The origin of African jackals revealed

New species of canid discovered in Langebaanweg named Eucyon khoikhoi in honour of Khoekhoe heritage

Media images and interview requests, please contact: Zikhona Jafta at zjafta@iziko.org.za


International research by Iziko Museums of South Africa (Cape Town, South Africa), the University of Cape Town (South Africa), the University of Zaragoza (Spain), the National Museum of Natural Sciences (Spain), and the Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences of Aragon (IUCA, Spain), has just revealed the origin of some of the most emblematic groups of African carnivorous mammals: jackals. This has been possible thanks to fossils from the early Pliocene (5.2 million years ago) locality of Langebaanweg (West Coast of South Africa).

These fossils include a well preserved, nearly complete skull, several jaws, decidual teeth (also known as milk teeth), and parts of the neck, forelegs and hindlegs. They represent the largest sample of canids (current family that includes foxes, wolves, and jackals) in Africa to date beginning with its arrival on this continent 7 million years ago (Ma) until 2.58 Ma (beginning of the Pleistocene).

cc
Fig. 1: Living black-backed jackal from Ethosa National Park (Namibia). Picture Israel M. Sánchez.


Importance of Langebaanweg: This paleontological site has provided one of the richest and most diverse terrestrial and aquatic vertebrate associations in the world from the late Miocene and early Pliocene, with more than 250 species of otters, sabretooth felids, bears, hyaenids, giraffes, elephants, rhinos, wild pigs, and a wide variety of birds, including parrots, ostriches, and penguins, as well as sharks and marine mammals. Among these remains, the South African palaeontologist Brett Hendey and his team found numerous canid fossils in the 1970s, which were not described. More than 50 years later, an international team led by Dr. Alberto Valenciano, currently Postdoctoral palaeontologist of the “Juan de la Cierva” Program at the University of Zaragoza, and a former researcher at the Iziko Museums and the University of Cape Town until last year, have just described a new species of canid named Eucyon khoikhoi, providing vital information about the origin of the group outside of North America (the continent where the Canidae family originated more than 35 million years ago). The name of the new species refers to the Khoikhoi (KhoeKhoen) people, who lived in the Western Cape, where this species was discovered, honouring its heritage.
 

f
Fig. 2: Pristine skull of the new species Eucyon khoikhoi from Langebaanweeg (South Africa). Foto: Alberto Valenciano.


Eucyon khoikhoi marks a critical moment in the evolution of African jackals 5Ma, the moment when they began to diversify outside North America, becoming more diverse and common later in the Pleistocene, 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),” highlights Alberto Valenciano.

Its morphological traits suggest a direct relationship with the side-striped jackal and confirms the presence of this group more than 5 Ma. "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 of that continent Canis cipio from 7.5 Ma in the  Spanish localities of Concud and Los Mansuetos. Later, it appeared along with Eucyon debonisi in the Spanish locality of Venta del Moro and Eucyon intrepidus in East Africa (Kenya and Ethiopia) 6Ma,” concludes Prof. Jorge Morales (co-author).

Futures finding and discoveries will add new information on these extinct carnivores from the West Coast of South Africa. “Langebaanweg continues to shed light on the evolution of various mammal groups in Africa and improves our knowledge of these various groups as they spread through Africa,” commented Dr. Romala Govender (co-author).

d
Fig. 3: Reconstruction of the flora and fauna of Langebaanweg 5 million years ago. Art by: Maggie Newman

 

d
Fig. 4a (left): The co-authors of the work Dr. Romala Govender and Dr. Alberto Valenciano, digging in Langebaanweg in 2019.
Fig 4b (right): Dr. Alberto Valenciano visiting the West Coast Fossil Park inLangebaanweg, looking at the bone-bed with fossils.


Link: Valenciano, A., Morales, J & Govender, R. (2021). Eucyon khoikhoi sp. nov.(Carnivora, Canidae) from Langebaanweg 'E' Quarry (early Pliocene, South Africa): the most complete African canini from the Mio-Pliocene. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society. 10.1093/zoolinnean/zlab022

f

ENDS
Issued by: Ellen Agnew
Communications Coordinator: Iziko Museums of South Africa
Telephone: 021 481 3830 Email: eagnew@iziko.org.za
Website: www.iziko.org.za
Issued on behalf of the Office of the CEO, Iziko Museums of South Africa


About Iziko Museums of South Africa (Iziko)
Iziko operates 11 national museums, the Planetarium and Digital Dome, the Social History Centre and three collection-specific libraries in Cape Town. The museums that make up Iziko have their own history and character, presenting extensive art, social and natural history collections that reflect our diverse African heritage. Iziko is a public entity and public benefit organisation that brings together these museums under a single governance and leadership structure. The organisation allows *free access to all individuals on commemorative days, (*excluding the Castle of Good Hope, Groot Constantia and Planetarium and Digital Dome). Visit our webpage at www.iziko.org.za, join our online community on Facebook (www.facebook.com/IzikoMuseums), Instagram (@izikomuseumssa) or follow us on Twitter (@Iziko_Museums) for regular updates on events, news and new exhibitions.