Unidentified canid in the Danakil desert of Eritrea, Horn of Africa
An unidentified canid was photographed in the Danakil Desert of Eritrea, Horn of Africa, in December 2002. Seemingly a
Canis spp., the specimen does not appear to correspond to any canid species known to occur in the region. We report the observation and discuss its possible taxonomic provenance.
Seven species of canids have been documented for Eritrea to date (Yalden et al. 1980, 1996;Sillero-Zubiri et al. 2004). These are: golden jackal (Canis aureus), side-striped jackal (C. adustus), African wild dog (Lycaon pictus), bat-eared fox (Otocyon megalotis), Rüppell’s fox (Vulpes rueppellii), pallid fox (V. pallida) and fennec fox (V. fennecus), of which the last three are desert specialists. Geffen et al. 2004 speculated that Blanford’s foxes may also be present, and Ethiopian wolves (C. simensis) were listed as present in Eritrea by Coetzee (1971), but their presence was never fundamented. This note reports a recent sighting of an unidentified wolf-like canid in eastern Eritrea.
Results and Discussion
On 2 December 2002, while on a survey of the Eritrean coastline, the senior author (J.K. Tiwari) observed and documented (photography and video) an unidentified canid walking alongside the Adi-Asseb road near the village
of Idi (13° 35.523 ‘ N, 42° 11.315’ E). The locality is situated in the Danakil depression (3m a.s.l.) – also known as the Afar Triangle - some 42,000km² of desert habitat characterized by extremely hot and dry weather (~ 60mm rainfall per year; up to 50° C in summer). The area is scantily populated by the Afar tribals herding goats and sheep which browse on the scarce vegetation; some shepherds report stock losses to wild predators similar to the one described here (the local name used for “wolf” is wucharia).
This remote and inhospitable area, referred to as Devil's Kitchen, has not been visited by many outsiders during the last 30 years due to warfare and security concerns, which may explain why this canid was not reported previously. The specimen, seemingly a female in regular body condition, was sighted in the afternoon walking 35-40m from the observer’s vehicle (Figure 1.). It had a greyish coat, thin long tail, long legs, and extremely large ears. The observed animal does not belong to either of three desert fox species or bat-eared fox, the canid species expected in this region. After discussing this sighting with several scientists with canid experience (see Acknowledgements) we are satisfied that the specimen belongs to a Canis spp. It shares some morphological features with C. lupus arabs (Arabian grey wolf; Figure 2) such as big feet, but the ears are much larger, not dissimilar to those of C. simensis (Figure 2). While no definitive identification diagnosis can take place without morphological or genetic material we speculate that it may be either: a) a grey wolf (C. lupus), potentially expanding the African distribution of this species linearly by some 2,000 km; b) Canis aureus lupaster. The latter was originally described as C. lupaster, and is larger, heavier and with longer limbs than C. aureus, but smaller than C. lupus arabs (Ferguson 1981). Ferguson argued that this taxon should be considered a small desert wolf, based on cranial, mandible and dental measurements. Further observations, collection of morphological material or faecal samples will be required to advance either hypothesis. We would encourage any naturalists visiting eastern Eritre to keep an eye for these animals. The locality can be reached from Massawa, along the 400km long road to Adi-Asseb. A 4-wheel drive is necessary to negotiate a rugged dirt/asphalt road, and an Afar translator essential to interview local people.
Tiwari, J. K.; Sillero-Zubiri, C. (2004). "Unidentified Canid in Horn of Africa" (PDF). Canid News 7: 5. http://www.canids.org/canidnews/7/Unide ... Africa.pdf
The Cryptic African Wolf: Canis aureus lupaster Is Not a Golden Jackal and Is Not Endemic to Egypt
The Egyptian jackal (Canis aureus lupaster) has hitherto been considered a large, rare subspecies of the golden jackal (C. aureus). It has maintained its taxonomical status to date, despite studies demonstrating morphological similarities to the grey wolf (C. lupus). We have analyzed 2055 bp of mitochondrial DNA from C. a. lupaster and investigated the similarity to C. aureus and C. lupus. Through phylogenetic comparison with all wild wolf-like canids (based on 726 bp of the Cytochrome b gene) we conclusively (100% bootstrap support) place the Egyptian jackal within the grey wolf species complex, together with the Holarctic wolf, the Indian wolf and the Himalayan wolf. Like the two latter taxa, C. a. lupaster seems to represent an ancient wolf lineage which most likely colonized Africa prior to the northern hemisphere radiation. We thus refer to C. a. lupaster as the African wolf. Furthermore, we have detected C. a. lupaster individuals at two localities in the Ethiopian highlands, extending the distribution by at least 2,500 km southeast. The only grey wolf species to inhabit the African continent is a cryptic species for which the conservation status urgently needs assessment.
The golden jackal (Canis aureus; Linneaus 1758) is currently considered a monophyletic species among the wolf-like canids. Found throughout north and east Africa, the Middle East, southeastern Europe, and central, southern and western Asia this species shows large morphological and ecological intra-species variability.
The Egyptian jackal (Canis aureus lupaster; Hemprich and Ehrenberg 1833) is, as per conventional taxonomy, considered a subspecies of the golden jackal, although the similarity of the skulls of certain North African jackals to that of the Indian wolf (Canis lupus pallipes) had already been noted by Thomas Huxley as early as 1880. The Egyptian jackal overlaps in size with the grey wolf (Canis lupus), being larger and more long-limbed than the Holotype Canis aureus, and its cranial features differ from other golden jackals. Nassef investigated the relative relationship between Egyptian and Israeli jackals and found through phylogenetic analysis of a segment of the Cytochrome b gene (Cyt b) that the Egyptian jackal was more similar to grey wolves. Their data were, however, very scarce and the conclusion was to retain the Egyptian jackal as a C. aureus subspecies. Here we provide more data and challenge this conclusion.
The grey wolf has a Holarctic distribution with as many as 30 subspecies recognized, although wolves throughout their enormous range have been shown to be genetically very similar. Recently, molecular analysis showed that two subspecies, the Indian wolf (C. l. pallipes) and the Himalayan wolf (C. l. chanco/laniger) represent ancient wolf lineages that merit species status,. We will refer to these three main wolf lineages as the grey wolf species complex.
The grey wolf currently extends to the Sinai Peninsula, but is not found in mainland Africa; the presumed closest relative in this continent is the rare and endangered Ethiopian wolf (Canis simensis). This species is endemic to the Ethiopian highlands where they are sympatric with golden jackals.
During a field study of the Ethiopian wolf in Central Ethiopia we noticed that some golden jackals differed slightly in their appearance from golden jackals elsewhere, in being larger, more slender and sometimes with a more whitish coloration. A wolf-like animal photographed in Eritrea in 2004 was speculated to be an Egyptian jackal. Thus we decided to investigate these highland golden jackals and sequenced 2055 base pairs (bp) of the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from specimens collected in Ethiopia. Through comparisons with other species of wolf-like canids, we present evidence suggesting that:
* C. a. lupaster is present in the highlands of Ethiopia, effectively expanding the taxon's trange by at least 2,500 km to the southeast.
* C. a. lupaster is not a golden jackal and should be placed within the grey wolf species complex.
* C. a. lupaster most likely represents an ancient wolf lineage that colonized Africa prior to the radiation of the Holarctic wolf and as such should be reclassified as the African wolf.
Rueness, E. K.; Asmyhr, M. G.; Sillero-Zubiri, C.; MacDonald, D. W.; Bekele, A.; Atickem, A.; Stenseth, N. C. (2011). Gilbert, Thomas M, ed. "The Cryptic African Wolf: Canis aureus lupaster is Not a Golden Jackal and is Not Endemic to Egypt". PLoS ONE 6 (1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3027653/
Reviving the African Wolf Canis lupus lupaster in North and West Africa: A Mitochondrial Lineage Ranging More than 6,000 km Wide
The recent discovery of a lineage of gray wolf in North-East Africa suggests the presence of a cryptic canid on the continent, the African wolf Canis lupus lupaster. We analyzed the mtDNA diversity (cytochrome b and control region) of a series of African Canis including wolf-like animals from North and West Africa. Our objectives were to assess the actual range of C. l. lupaster, to further estimate the genetic characteristics and demographic history of its lineage, and to question its taxonomic delineation from the golden jackal C. aureus, with which it has been considered synonymous. We confirmed the existence of four distinct lineages within the gray wolf, including C. lupus/familiaris (Holarctic wolves and dogs), C. l. pallipes, C. l. chanco and C. l. lupaster. Taxonomic assignment procedures identified wolf-like individuals from Algeria, Mali and Senegal, as belonging to C. l. lupaster, expanding its known distribution c. 6,000 km to the west. We estimated that the African wolf lineage (i) had the highest level of genetic diversity within C. lupus, (ii) coalesced during the Late Pleistocene, contemporaneously with Holarctic wolves and dogs, and (iii) had an effective population size of c. 80,000 females. Our results suggest that the African wolf is a relatively ancient gray wolf lineage with a fairly large, past effective population size, as also suggested by the Pleistocene fossil record. Unique field observations in Senegal allowed us to provide a morphological and behavioral diagnosis of the African wolf that clearly distinguished it from the sympatric golden jackal. However, the detection of C. l. lupaster mtDNA haplotypes in C. aureus from Senegal brings the delineation between the African wolf and the golden jackal into question. In terms of conservation, it appears urgent to further characterize the status of the African wolf with regard to the African golden jackal.
Gaubert P, Bloch C, Benyacoub S, Abdelhamid A, Pagani P, et al (2012). "Reviving the African Wolf Canis lupus lupaster in North and West Africa: A Mitochondrial Lineage Ranging More than 6,000 km Wide". PLoS ONE 7 (8) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3416759/