Bloodthirsty jackals are heading for Britain in one of the biggest land invasions by an animal anywhere in the history of the world, scientists say.
The howling scavengers – which can travel nine miles a night to hunt prey and tackle creatures weighing five times their body weight – are travelling across Europe towards the UK.
And they could bring a whole host of problems including howling in unison at least three times a day – morning, noon and night – and even the sound of church bells and boats can set them off at any moment.
Secondly they are extremely cunning and aggressive hunters that love to tuck into chickens, turkeys, lambs, sheep, goats, deer, pheasants and almost any other mammal up to the size of young water buffalo.
They also eat melons and nuts and destroy grapes, coffee, maize and sugarcane.
Alarmingly golden jackals from India have started attacking humans.
No attacks were reported before 1997 but there have been at least 220 since – largely as locals have tried to chase them from towns and villages. None have so far proved fatal.
They are also riddled with diseases and up to 16 species of parasites most of which are harmful to humans.
These include rabies, tropical disease leishmaniasis (corr) which causes skin sores and if left untreated is fatal in 95% of cases, and a range of ticks never before seen in western Europe.
Nathan Ranc (corr), an ecologist and golden jackal expert from the University of California Santa Cruz, said the population had spread from its traditional habitats in southern Asia, the Middle East and parts of the Balkans due to the unpopularity of wolves.
Due to a decades-long distrust of wolves hunters focused on them instead allowing golden jackals to flourish.
They have now turned up in the Italian province of Tuscany.
One was captured on film by a photo trap this week in a nature reserve near the town of Prato, near Florence.
Others have been spotted in France, Norway, Poland, Switzerland, Austria and Germany.
"It is one of the largest range expansions for a mammal that we have ever witnessed anywhere in the world,” said Mr Ranc.
"It’s a continent-wide trend. This week, for instance, we had the first report that golden jackals are reproducing in Germany. Jackals are turning up in new places."
The ecologist said – like coyotes in the US – jackals had flourished at the expense of wolves.
"We think there’s a correlation,’’ he said. "This is what happens when the population of a dominant carnivore goes into decline. We think the persecution of wolves was a trigger.’’
He said climate change may be behind their migration. "We know that jackals don’t like deep snow,’’ he said. "Climate change may be giving them an added boost. Jackals are moving of their own accord.’’
Fellow ecologist Dr John Linnell, from the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, said jackals had also benefited from Eastern European countries joining the EU which required them to reduce their use of poison baits.
"Jackals are scavengers so a reduction in the use of poison would benefit them,’’ he said.
Professor Luigi Boitani from Rome University, chairman of the Large Carnivore Initiative for Europe, insisted humans had little to fear from the animals.
"A jackal might take the odd chicken or domestic rabbit, possibly a small lamb, but it is not an animal that should give farmers a great deal of concern,’’ he said.
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"It’s an incredible animal, capable of widespread dispersion.’’
Marco Morelli, director of environmental organisation Fondazione Parsec (corr), said it was a "stroke of luck" one had been caught on camera in Italy.
"It is an extraordinary phenomenon that we have been lucky enough to witness,’’ he added.
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