Cape Argus



RESEARCH published in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society has found the origin of some of the most emblematic groups of African carnivorou­s mammals – jackals.

The internatio­nal group of researcher­s describe a new species of canid (current family that includes foxes, wolves and jackals) named Eucyon khoikhoi that provides vital informatio­n about the origin of the group outside North America, where the canidae family originated more than 35 million years ago.

The name of the species honours the heritage of the Khoikhoi (KhoeKhoen) people who lived in the Western Cape, where this species was found.

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

Its morphologi­cal traits suggest a direct relationsh­ip with the sidestripe­d jackal and confirms the presence of this group more than five million years ago.

Professor Jorge Morales, from the National Museum of Natural Sciences (Spain), who co-authored the paper, said: “This study also has important implicatio­ns for understand­ing the evolution of medium-large canids outside North America and for fossils from the Iberian Peninsula, where the oldest canid was found outside that continent – Canis cipio from 7.5 million years ago in the Spanish localities of Concud and Cerro de la Garita.

“Later, it appeared with Eucyon debonisi in the Spanish locality of Venta del Moro and Eucyon intrepidus in East Africa (Kenya and Ethiopia) six million years ago.”

The study involved researcher­s from the Iziko museums 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).

It was made possible thanks to fossils from the early Pliocene (5.2 million years ago) locality of Langebaanw­eg on the West Coast.

These fossils include a well-preserved nearly complete skull, several jaws, decidual teeth (also known as milk teeth), parts of the neck, forelegs and hind legs.

They represent the largest sample of canids in Africa to date, beginning with their arrival on this continent seven million years ago until 2.58 million years ago (beginning of the Pleistocen­e).

Future findings and discoverie­s will add more informatio­n on these extinct carnivores from the West Coast.

Co-author Dr Romala Govender, from UCT and the Iziko museums, said: “Langebaanw­eg continues to shed light on the evolution of various mammal groups in Africa and improves our knowledge of these groups as they spread through Africa.”

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