The Golden Jackal (Canis aureus) is one of the most widely distributed canid (dog family) species, occurring in many areas of central, eastern, and southern Europe; northern Africa; and parts of Asia (with a range extending from the Arabian Peninsula into western Europe and east into Turkey, the Middle East, Central Asia, the entire Indian subcontinent and east and south to Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, and parts of Indochina). During the past half century, Golden Jackal populations in Europe have undergone significant changes in both distribution and abundance, including dramatic declines (until the 1960s), recovery (1960s and 1970s), and expansion (from the early 1980s onwards). Expansion of Golden Jackals in eastern and central Europe is ongoing.
Golden Jackals live from the Sahel to the evergreen forests of Burma and Thailand. In Africa, they are found in semi-desert and short to medium grasslands and savannahs (but see below); in India and Bangladesh, they can be found in forested, mangrove, agricultural, rural, and semi-urban habitats. They are established up to 2000 m in India. Golden Jackals, which are primarily nocturnal, are opportunistic and omnivorous foragers, even approaching human habitations at night to forage for garbage. The basic social unit is the breeding pair, which is sometimes accompanied by its current litter of pups and/or by offspring from previous litters.
Golden Jackals exhibit substantial geographic and ecological variation across their range. Some of this variation, however, may be due to the presence of cryptic species. Analyses of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequences by Rueness et al (2011) and Gaubert et al. (2012) followed up on a previous mtDNA study (and even earlier morphological data from T.H. Huxley and others) suggesting that the taxon known as the Egyptian Jackal (C. aureus lupaster) is actually more closely related to the Gray Wolf than to any other canid, including Golden Jackals from elsewhere. This taxon is recognized as the African Wolf (Canis lupus lupaster). African wolves appear to be solitary and extremely shy, living at the periphery of family packs of Golden Jackals. According to some reports, the African wolf may hunt larger livestock such as sheep, goats and even cows, whereas the Golden Jackal is only observed preying on lambs. Golden Jackals may be harassed by African Wolves to gain access to carcasses being fed on by Golden Jackals. Phylogenetic analyses of mtDNA indicate that the African Wolf may be widely distributed in North and West Africa, extending its known apparent range more than 6,000 km west from its previously determined range in northeastern Africa. Further research will be necessary to resolve the relationship between Golden Jackals and African Wolves. It is possible that there has been extensive hybridization between the two in Africa or that the African Golden Jackal in North and West Africa is just an eco-morphological variant within the African Wolf lineage (Gaubert et al. 2012).
Over most its distribution, the Golden Jackal is fairly common, although it is thought to be declining in many areas due to habitat loss and modification. The Indian sub-continent is estimated to be home to at least 80,000 individuals.
(Sillero-Zubiri 2009; Rueness et al. 2011; Arnold et al. 2012; Gaubert et al. 2012)
- Gaubert P., C. Bloch, S. Benyacoub, A. Abdelhamid, P. Pagani, et al. 2012. Reviving the African Wolf Canis lupus lupaster in North and West Africa: A Mitochondrial Lineage Ranging More than 6,000 km Wide. PLoS ONE 7(8): e42740. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0042740.
- Rueness EK, Asmyhr MG, Sillero-Zubiri C, Macdonald DW, Bekele A, et al. (2011) The Cryptic African Wolf: Canis aureus lupaster Is Not a Golden Jackal and Is Not Endemic to Egypt. PLoS ONE 6(1): e16385. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0016385.
- Arnold, J., A, Humer, M. Heltai, D. Murariu, N. Spassov, and K. Hackländer. 2012. Current status and distribution of golden jackals Canis aureus in Europe. Mammal Review 42(1): 1-11.
- Sillero-Zubiri, C. 2009. Golden Jackel (Canis aureus). Pp. 417-418 in: Wilson, D.E. and Mittermeier, R.A., eds. Handbook of the Mammals of the World. Volume 2. Hoofed Mammals. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
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