A golden jackal fitted with a transmitter has just crossed the border into Austria for the first time. Coming from Slovenia, it is still uncertain how far north it will migrate. So far it has already travelled almost 1000 kilometres and crossed several mountains on its way through the Alps. The data provide a unique insight into the life and natural dispersal of this canine species. A project to research these shy animals has been running at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna since 2015.

An interesting species is spreading

The golden jackal (Canis aureus) is a smaller member of the dog family. Still very rare at the beginning of the 20th century, the species, which is listed in nature conservation guidelines (Annex V of the Habitats Directive), has been spreading naturally across Europe from its original habitat in the Balkans in recent decades. There have been isolated records in Austria since 1987. Since 2015, information and reports have been collected and coordinated by the Austrian Golden Jackal Project, which is based at the Institute of Wildlife Biology and Hunting at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna (BOKU). The initiator, Dr Jennifer Hatlauf, is an internationally recognised expert on this species: "Its adaptability to different habitats and opportunistic choice of food make the golden jackal very successful. There are now records as far away as Norway. It is not dangerous to humans and is rarely seen as it is very shy." This makes it all the more pleasing that a current research project has provided precise data on the migration route of one of these stealthy wanderers for the first time - even if this stroke of luck came unexpectedly.

Golden jackal makes (kilo)metres

As part of a research project at the University of Ljubljana, a 1.5-year-old golden jackal was fitted with a collar containing a GPS transmitter on 21 June 2023. The researcher responsible, Dr Hubert Potocnik (University of Ljubljana, Biotechnical Faculty, Department of Biology, Animal ecology research group), hoped to obtain important information about the species' use of space - especially as the animal was found in the middle of a known wolf territory. In general, golden jackals avoid wolves, which are up to three times their size and have been shown to kill them. In fact, the GPS recordings showed that the animal quickly left the area - but what happened next was surprising and turned out to be a minor sensation: the young male set off on a journey northwards, the end of which is not yet in sight.

After searching for a while in Slovenia and spending some time in small territories, the animal suddenly started travelling further distances. Of course, it did not stop at national borders and crossed the border to Carinthia last week. This makes the male the very first golden jackal on an international journey to provide data on dispersal behaviour to (through?) Austria. Although he has already travelled almost 1000 km since he was tagged, he is still travelling fast - now that he has passed Villach, he is close to the border with Salzburg. Signals from almost 2000 metres above sea level show that mountains hardly seem to be an obstacle on his way.

How much further, Maj?

The young male has now been christened "Maj" by the research community. The namesake was the daughter of the hunter who helped catch him: Maja - but as the jackal is a male, the male form Maj was chosen. The reason for his migration seems relatively clear: as is characteristic of the species, Maj is looking for a territory and, above all, a mate. Given the rather low density of golden jackals in Austria so far, he must be lucky. It is not unlikely that his search will take him much further and that he will leave the country again.

"This event shows the natural behaviour of golden jackals, which are looking for mating partners and their own territory. The spread of this species across borders underlines the importance of cross-border cooperation and the need for continuous monitoring, also to understand its impact on local biodiversity," explains Dr Jennifer Hatlauf from BOKU. Along the way, it will provide valuable data on the behaviour of this species, which is still quite young in Austria. One concern of the researchers is an unnatural end to such an informative journey: Many animals - such as the first tangible evidence in Vienna in early 2023 - fall victim to traffic. In addition, golden jackals can currently be hunted in Carinthia. The research team is particularly grateful for the reports of all sightings and photo trap images of the tagged golden jackal. The hope is that it will be able to continue its journey unharmed across all railways and roads and continue to provide data for science in this precedent case.

Significance for research

This documented migration emphasises the need for further research and collaboration between European countries, but also across Austria.

"Jackals are considered excellent long-distance dispersers, however, there have been really few direct observations of such movements so far and this is an opportunity to gain new insights into the background to their success of swift expansion across Europe in recent decades."

Dr. Hubert Potocnik (University of Ljubljana, Biotechnical Faculty).

"The observation of this young male jackal from Slovenia to Austria offers unique insights into the behavioural patterns and adaptability of the species. It now remains to be seen whether the animal is only travelling through Austria or has chosen it as its permanent habitat."

Dr. Jennifer Hatlauf (BOKU Vienna).

This important research work can be significantly supported by reporting sightings with photo or video evidence or carcasses (shot animals or road casualties). All information can be found on the website www.goldschakal.at.

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(Photo credit: Jennifer Hatlauf, Maj_GPS collar = Hubert Potocnik) Further photos and videos on request

Contact for further technical information and interviews:

Dr Jennifer Hatlauf
University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Vienna
Phone: +43-650 500 2158

The Austrian golden jackal project has been running since 2015 at the Institute of Wildlife Biology and Hunting (IWJ) at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna (BOKU) in order to systematically determine the presence of golden jackals in Austria, establish monitoring standards and conduct fundamental ecological research on this species. Information can be found at