Scientists have discovered a new species of wolf living in Africa. Of course, it is not really ‘new’. It was just waiting for its DNA to be discovered by modern genetic techniques. The strenght of these techniques reveals hidden biodiversity. Until recently the Egyptian jackal (Canis aureus lupaster) was considered a large, rare subspecies of the golden jackal (C. aureus).
Although studies demonstrated morphological similarities to the grey wolf (C. lupus), it has maintained its taxonomical status to date. However, a research team led by Dr Eli Rueness, using modern genetic techniques, proved otherwise. The mysterious animal’s DNA showed that the Egyptian jackal is not a sub-species of jackal but a grey wolf. The researchers place the Egyptian jackal within the grey wolf species complex, together with the Holarctic wolf, the Indian wolf and the Himalayan wolf. The ‘new’ wolf species seems to represent an ancient wolf lineage which most likely colonized Africa prior to the northern hemisphere radiation. Therefore, and because of its unique status as the only member of the grey wolf complex in Africa the researchers suggest that it should be re-named ‘the African wolf’. Apart from this the ‘new’ species conservation status should be assessed. Though the golden jackal is regarded by the IUCN as not threatened (a species of least concern), it might be different for the newly discovered African wolf, which may be much rarer.
The team also found genetically very similar specimens to this new wolf in the highlands of Ethiopia, 2,500 km from Egypt, suggesting that the new species is not just found in Egypt. Nevertheless it may not be confused with the rare Ethiopian wolves, which themselves are a recent immigrant to Africa, and split off from the grey wolf complex even earlier than the newly discovered African wolf. (Source: PloS-one, 26.01.2011)