, Volume 8, Issue 3, pp 463–482 | Cite as

Emergence of the “Howling Foxes”: A Semiotic Analysis of Initial Interpretations of the Golden Jackal (Canis aureus) in Estonia

  • Timo MaranEmail author


The article attempts to bridge semiotics with species conservation and management. Biosemiotic and cultural semiotic methodology is applied in the analysis of a case study – the early occurrence of the golden jackal (Canis aureus) in Estonia. Nine semi-structured interviews were carried out with the local inhabitants of the Matsalu region, professional zoologists and environmental officials who were involved in the golden jackals’ discourse. The interviews were analyzed for interactions between golden jackals and humans, expected ecological effects of golden jackals, communication between different interest groups and central cultural motifs used to interpret the new species. It is argued that in the development of this discourse, the golden jackals’ own activity has played an essential role. At the same time, human cultural models also influence the interpretation of a new species to a considerable degree. Two of such models – the opposition of the own and the alien and the “settler’s” narrative – are brought out and analyzed. The effect of the fear of the unknown is also specified. To improve human communication about new or invasive species, it is suggested to raise awareness of the underlying cultural models and to use integrative communication as the developing discourse is dynamical and constantly changing for all interest groups. For a semiotic study of species management, it is suggested to combine methodology from biosemiotics, cultural semiotics and actor-network theory.


Environmental change Non-native species Invasive species Golden jackal Applied biosemiotics Cultural modeling The own and the alien 



The research for this article was supported by the European Union through the European Regional Development Fund (Centre of Excellence for Cultural Theory), also under institutional research grant IUT02-44 from the Estonian Research Council and under project contract EMP151 by the Norway Financial Mechanism 2009–2014.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

The study follows ethical standards of qualitative research in social sciences. The respondents have been informed about the aims of the study, their personal identity has been concealed, and interviews have been conducted with the informed consent of the respondents. The study follows the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. The approval of the research ethics committee is not required for this type of qualitative study.


  1. Anisko, J. (1976). Communication by chemical signals in Canidae. In R. L. Doty (Ed.), Mammalian olfaction, reproductive processes, and behavior (pp. 283–293). New York: Academic.Google Scholar
  2. Arnold, J., Humer, A., Heltai, M., Murariu, D., Spassov, N., & Hackländer, K. (2012). Current status and distribution of golden jackals Canis aureus in Europe. Mammal Review, 42(1), 1–11.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Boogert, N. J., Paterson, D. M., & Laland, K. N. (2006). The implications of niche construction and ecosystem engineering for conservation biology. BioScience, 56(7), 1–9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bremner, A., & Park, K. (2007). Public attitudes to the management of invasive non-native species in Scotland. Biological Conservation, 139(3–4), 306–314.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bruni, L. E. (2001). Biosemiotics and ecological monitoring. Sign Systems Studies, 29(1), 293–312.Google Scholar
  6. Callon, M. (1986). Some elements of a sociology of translation: domestication of the scallops and the fishermen of St Brieuc Bay. In J. Law (Ed.), Power, action and belief: A new sociology of knowledge? (pp. 196–223). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  7. Candland, D. K. (2005). The animal mind and conservation of species: knowing what animals know. Current Science, 89(7), 1122–1127.Google Scholar
  8. Coates, P. (2007). American perceptions of immigrant and invasive species: Strangers on the land. California: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  9. Drury, R., Homewood, K., & Randall, S. (2010). Less is more: the potential of qualitative approaches in conservation research. Animal Conservation, 14(1), 18–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Emmeche, C. (2001). Bioinvasion, globalization, and the contingency of cultural and biological diversity. Sign Systems Studies, 29(1), 237–261.Google Scholar
  11. Farina, A. (2008). The landscape as a semiotic interface between organisms and resources. Biosemiotics, 1(1), 75–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Farina, A. (2012). A biosemiotic perspective of the resource criterion: toward a general theory of resources. Biosemiotics, 5(1), 17–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Farina, A., & Belgrano, A. (2006). The eco-field hypothesis: toward a cognitive landscape. Landscape Ecology, 21(1), 5–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Farina, A., Santolini, R., Pagliaro, G., Scozzafava, S., & Schipani, I. (2005). Eco-semiotics: a new field of competence for ecology to overcome the frontier between environmental complexity and human culture in the Mediterranean. Israel Journal of Plant Sciences, 53(3–4), 167–175.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Feddersen-Peterson, D. (1991). The ontogeny of social play and agonistic behaviour in selected canid species. Bonner Zoologische Beitrage, 42, 97–114.Google Scholar
  16. García-Llorente, M., Martín-López, B., González, J. A., Alcorlo, P., & Montes, C. (2008). Social perceptions of the impacts and benefits of invasive alien species: implications for management. Biological Conservation, 141(12), 2969–2983.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Golani, I. (1973). Non-metric analysis of behavioral interaction sequences in captive jackals (Canis aureus L.). Behaviour, 44(1), 89–112.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Greggor, A. L., Clayton, N. S., Phalan, B., & Thornton, A. (2014). Comparative cognition for conservationists. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 29(9), 489–495.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hambler, C. (2004). Conservation studies in biology. Cambridge: The University of Cambridge Press.Google Scholar
  20. Hiedanpaa, J., & Bromley, D. W. (2012). Contestations over biodiversity protection: considering Peircean semiosis. Environmental Values, 21(3), 357–378.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hoffmeyer, J. (2008). Biosemiotics: An examination into the signs of life and the life of signs. Scranton: University of Scranton Press.Google Scholar
  22. Holland, D., & Quinn, N. (Eds.). (1987). Cultural models in language and thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Jakobson, R. (1981). Linguistics and poetics. In R. Jakobson (Ed.), Selected writings III. Poetry of grammar and grammar of poetry (pp. 18–51). The Hague: Mouton Publishers.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Jepson, P., Barua, M., & Buckingham, K. (2011). What is a conservation actor? Conservation and Society, 9(3), 229–235.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Krampen, M. (1989). An ecological approach to semiotics. In W. A. Koch (Ed.), Evolution of culture (pp. 117–133). Bochum: Universitätsverlag Dr. Norbert Brockmeyer.Google Scholar
  26. Kull, K. (1998). Semiotic ecology: different natures in the semiosphere. Sign Systems Studies, 26, 344–371.Google Scholar
  27. Lanszki, J., Giannatos, G., Dolev, A., Bino, G., & Heltai, M. (2010). Late autumn trophic flexibility of the golden jackal Canis aureus. Acta Theriologica, 55(4), 361–370.Google Scholar
  28. Larson, B. M. H., Nerlich, B., & Wallis, P. (2005). Metaphors and biorisks: the war on infectious diseases and invasive species. Science Communication, 26, 243–268.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Larson, B. M. H. (2008). Entangled biological, cultural, and linguistic origins of the war on invasive species. In R. M. Frank et al. (Eds.), Body, language and mind (Sociocultural situatedness. Cognitive linguistics research 35.2, Vol. 2, pp. 169–195). New York: Mouton de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  30. Latour, B. (1993). We have never been modern. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  31. Latour, B. (1997). On actor-network-theory: a few clarifications plus more than a few complications. Soziale Welt, 47(4), 1–14.Google Scholar
  32. Law, J. (2008). Actor-network theory and material semiotics. In B. S. Turner (Ed.), The new Blackwell companion to social theory (3rd ed., pp. 141–158). Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  33. Lestel, D. (2013). The withering of shared life through the loss of biodiversity. Social Science Information, 52, 307–325.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Lotman, J. (1967). Лотман, Юрий Михайлович. Тезисы к проблеме “Искусство в рядумоделирующих систем. Труды по знаковым системам, 3, 130–145.Google Scholar
  35. Lotman, J. (1997). Culture as a subject and an object in itself. Trames, 51/46(1), 7–16.Google Scholar
  36. Lotman, M. (2001). Лотман, М. Страх: семиотика культуры и феноменология (к постановке проблемы). Sign Systems Studies, 29(2), 417–439.Google Scholar
  37. Lotman, J. (2005). On the semiosphere. Sign Systems Studies, 33(1), 205–229.Google Scholar
  38. Low, D. (2008). Dissent and environmental communication: a semiotic approach. Semiotica, 172, 47–64.Google Scholar
  39. Lynch, M., & Law, J. (1999). Pictures, texts, and objects: the literary language game of bird-watching. In M. Biagioli (Ed.), The science studies reader (pp. 317–341). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  40. Macdonald, D. W. (1979). The flexible social system of the golden jackal, Canis aureus. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 5(1), 17–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Mäekivi, N., & Maran, T. (2015). Semiotic aspects of evaluating nonhuman animals. Sign Systems Studies.Google Scholar
  42. Magnus, R. (2014a). The function, formation and development of signs in the guide dog team’s work. Biosemiotics, 7(3), 447–463.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Magnus, R. (2014b). Training guide dogs of the blind with the “phantom man” method: historic background and semiotic footing. Semiotica, 198, 181–204.Google Scholar
  44. Manning, A. D., Lindenmayer, D. B., & Nix, H. A. (2004). Continua and Umwelt: novel perspectives on viewing landscapes. Oikos, 104(3), 621–628.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Maran, T. (2014). Semiotization of matter. A hybrid zone between biosemiotics and material ecocriticism. In S. Iovino & S. Oppermann (Eds.), Material ecocriticism (pp. 141–154). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  46. Maran, T., & Kull, K. (2014). Ecosemiotics: main principles and current developments. Geografiska Annaler: Series B, Human Geography, 96(1), 41–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Markov, G. (2012). Golden Jackal (Canis aureus L.) in Bulgaria: what is going on? Acta Zoologica Bulgarica, 4, 67–71.Google Scholar
  48. Markov, G., & Lanszki, J. (2011). Diet composition of the golden jackal, Canis aureus in an agricultural environment. Folia Zoologica, 61(1), 44–48.Google Scholar
  49. Negi, T. (2013). Review on current worldwide status, distribution, ecology and dietary habits of golden jackal, Canis aureus. Octa Journal of Environmental Research, 2(4), 338–359.Google Scholar
  50. Newing, H. (2011). Conducting research in conservation: A social science perspective. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  51. Nie, M. A. (2002). Wolf recovery and management as value-based political conflict. Ethics, Place & Environment: A Journal of Philosophy & Geography, 5(1), 65–71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. O’Brien, W. (2006). Exotic invasions, nativism, and ecological restoration: on the persistence of a contentious debate. Ethics, Place & Environment: A Journal of Philosophy & Geography, 9(1), 63–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Peretti, J. H. (1998). Nativism and nature: rethinking biological invasion. Environmental Values, 7(2), 183–192.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Posner, R. (2000). Semiotic pollution. Sign Systems Studies, 28, 290–307.Google Scholar
  55. Radovic, A., & Kovacic, D. (2010). Diet composition of the golden jackal (Canis aureus L.) on the Pelješac peninsula, Dalmatia, Croatia. Periodicum Biologorum, 112(2), 219–224.Google Scholar
  56. Raichev, E. G., Tsunoda, H., Newman, C., Masuda, R., Georgiev, D. M., & Kaneko, Y. (2013). The reliance of the golden jackal (Canis aureus) on anthropogenic foods in winter in central Bulgaria. Mammal Study, 38(1), 19–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Romanowski, J. (2007). Vistula river valley as the ecological corridor for mammals. Polish Journal of Ecology, 55(4), 805–819.Google Scholar
  58. Ryan, G. W., & Bernard, H. R. (2000). Data management and analysis methods. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of qualitative research (2nd ed., pp. 769–802). Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  59. Šálek, M., Červinka, J., Banea, O. C., Krofel, M., Ćirović, D., Selanec, I., Penezić, A., Grill, S., & Riegert, J. (2014). Population densities and habitat use of the golden jackal (Canis aureus) in farmlands across the Balkan Peninsula. European Journal of Wildlife Research, 60(2), 193–200.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Salvador, M., & Clarke, T. (2011). The Weyekin principle: toward an embodied critical rhetoric. Environmental Communication, 5(3), 243–260.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Schmitt, R. (2005). Systematic metaphor analysis as a method of qualitative research. The Qualitative Report, 10(2), 358–394.Google Scholar
  62. Schüttler, E., Rozzi, R., & Jax, K. (2011). Towards a societal discourse on invasive species management: a case study of public perceptions of mink and beavers in Cape Horn. Journal for Nature Conservation, 19(3), 175–184.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Sebeok, T. A. (1991a). Communication. In T. A. Sebeok (Ed.), A sign is just a sign (pp. 22–35). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  64. Sebeok, T. A. (1991b). The semiotic self. In T. A. Sebeok (Ed.), A sign is just a sign (pp. 36–40). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  65. Selge, S., Fischer, A., & Van der Wal, R. (2001). Public and professional views on invasive non-native species – a qualitative social scientific investigation. Biological Conservation, 144(12), 3089–3097.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Shannon, C. E., & Weaver, W. (1949). The mathematical theory of communication. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.Google Scholar
  67. Shine, R., & Doody, J. S. (2011). Invasive species control: understanding conflicts between researchers and the general community. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 9(7), 400–406.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Stoyanov, S. (2012). Golden jackal (Canis aureus) in Bulgaria. Current status, distribution, demography and diet. International Symposium On Hunting “Мodern Aspects Of Sustainable Management Of Game Population.” Zemun-Belgrade, Serbia, 22–24 June, 2012, 48–56.Google Scholar
  69. Sunstein, C. R. (2005). Laws of fear: Beyond the precautionary principle. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Tønnessen, M. (2009). Umwelt transitions: uexküll and environmental change. Biosemiotics, 2(1), 47–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Tønnessen, M. (2014). Umwelt trajectories. Semiotica, 198, 159–180.Google Scholar
  72. Torkar, G., Zimmermann, B., & Willebrand, T. (2011). Qualitative interviews in human dimensions studies about nature conservation. Varstvo Narave, 25, 39–52.Google Scholar
  73. Uexküll, J. V. (1982). Theory of meaning. Semiotica, 42(1), 25–82.Google Scholar
  74. Van Dyck, H. (2012). Changing organisms in rapidly changing anthropogenic landscapes: the significance of the “Umwelt”-concept and functional habitat for animal conservation. Evolutionary Applications, 5(2), 144–153.PubMedCentralCrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  75. Warren, C. R. (2007). Perspectives on the ‘alien’ versus ‘native’ species debate: a critique of concepts, language and practice. Progress in Human Geography, 31, 427–446.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Whitney, K. (2014). Domesticating nature?: surveillance and conservation of migratory shorebirds in the “Atlantic Flyway”. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 45, 78–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Williamson, M. H. (1996). Biological invasions. London: Chapman and Hall.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SemioticsUniversity of TartuTartuEstonia

Personalised recommendations