon (Spain). This was made possible by fossils from the early Pliocene (5.2 million years ago) on the Langebaanweg on the west coast of South Africa.

These fossils include a well-preserved almost complete skull, several jaws, milk teeth (also called milk teeth), parts of the neck, front and rear legs. They represent the largest collection of canids in Africa to date, starting with their arrival on this continent seven million years ago to 2.58 million years ago (beginning of the Pleistocene).

Future knowledge and discoveries will add new information about these extinct carnivores from the west coast.

“The Langebaanweg continues to shed light on the evolution of different groups of mammals in Africa and improves our knowledge of these different groups as they spread across Africa,” said co-author Dr. Romala Govender from UCT and the Iziko museums.



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