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African golden wolf discovered in Morocco and Algeria

The African canid thought to be the same species as the “Golden Jackal” inhabiting Eurasia is actually a different species. Research first found that it’s not a Golden Jackal, but an “African Wolf” (a subspecies of the Grey Wolf). A more detailed study three years later found that it’s an independent species not related to the Grey Wolf, and they named it “African Golden Wolf”.

A group of researchers led by Vicente Urios from the University of Alicante has announced the discovery of the African Wolf (Canis lupus lupaster) in the Middle Atlas Mountains, Morocco. The wolves were captured by camera-trap since a year and a half ago. The full report of this discovery will be published in the next issue of the Quercus magazine under the title: “Detectan al lobo en Marruecos gracias al uso del foto-trampeo“.

The researchers detailed that the Berbers inhabiting the area where they worked talk about two types of “jackals”, one large and one small. The largest would actually be, according to the work of Urios’s team, a wolf. “They even have a word for wolf, Ouchen, but always thought it were jackals” says Urios.

The photographs show an animal with “obvious wolf characteristics, such as a large body, slender, with a powerful neck, tall individuals with darker mantle and short tail.” The photo is taken in the Atlas at about 1,800 meters.

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African wolf already found in Algeria and Senegal:

An article published by Gaubert et al. on 10 August 2012 (before the work of Urios et al. mentioned above) shed more light on the African wolf in West and North Africa and put forward its uniqueness among other wolf lineages:

The African wolf appeared as a distinct genetic entity. Genetic distances with the other wolf lineages ranged between 1.9 and 4.3%, whereas they reached 4.5 to 9.3% between the African wolf and the different lineages of jackals. The uniqueness of the African wolf was reinforced by the fact that it had the highest level of haplotype and nucleotide diversity among gray wolf lineages, even exceeding that of the Holarctic wolves and dogs, and far greater than what was found for the Himalayan and Indian wolves”.

It is most likely that C. l. lupaster has been roaming in Africa since (at least) the Middle to Late Pleistocene, and that the African wolf and a cline of smaller morphotypes, traditionally defined as ‘golden jackals’, have been co-occurring in Africa since that period, without any clear morphological, temporal or ecological delineation.


Gaubert P., Bloch C., Benyacoub S., Abdelhamid A., Pagani P, Djagoun C. A. M. S. & Couloux A. 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): e42740. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0042740

Urios V., Ramírez C., Gallardo M. & Rguibi Idrissi H. 2012. Detectan al lobo en Marruecos gracias al uso del foto-trampeo. Quercus (319): 14-15.

Update (August 2015):

African Golden Wolf

A new study found that the African canid species known for decades as the ‘Golden Jackal’ (and referred to as the ‘African Wolf’ in the studies cited above) is in fact a distinct species from the Eurasian Golden Jackal (Canis aureus). The species is named the African golden wolf (Canis anthus) in the new study. The text above is obviously outdated but kept as it is for the context. Here is the summary of the study published by Koepfli and his co-authors in Current Biology journal:

The golden jackal of Africa has long been considered a conspecific of jackals distributed throughout Eurasia, with the nearest source populations in the Middle East. However, two recent reports found that mitochondrial haplotypes of some African golden jackals aligned more closely to gray wolves (Canis lupus), which is surprising given the absence of gray wolves in Africa and the phenotypic divergence between the two species. Moreover, these results imply the existence of a previously unrecognized phylogenetically distinct species despite a long history of taxonomic work on African canids.

To test the distinct-species hypothesis and understand the evolutionary history that would account for this puzzling result, Koepfli and his co-authors analyzed extensive genomic data (using both mitochondrial DNA and different nuclear genes) and whole-genome nuclear sequences in African and Eurasian golden jackals and gray wolves.

The results provided a consistent and robust evidence that populations of golden jackals from Africa and Eurasia represent distinct monophyletic lineages separated for more than one million years, sufficient to merit formal recognition as different species: Canis anthus (African golden wolf) and Canis aureus (Eurasian golden jackal). Using morphologic data, the authors demonstrated a striking morphologic similarity between East African and Eurasian golden jackals, suggesting parallelism, which may have misled taxonomists and likely reflects uniquely intense interspecific competition in the East African carnivore guild. This study shows how ecology can confound taxonomy if interspecific competition constrains size diversification.


Koepfli, K.-P., Pollinger, J., Godinho, R., Robinson, J., Lea, A., Hendricks, S., Schweizer, R. M., Thalmann, O., Silva, P., Fan, Z., Yurchenko, A. A., Dobrynin, P., Makunin, A., Cahill, J. A., Shapiro, B., Álvares, F., Brito, J. C., Geffen, E., Leonard, J. A., Helgen, K. M., Johnson, W. E., O’Brien, S. J., Van Valkenburgh, B. & Wayne, R. K. 2015. Genome-wide Evidence Reveals that African and Eurasian Golden Jackals Are Distinct Species. Current Biology 25: 2158–2165. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2015.06.060

African Golden Wolf / Loup doré africain (Canis anthus), Middle Atlas, Morocco (Rabie Atlas).
African Golden Wolf / Loup doré africain (Canis anthus), Middle Atlas, Morocco (Rabie Atlas).
African Golden Wolf / Loup doré africain (Canis anthus), Tikjda, Algeria (La vie sauvage en kabylie "Kabylie wildlife")
African Golden Wolf / Loup doré africain (Canis anthus), Tikjda, Algeria (La vie sauvage en kabylie “Kabylie wildlife”)

Découverte du Loup doré africain en Afrique du Nord

Une équipe scientifique hispano-marocaine (Urios et al. 2012) a annoncé la découverte du Loup africain (Canis lupus lupaster) dans les montagnes du Moyen Atlas au Maroc. Cependant avant cette publication, une autre équipe multinationale (Gaubert et al. 2012) avait déjà découvert le loup africain au nord de l’Algérie et au Sénégal.

Mise à jour (août 2015): cette information est dépassé, pour la mise à jour voir l’étude plus récente et plus détaillée de Koepfli et leur co-auteurs publiée dans la revue Current Biology. En bref, la nouvelle étude a constaté que ce le canidé africain connu depuis des décennies comme le Chacal doré’ (et depuis quelques années comme le Loup africain) est en fait une espèce distincte du Chacal doré “asiatique” (Canis aureus). Le nouveau nom de l’espèce est le Loup doré africain (Canis anthus).

African Wolf (Canis lupus lupaster) captured by camera-trap in the Middle Atlas, Morocco (V. Urios). Now the species is known as the African Golden Wolf (Canis anthus).
African Wolf (Canis lupus lupaster) captured by camera-trap in the Middle Atlas, Morocco (V. Urios). Now the species is known as the African Golden Wolf (Canis anthus).

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