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.
The golden jackal occurs in North and East Africa, Southeastern Europe and South Asia to Burma.
Biogeographic Regions: palearctic (Native ); oriental (Native ); ethiopian (Native )
Distribution in Egypt
Narrow (Nile Valley, Delta, Western Desert).
The body length of the golden jackal is 70 to 85 cm., with a tail length of about 25 cm. Its standing height is approximately 40 cm. The fur is generally coarse and not very long. Its coat is usually yellow to pale gold and brown-tipped, but the color can vary with season and region. On the Serengeti Plain in Northern Tanzania, golden jackals are brown-tipped yellow in the rainy season (December-January), changing to pale gold in the dry season (September-October).
Range mass: 8 to 10 kg.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry
The golden jackal is the most northerly of jackal species, and also the most widely distributed. It overlaps biotopes only with the black-backed jackal in East African savannas. Golden jackals prefer dry open country, arid short grasslands and steppe landscapes.
Terrestrial Biomes: desert or dune ; savanna or grassland ; forest ; scrub forest
Habitat and Ecology
Golden jackals consume 54% animal food and 46% plant food. They are opportunistic foragers with a very varied diet, which consists of young gazelles, rodents, (especially during winter), hares, ground birds and their eggs, reptiles, frogs, fish, insects and fruit. They take carrion on occasion.
Animal Foods: birds; mammals; amphibians; reptiles; fish; eggs; carrion ; insects
Plant Foods: fruit
Primary Diet: omnivore
Based on studies in:
India, Rajasthan Desert (Desert or dune)
This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
- I. K. Sharma, A study of ecosystems of the Indian desert, Trans. Indian Soc. Desert Technol. and Univ. Center Desert Stud. 5(2):51-55, from p. 52 and A study of agro-ecosystems in the Indian desert, ibid. 5:77-82, from p. 79 1980).
Known prey organisms
Canis lupus dingo
Canis lupus familiaris
Based on studies in:
India, Rajasthan Desert (Desert or dune)
This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
- I. K. Sharma, A study of ecosystems of the Indian desert, Trans. Indian Soc. Desert Technol. and Univ. Center Desert Stud. 5(2):51-55, from p. 52 and A study of agro-ecosystems in the Indian desert, ibid. 5:77-82, from p. 79 1980).
- Myers, P., R. Espinosa, C. S. Parr, T. Jones, G. S. Hammond, and T. A. Dewey. 2006. The Animal Diversity Web (online). Accessed February 16, 2011 at http://animaldiversity.org. http://www.animaldiversity.org
Life History and Behavior
Perception Channels: tactile ; chemical
Status: captivity: 16.0 years.
Status: captivity: 14.0 years.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
Golden jackals live in mated pairs and are strictly monogamous. In most jackal families, there are one or two adult members called "helpers." Helpers are jackals who stay with the parents for a year after reaching sexual maturity, without breeding, to help take care of the next litter.
Mating System: monogamous ; cooperative breeder
Births occur mainly in January-February in East Africa and in April-May in Southeast Europe, but take place throughout the year in tropical Asia. Golden jackals of the Serengeti court at the end of the dry season and produce pups during the rainy season. They have been observed to produce pups for at least eight years. The gestation period is 63 days. Young are born in a den within the parents' marked territory. Litters can contain one to nine pups, but two to four is the usual number. Weight at birth is 200-250 grams. Pups' eyes open after about ten days. The pups are nursed for about eight weeks, and then weaned. The young are fed by regurgitation and begin to take some solid food at about three months. Both parents provide food and protection. Sexual maturity comes at eleven months.
Range number of offspring: 1 to 9.
Average number of offspring: 4.5.
Range gestation period: 60 to 63 days.
Range weaning age: 50 to 90 days.
Key Reproductive Features: gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual
Average birth mass: 207.5 g.
Average number of offspring: 3.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
Sex: male: 334 days.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
Sex: female: 334 days.
Parental Investment: altricial ; post-independence association with parents; extended period of juvenile learning
The golden jackal is prevalent and is not threatened.
CITES: appendix iii
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
- 2004Least Concern
- 1996Lower Risk/least concern(Baillie and Groombridge 1996)
Status in Egypt
In India, jackal populations achieve high densities in pastoral areas such as Kutch, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, and Haryana. Based on intensive observations on breeding pack units and radio-collared individuals, jackal densities in the semi-arid Velavadar National Park were estimated between one and two jackals per km² (Y. Jhala et al., unpubl.); see Sharma (1998) for densities quoted for the Thar Desert in India. On the African continent, in the Serengeti National Park, densities can range as high as four adults per km² (Moehlman 1983, 1986, 1989).
Based on known density estimates for parts of India and considering that about 19% (i.e., about 637,000 km²) of the geographical area of India has forest cover with jackal populations (and that jackals are also found outside forested habitats), a minimum population estimate of over 80,000 Golden Jackals would not be unreasonable for the Indian sub-continent. Population estimates for Africa are not available.
The species is included in CITES Appendix III (in India). Jackals feature on Schedule III of the Wildlife Protection Act (1972) of India and are afforded the least legal protection (mainly to control trade of pelts and tails). However, no hunting of any wildlife is permitted under the current legal system in India. The golden jackal could be considered as a "species requiring no immediate protection" with caution and knowledge that populations throughout its range are likely declining.
Besides being represented in a wide array of protected areas covering several landscapes, no special species targeted conservation efforts have been undertaken. Almost all zoos in India have golden jackals.
Current or planned research projects include ongoing, long-term studies in the Serengeti, Tanzania; ongoing studies on wolves, jackals, and striped hyaenas in Bhal and Kutch areas of Gujarat, India; and investigation into crop damage, densities and ranging patterns of golden jackals in Bangladesh.
Gaps in knowledge
Little quantitative information is available on jackal densities, habitat use, and ranging patterns in relation to food availability. Information on dispersal, survival and mortality factors of adults, pups and dispersing individuals is needed. Jackal ecology needs to be studied in forested ecosystems of Southeast Asia where a different set of factors are likely to operate affecting food availability, ranging patterns and survival. Aspects of canid diseases in relation to population dynamics of jackals and transmission need to be better understood.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
The golden jackal raids crops such as corn, sugarcane and watermelon. Individuals have also attacked Caracul sheep with such frequency that sheep-herders have had to make their pastures jackal-proof by enclosing them. Golden jackals may be involved in the spread of rabies; in 1979 two young children were attacked and killed by jackals.
Golden jackals play an important scavanging role by eating garbage and animal carrion around towns and villages. They benefit agriculture by preventing increases in the number of rodents and lagomorphs. They are sometimes hunted for their fur. Golden jackals that are hand-raised can be tamed and kept in houses. They become housebroken and behave much like a domesticated dog, except that they remain shy around strange people and will not allow themselves to be petted by them.
The Golden jackal (Canis aureus) is a medium-sized species of canid which inhabits north and north-eastern Africa, south-eastern and central Europe (up to Austria and Hungary), Asia minor, the Middle East and south east Asia. It is classed by the IUCN as Least Concern, due to its widespread range in areas with optimum food and shelter. It is a highly adaptable species, being able to exploit different foodstuffs and live in numerous different habitats, including the African savannahs, the mountains of the Caucasus and the forests of India. It is the largest of the jackals, and the only species to occur outside Africa, with 13 different subspecies being recognised. Although often grouped with the other jackals (the black-backed jackal, and the side-striped jackal), genetic research indicates that the golden jackal is more closely related to the gray wolf and the coyote. The genetic evidence is consistent with the form of the skull, which also bears more similarities to those of the latter two species than to those of other jackals. The golden jackal is sometimes featured in the folklore and mythology of human cultures with which it is sympatric: in Indian folklore, it is portrayed as a trickster, while in Ancient Egyptian religion, it played a central role under the guise of Anubis, the god of embalming. Once thought to have been the ancestor of some dog breeds, the golden jackal can be hybridised with domestic dogs, with some modern authors stating that the species may have contributed to the breeding of Ancient Egyptian hunting hounds.
Unlike other jackal species which are African in origin, the golden jackal, like the wolf, likely emerged from Asia. The direct ancestor of the golden jackal is thought to be Canis kuruksaensis, a Villafranchian (from late Pliocene to early Pleistocene) canid native to Tadjikistan. Another prehistoric canid initially thought to be an ancestral jackal, Canis arnensis which was native to Europe, was later classed as more closely related to the coyote. Golden jackals likely colonised the European continent during the late Pleistocene.
Golden jackals are medium sized canids, and are considered the most typical representative of the genus Canis. Golden jackals resemble wolves in general appearance, but are smaller, lighter, have proportionately shorter legs, have more elongated torsos and shorter tails. The iris is light or dark brownish. Females have five pairs of teats. Golden jackals in India tend to have shorter ears than their North African cousins. Adults are 74–106 cm (29–42 in) long, 38–50 cm (15–20 in) high at the shoulder and weigh 7–15 kg (15-33 lb). There is a 12% weight difference between the sexes. Unlike other jackal species, golden jackals can bare their fangs. The tail is straighter, shorter and brushier than that of wolves.
Their skulls are less massively built than those of wolves, and have narrower and more pointed muzzles. The projections of the skull are well developed, but weaker than the wolf's. In jackals, the anterior incisure of the nasal bones has a medial protrusion, unlike wolves. There are 18 characteristics which distinguish the skulls of golden jackals from those of domestic dogs; among them, the jackal has a smaller inflation of the frontal region, a shallower forehead, smaller upward curvature of the zygomatic arches and a longer and thinner lower jaw. Occasionally, they develop a horny growth on the skull which is associated with magical powers in south-eastern Asia. This horn usually measures half an inch in length, and is concealed by fur.
The teeth are similar to those of wolves, but are overall more trenchant in character, particularly in the upper molars, which have higher cusps, are more slender, and less terete than in wolves and their cutting ridges much more developed. The canine teeth are thinner than the wolf's, and the carnassials relatively weaker. Also, the cingulum on the external edge of the first upper molar is broader and more distinctly marked. North African jackals tend to have longer carnassials than those living in the Middle East.
The winter fur is generally of a dirty reddish-grey colour, with blackish or rusty red tips on the guard hairs. The facial region, save for the muzzle, is ocherous-rusty-reddish, with a black stripe present above each eye. The lips, cheeks, chin and throat are dirty white. The outsides of the limbs are ocherous-red, with the insides being of a light colour. The summer fur is sparser, coarser and shorter, with the same colour as the winter coat, only brighter and less darkly tinted. The hairs of the tail are 4 inches long and of a yellowish colour beneath, greyish above, and all tipped with black. Jackals living in mountainous regions may have a greyer shade of fur than their lowland counterparts, and melanistic individuals have been reported. Jackals molt twice a year, in Spring and Autumn. The colour and texture of the fur tends to vary geographically (see Fur use).
Reproduction and development
In the Trans-Caucasus, estrus begins in early February and during warm winters in late January. In Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, the rut extends to early March. Spermatogenesis in males occurs 10–12 days before the females enter estrus, and during this time, their testicles triple in weight. Estrus lasts for 3–4 days. Females failing to mate during this time will undergo a loss of receptivity which lasts for 6–8 days. Mating occurs during daylight, and concludes with a copulatory tie. In Eurasian jackals, the tie lasts 20–45 minutes, while in Africa it is only 4 minutes. The pair are monogamous, and will remain together until one of them dies. Males take part in the raising of their young, and will dig burrows for them. The gestation period lasts 60–63 days.
In the Trans-Caucasus, cubs are usually born in late March and late April, in North-Eastern Italy probably in late April, in the Serengheti they are born in December and January, while in Nepal, they are born at any time of the year. Litters usually consist of 3-8 pups, which are born with shut eyelids and with soft fur which ranges in colour from light grey to dark brown. At the age of one month, their fur is shed and replaced with a new pelt of reddish colour with black speckles. The nursing period varies in length according to location: in the Caucasus, it lasts 50–70 days, while in Tajikistan, it can last 90 days. Cubs begin to eat meat at the age of 15–20 days, though they are rarely fed regurtitated food. Cubs have a fast growth rate: at the age of two days, they weigh 201-214 g, 560-726 g at one month, and 2700-3250 g at four months. Once the lactation period has concluded, the cubs are driven away by their mother, though not as assertively as black-backed jackal mothers. Offspring from a previous litter may stay with their parents to help them rear their next litter, though their sexual behaviour is suppressed. Females become sexually mature at 11 months, while males become so after one year, though they only acquire an adult build after two years.
Diet and hunting
Golden jackals are opportunistic feeders, being both predators and scavengers, and will readily eat refuse and vegetation during certain seasons. In the former Soviet Union, jackals mainly hunt hares, small rodents, pheasants, partridges, ducks, coots, moorhens and passerines. They readily eat lizards, snakes, frogs, insects, fish and molluscs. During the winter period, they will kill many nutrias and waterfowl. During such times, jackals will surplus kill and cache what they do not eat. Jackals will feed on fruits such as pears, hawthorn, dogwood and the cones of Common Medlars. In Spring, they will dig out bulbs and the roots of wild sugar cane. In Summer, jackals drink regularly, and stick to water bodies. During times of drought, jackals will dig holes in dried channels and drink the water collected in the ground, as well as eating dead fish and birds descending to drink. Near human habitations, jackals will feed near slaughterhouses, landfills and cattle burial places. In Dagestan in the 1920s, jackals frequently ate near railway lines, feeding on food remains thrown out of trains by passengers. In Hungary, their most frequent prey are common voles and bank voles. Information on the diet of jackals in North-Eastern Italy is scant, but it is certain that they prey on small roe deers and hares. In the Serengeti, golden jackals feed primarily on dung beetles, grasshoppers and crickets, though they will also eat gerbils, springhares, hares, ground birds and their eggs, lizards, snakes, frogs, fishes, bulbs, berries and fallen fruit. Although they readily follow alighting vultures, scavenging only constitutes 3-6% of their diet, due to competition with spotted hyenas. They tend to only scavenge when an animal dies or when a larger predator makes a kill within their home range. When they come across unfamiliar meat, jackals have been observed to rub the sides of their necks on the food and roll on their backs. During the wildebeest calving season, golden jackals will feed almost exclusively on their afterbirth. Although capable of killing animals 3 times their size, they usually only target sick or newborn animals. Otherwise, they will rarely attack healthy animals even of their own weight. Overall, African golden jackals do not target mammals as actively as black-backed jackals. Jackals in Turkey have been known to eat the eggs of the endangered green turtle. In India, they consume much fruit and vegetable matter such as mangoes, cashew, fishtail palm and jackfruits, as well as melons, cucumbers and maize. Pairs of jackals have been observed to hunt capped langurs in north-western Bangladesh. Immature Northern Plains Gray Langurs are also rarely preyed upon.
Jackals rarely form small packs when hunting, though packs of 8-12 jackals consisting of more than one family have been observed in the summer periods of the Trans-Caucuses. When hunting singly, golden jackals will trot around an area occasionally stopping to sniff and listen. Once prey is located, lone jackals will conceal themselves, quickly approach then pounce. When hunting in pairs or packs, jackals run parallel and overtake their prey in unison. When hunting aquatic rodents or birds, they will run along both sides of narrow rivers or streams, driving their prey from one jackal to another. Success rates in hunting are greatly increased for jackals working in pairs: in East Africa, golden jackals hunting young Thompson's gazelles alone have a success rate of 16%, while those working in pairs or more have one of 67%. When attacking medium sized animals, golden jackals will tear at the victim's abdomen, rarely killing it outright.
Interspecific predatory relationships
Golden jackals tend to dominate smaller canid species. In Africa, golden jackals have been observed to kill the cubs of black-backed jackals. In Israel, red foxes are a commonly occurring predator, and although smaller than jackals, their dietary habits are identical, and the two species are therefore in direct competition with one another. Foxes generally ignore jackal scents or tracks in their territories, though they will avoid close physical proximity with jackals themselves. Studies have shown that in areas where jackals became very abundant, the population size of foxes decreased significantly, apparently because of competitive exclusion. Conversely, jackals are shown to vacate areas inhabited by wolves. Wolves are often actively intolerant of jackals in their established territories and have been known to approach jackal-calling stations at a quick trotting pace, presumably to chase off the competitors. The jackal's recent expansion throughout eastern and western Europe has been attributed to historical declines in wolf populations. The present diffusion of the golden jackal in the Northern Adriatic Hinterland seems to be in rapid expansion  in various areas where the wolf is absent or very rare (see also:). In Africa, golden jackals often eat alongside African wild dogs, and will stand their ground if the dogs try to harass them. In South-eastern Asia, golden jackals have been known to hunt alongside dhole packs, and there is one record of a golden jackal pack adopting a male Ethiopian wolf.
In Africa, golden jackals tend to be warier toward lions than black-backed jackals. In India, lone jackals expelled from their pack have been known to form commensal relationships with tigers. These solitary jackals, known as kol-bahl, will attach themselves to a particular tiger, trailing it at a safe distance in order to feed on the big cat's kills. A kol-bahl will even alert a tiger to a kill with a loud pheal. Tigers have been known to tolerate these jackals: one report describes how a jackal confidently walked in and out between three tigers walking together a few feet away from each other. Tigers will however kill jackals on occasion: the now extinct tigers of the Amu-Darya region were known to frequently eat jackals.
Jackals will feed alongside spotted hyenas, though they will be chased if they approach too closely. Spotted hyenas will sometimes follow jackals during the gazelle fawning season, as jackals are effective at tracking and catching young animals. Hyenas do not take to eating jackal flesh readily: four hyenas were reported to take half an hour in eating one. Overall, the two animals typically ignore each other when there is no food or young at stake. Jackals will confront a hyena approaching too closely to their dens by taking turns in biting the hyena's hocks until it retreats. Striped hyenas have been known to prey on golden jackals in Kutch, India; one striped hyena den contained three dead jackals.
They are aggressive toward vultures on carcasses and will attack them if they land too close to them.
The vocabulary of golden jackals is similar to that of dogs and Seitz (1959) noted seven different sounds. He remarked that different subspecies can be recognised by differences in their howls. Among African canids, golden jackals have the most dog-like vocalisations. The cry of a golden jackal consists of a long wailing howl which is repeated three or four times, each repetition in a note a little higher than the preceding, and then a succession of usually three quick yelps, also repeated two or three times. It was commonly rendered in English as "Dead Hindoo, where, where, where." When in the vicinity of tigers or leopards, jackals will emit an alarm call often rendered as "Pheal." Groups will occasionally howl in chorus, which is thought to reinforce family bonds, as well as advertise territorial status. Tamed jackals have been known to imitate the calls of their human captors. Jackals may howl for different reasons, such as to call other jackals or to seemingly announce changes in weather. They have been recorded to howl upon hearing church bells, sirens or the whistles of steam engines and boats. They typically howl at dawn, midday and the evening hours.
In Africa, golden jackals are widespread in the North and North-eastern portions of the continent, being present from Senegal on Africa's west coast to Egypt in the East. This range includes Morocco, Algeria, and Libya in the north to Nigeria, Chad and Tanzania in the south. Golden jackals also occur in the Arabian Peninsula, and have a patchy distribution in Europe. In their European range, jackals are found in the Balkans, Hungary and south-western Ukraine. They are found also in Austria, Slovakia, Slovenia and north-eastern Italy (Friuli Venezia Giulia and Veneto), where their distribution has recently increased encompassing also the Region Trentino Alto Adige. To the east, their range includes Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Central Asia, the Indian subcontinent, then east and south to Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand and parts of Indochina.
Golden jackals are typically lowland dwellers: in the Caucasus and Trans-Caucasus, they rarely ascend into mountains higher than 600 metres AMSL, though jackals in Borzhomi have been found in heights of 900–1050 metres AMSL and 840 metres AMSL in Armenia. The presence of golden jackals and their choice of habitat is determined largely by food abundance, the presence of water and the presence of thick brush where they can conceal themselves from both their prey and enemies. They are especially abundant in areas where there is no prolongued freezing period for water bodies and where it is likely for waterfowl to overwinter. Although not maximally adapted for cold areas, golden jackals can withstand temperatures as low as -25° or even -35°. During times of heavy snowfall, jackals can only travel through paths made by humans or large animals. Although the most desert adapted of jackals, they avoid waterless deserts, being found there only on their very edges. On the coasts of the Black and Caspian Seas, their favoured habitats are impassable thickets of spiny bushes with tunnels created by larger animals such as wild boar. In North-eastern Africa, golden jackals avoid competition with other jackal species by inhabiting short grass plains, as opposed to the woodland areas favoured by side-striped jackals and the intermediate areas preferred by black-backed jackals. In Italy the species breeds both near lowland towns (Udine surroundings) and in Pre-Alpine valleys (High River Natisone/Nadiza Valley in the Eastern Province of Udine), dwelling also in various localities of the Alpine Mountain Chain up to 1000 AMSL (San Vito di Cadore surroundings, Val Pusteria/Pustertal). Sub-adult vagrants, however, have been recorded also in some urban areas of the Venetian floodplain, both in Venice (San Donà di Piave) and Treviso (Preganziol) Provinces. They hunt along the shores or canals of water bodies. In Middle Asia and Kazakhstan they prefer tugai thickets, thickets in abandoned irrigated lands and reed floodlands. In areas with little dense vegetation, such as the Gissar and Fergana Valleys, jackals reside in low hillocks, where they take refuge in dry channels, caves and abandoned fox dens.
Though widespread, golden jackals do not display geographical variation to the same extent as wolves. Indian and North African jackals were once considered separate species, on account of differing coat colours, and the lengths of the ears being shorter in the Indian kind. However, unlike differing wolf subspecies, which display no great differences in the form of the skull or the proportions of the teeth, such differences are apparent in Asiatic and North African forms of golden jackal. There are 13 subspecies of the golden jackal currently recognised, both on the basis of morphology and genetics:
Canis a. algirensis
|Wagner, 1841||Darker than C. a. aureus, with a tail marked with three dusky rings. Is equal in size to the red fox||Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia||barbarus (C. E. H. Smith, 1839)|
grayi (Hilzheimer, 1906)
Canis a. anthus
|F. Cuvier, 1820||At least an inch higher at the shoulder, and several inches longer than C. a. lupaster with larger ears, a more dog-like head and a more gaunt build. The tail is shorter and not as hairy. The nose and forehead are greyish-buff, while the throat and under parts are white. It lacks the black ring round the neck, nor the stippled arrangement of black points on the back characteristic of C. a. lupaster.||Senegal||senegalensis (C. E. H. Smith, 1839)|
Canis a. aureus
|Linnaeus, 1758||The nominate subspecies. It is large with soft, pale fur with predominantly sandy tones||Middle Asia, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Arabian Peninsula, Baluchistan, northwestern India||balcanicus (Brusina, 1892)|
caucasica (Kolenati, 1858)
Canis a. bea
|Heller, 1914||Kenya, Northern Tanzania|
Canis a. cruesemanni
|Matschie, 1900||Smaller than C. a. indicus. Its status as a separate subspecies has been disputed by certain authors, who point out that its classification as such is based solely on observations on captive animals||Thailand, Myanmar to east India|
|Canis a. ecsedensis||Kretzoi, 1947||minor (Mojsisovico, 1897)|
Canis a. indicus
|Hodgson, 1833||Its fur is a mixture of black and white, with buff on the shoulders, ears and legs. The buff colour is more pronounced in specimens from high altitudes. Black hairs predominate on the middle of the back and tail. The belly, chest and the sides of the legs are creamy white, while the face and lower flanks are grizzled with grey fur. Adults grow to a length of 100 cm (39 in), 35–45 cm (14–18 in) in height and 8–11 kg (18-24 lb) in weight. Has been known to form commensal relationships with tigers; trailing them in order to eat their kills, and alerting them to intruders or kills with loud cries. The karyotype of the Indian jackal is quite different (2N=78; NF=84) from that of its Eurasian and African counterparts (2N=80).||India, Nepal|
Canis a. lupaster
|Hemprich and Ehrenberg, 1833||A large, wolf-like subspecies standing some 41 cm (16 in) in shoulder-height, with a total length of about 127 cm (50 in). It seems to be larger than C. a. moreoticus. The skull is almost indistinguishable in size from that of the Indian Wolf, though the teeth of C. a. lupaster are less heavily built. It is stoutly built, with proportionately short ears. The pelt is yellowish grey on the upper parts, and is mingled with black, which tends to collect in streaks and spots. The muzzle, the backs of the ears, and the outer surfaces of both pairs of limbs are reddish yellow, the margins of the mouth arc white, and the terminal half of the tail is darker than the back, with a black tip.||Egypt||sacer (Hemprich and Ehrenberg, 1833)|
Canis a. moreoticus
|I. Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, 1835||One of the largest in the world, with animals of both sexes averaging 120–125 cm (47–49 in) in total length and 10-14,9 kg (20-33 lb) in body weight. The fur is coarse, and is generally brightly coloured with blackish tones on the back. The thighs, upper legs, ears and forehead are bright reddish chestnut||South-eastern Europe, Asia Minor and Caucasus||graecus (Wagner, 1841)|
|Sri Lankan jackal|
Canis a. naria
|Wroughton, 1916||Measures 67–74 cm (26½-29 inches) and weighs 5-8.6 kg (12-19 lbs). The winter coat is shorter, smoother and not as shaggy than that of C. a. indicus. The coat is also darker on the back, being black and speckled with white. The underside is more pigmented on the chin, hind throat, chest and forebelly, while the limbs are rusty ochreous or rich tan. Moulting occurs earlier in the season than with C. a. indicus, and the pelt generally does not lighten in colour.||Southern India, Sri Lanka||lanka (Wroughton, 1838)|
|Canis a. riparius||Hemprich and Ehrenberg, 1832||A dwarf subspecies measuring only a dozen inches in shoulder height. Generally of a greyish-yellow colour, mingled with only a small proportion of black. The muzzle and legs are more decidedly yellow, and the under-parts are white||Somaliland and coast of Ethiopia and Eritrea||hagenbecki (Noack, 1897)|
mengesi (Noack, 1897)
Canis a. soudanicus
|Thomas, 1903||Smaller and more lightly built than C. a. lupaster, standing 38 cm (15 in) at the shoulder, and 102 cm (40 in) in length. Compared with the wolf-like C. a. lupaster, C. a. soudanicus is built more like a greyhound. The ears are somewhat larger than in C. a. lupaster and the body colour is generally pale stone-buff, with blotches of black||Sudan and Somaliland||doederleini (Hilzheimer, 1906)|
nubianus (Cabrera, 1921)
Canis a. syriacus
|Hemprich and Ehrenberg, 1833||It weighs 5–12 kg (11–27 lb), and has a body length of 60–90 cm (24–35 in). Distinguished by its brown ears. Each hair of the back consists of four distinct colours; white at the root, then black, above which foxy-red, and the point black||Israel, western Jordan|
Diseases and parasites
Golden jackals can carry diseases and parasites harmful to human health; among them rabies and Donovan's leishmania (which although harmless to jackals, can cause leishmaniasis in people). Jackals in southwestern Tajikistan have been recorded to carry 16 species of cestodes, roundworms and acanthocephalans (Sparganum mansoni, Diphyllobothrium mansonoides, Taenia hydatigena, T. pisiformis, T. ovis, Hydatigera taeniaeformis, Diphylidium caninum, mesocestoides lineatus, Ancylostoma caninum, Uncinaria stenocephala, Dioctophyma renale, Toxocara canis, Toxascaris leonina, Dracunculus medinensis, Filariata and Macracanthorhynchus catulinum). Jackals infected with D. medinensis can infect water bodies with their eggs, and cause dracunculiasis in people who drink from them. Jackals may also play a large part in spreading coenurosis in sheep and cattle, and canine distemper in dogs. Jackals in the Serengeti are known to carry the canine parvovirus, canine herpesvirus, canine coronavirus and canine adenovirus. In July 2006, a Romanian jackal was found to be carrying Trichinella britovi. Jackals consuming fish and molluscs can be infected with metagonimiasis, which was recently diagnosed in a male jackal from North-Eastern Italy. In Tajikistan, at least twelve tick species are known to be carried by golden jackals (which include Ixodes, Rhipicephalus turanicus, R. leporis, R. rossicus, R. sanguineus, R. pumilio, R. schulzei, Hyalomma anatolicum, H. scupense and H. asiaticum), four flea species (Pulex irritans, Xenopsylla nesokiae, Ctenocephalides canis and C. felis) and one species of louse (Trichodectes canis). In North-Eastern Italy the species is a carrier of the tick species Ixodes ricinus and Dermacentor reticulatus.
Relationships with humans
Role in mythology and literature
The Ancient Egyptian god of embalming, Anubis, was portrayed as a jackal-headed man, or as a jackal wearing ribbons and holding a flagellum. Anubis was always shown as a jackal or dog coloured black, the color of regeneration, death, and the night. It was also the color that the body turned during mummification. The reason for Anubis' animal model being canine is based on what the ancient Egyptians themselves observed of the creature - dogs and jackals often haunted the edges of the desert, especially near the cemeteries where the dead were buried. In fact, it is thought that the Egyptians began the practice of making elaborate graves and tombs to protect the dead from desecration by jackals. Duamutef, one of the Four Sons of Horus and a protection god of the Canopic jars, was also portrayed as having jackal-like features.
The Authorized King James Version of the Bible never mentions jackals, though this could be due to a translation error. The AVs of Isiah, Micah, Job and Malachi mentions "wild beasts" and "dragons" crying in desolate houses and palaces. The original Hebrew words used are lyim (howler) and tan respectively. According to biologist Michael Bright, tan is more likely referring to jackals than dragons, as the word is frequently used throughout the AV to describe a howling animal asosciated with desolation and abandoned habitations, which is consistent with the golden jackal's vast vocal repertoire and its occasional habit of living in abandoned buildings. Jeremiah makes frequent references to jackals by using the word shu'al, which can mean both jackal and fox. Although the AV translates the word as fox, the behaviour described is more consistent with jackals, as shown in the books of Lamentations and Psalms in which references are made to the shu'al's habit of eating corpses in battlefields. David W. Macdonald theorizes that due to the general scarcity and elusiveness of foxes in Israel, the author of the Book of Judges may have actually been describing the much more common golden jackals when narrating how Samson tied torches to the tails of 300 foxes to make them destroy the vineyards of the Philistines. According to an ancient Ethiopian folktale, jackals and man first became enemies shortly before the Great Flood, when Noah initially refused to allow jackals into the ark, thinking jackals were unworthy of being saved until being commanded by God to do so.
Golden jackals appear prominently in Indian folklore, where they are often portrayed in the context of trickery and deceit. The story of The Blue Jackal has the jackal disguising itself with blue paint as Neelaakanth, the guardian of all animals, and tricking the other animals into providing food for him, so that he may continue protecting them. He is driven away once the monsoon washes the paint from him. In Rudyard Kipling's Mowgli stories collected in The Jungle Book, the character Tabaqui is a jackal despised by the Sioni wolf pack, due to his mock cordiality, scavenging habits and his subservience to Shere Khan. He appears in the beginning of the book, visiting Mowgli's adoptive parents, Mother and Father Wolf, and they are clearly annoyed by his presence, since he announces that Shere Khan the tiger is hunting in their territory. Tabaqui is later killed by one of Mowgli's 'siblings', Grey Brother, who crushes his back.
Although present in Europe, jackals are rarely featured in European folklore or literature. Surveys taken in the High Adriatic Hinterland indicate that the totality of people with first hand experience of jackals (hunters, game keepers and local people) regularly mistook red foxes affected by sarcoptic mange (or in a problematic state of moult) for golden jackals. The sighting of a true golden jackal however, was always referred to as a wolf, or a little wolf. This was verified both with photo-trapping sessions and with a study on tracks, confirming previous observations on this matter. This erroneous and controversial perception of the golden jackal may be due to the fact that its presence is still not traditional, neither in Italian and Slovenian human culture, nor in hunting and game keeping traditions.
Livestock, game and crop predation
Golden jackals can be harmful pests, and will attack domestic animals, including turkeys, lambs, sheep, goats and there is one record of a jackal attacking a newborn domestic water buffalo calf. They destroy many grapes, eating watermelons, muskmelons and nuts. In Greece, jackals tend not to be as damaging to livestock as wolves and red foxes are, though they can become a serious nuisance to small stock when in high numbers. In southern Bulgaria, 1,053 attacks on small stock, mainly sheep and lambs, were recorded between 1982–87, along with some damages to newborn deer in game farms. In Israel, about 1.5%–1.9% of the calves born in the Golan Heights die due to predation, mainly by Golden Jackals. In both cases, the high predation rate is thought to be the consequence of a jackal population explosion due to the availability of food in illegal garbage dumps. Preventative measures to avoid depredation were also lacking in both cases. However, even without preventing measures, the highest damages by jackals from Bulgaria are minimal when compared to the domestic animal losses by wolves. Golden jackals are extremely harmful to furbearing rodents such as nutrias and muskrats. Nutrias can be completely extirpated in shallow water bodies, and during the winter of 1948-49 in the Amu Darya, muskrats constituted 12.3% of jackal faeces contents, and 71% of muskrat houses were destroyed by jackals, 16% of which froze and became unsuitable for muskrat occupation. Jackals also harm the muskrat industry by eating muskrats caught in traps or taking skins left out to dry.
During the British Raj, British sportsmen in India would hunt jackals on horseback with hounds as a substitute for the fox hunting of their native England. Unlike foxes, golden jackals were documented to be ferociously protective of their pack mates, and could seriously injure dogs.
According to Dr. Jerdon, the Jackal is easily pulled down by greyhounds, but gives an excellent run with foxhounds. He adds that they are very tenacious of life, and "sham dead" so well as to deceive even experienced sportsmen. On one occasion a Jackal came to the aid of another individual possibly its mate which had been seized by greyhounds, attacking them furiously although Dr. Jerdon was close by on horseback.—A monograph of the canidae by St. George Mivart, F.R.S, published by Alere Flammam. 1890
Jackals were not hunted often in this manner, as they were slower than foxes and could scarcely outrun greyhounds after 200 yards.
In the former Soviet Union, jackals are not actively hunted, and are usually captured incidentally during the hunting of other animals by means of traps or shooting during drives. In the Trans-Caucases, jackals are captured with large fishing hooks baited with meat, suspended 75–100 cm from the ground with wire. The jackals can only reach the meat by jumping, and are hooked by the lip or jaw.
The Greek Ministry of Agriculture annually organised shooting and poisoning campaigns against jackals up until 1981. An average of 1000 jackals were killed per year in these campaigns, and a bounty was paid for each animal killed. The jackal was the first wild canid to be removed from Greece's vermin list in 1990 and was followed by the wolf and fox in 1993, though unlike the latter two species, jackals did not fully recolonise areas of their former range. Although jackals in Greece are rarely hunted intentionally, they are occasionally shot during the hunts of other animals such as wild boar.
In Italy the species has been recently protected by the National Law 157/1992, but it is occasionally shot illegally during fox hunting. This seems to be the main obstacle for the species in Italy.
Jackals are hunted in Vietnam for their noses, which are supposed to possess medicinal qualities.
In Russia and other nations of the former Soviet Union, golden jackals are considered furbearers, albeit ones of low quality due to their sparse, coarse and monotonously coloured fur. Asiatic and Near Eastern jackals produce the coarsest pelts, though this can be remedied during the dressing process. As jackal hairs have very little fur fibre, their skins have a flat appearance. The softest furs come from Elburz in northern Iran. Jackals are known to have been hunted for their fur in the 19th century: in the 1880s, 200 jackals were captured annually in Mervsk. In the Zakatal area of the Trans-Caucases, 300 jackals were captured in 1896. During that period, a total of 10,000 jackals had been taken within Russia, and were sent exclusively to the Nizhegorod fair. In the early 1930s, 20-25 thousand jackal skins were tanned annually in the Soviet Union, though the stocks were significantly underused, as over triple that amount could have been produced. Before 1949 and the onset of the Cold War, the majority of jackal skins were exported to the USA. Despite their geographical variations, jackal skins are not graded according to a fur standard, and are typically used in the manufacture of cheap collars, women's coats and fur coats. Jackal fur is still valued by the Kazakh people along the Caspian shoreline, as it is lighter and warmer than sheepskin.
Golden jackals are easily tamed, and if taken when young, can be taught to follow and obey their captors like dogs. When captured as adults, they are much less tractable, being shy, suspicious and prone to bite without warning. Tame jackals are noted to gradually lose their distinct odour in proportion to the length of their captivity. Theodore Roosevelt wrote of how he encountered several tame jackals in India, describing one which would come when called by its name, and was fastidiously clean. Rather than sit on its haunches as a dog would, it would lie at full length with its nose between its forepaws.
Relationship to the dog
Golden jackals are capable of reproducing with dogs. In his The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication, Charles Darwin wrote of a female hybrid from an English dog and jackal kept in the Zoological Gardens of London. The hybrid was sterile, but Darwin pointed out that this was an exceptional case, as there were numerous cases of jackal hybrids successfully reproducing. Robert Armitage Sterndale mentioned experimental jackal hybrids from British India in his Natural History of Mammals in India and Ceylon, noting that glaring jackal traits could be exhibited in hybrids even after three generations of crossing them with dogs.
Scientists at Russia's DS Likhachev Scientific Research Institute for Cultural Heritage and Environmental Protection began a breeding project in 1975 in which they crossed golden jackals with huskies, in order to create an improved breed with the jackal's power of scent and the husky's resistance to cold. In recent years, Aeroflot has used quarter jackal hybrids, known as Sulimov Dogs, to sniff out explosives otherwise undetectable by machinery. Breeding experiments in Germany with poodles, jackals, and later on with the resulting dog-jackal hybrids showed that unlike wolfdogs, jackal-dogs show a decrease in fertility, significant communication problems as well as an increase of genetic diseases after three generations of interbreeding. This lead to the conclusion that dogs and jackals were not as closely related as once thought.
Following the example of Charles Darwin, who speculated that dogs originated from multiple wild canid species, Konrad Lorenz advocated the view that most dogs, particularly central European breeds, originated from golden jackals, and that wolf blood only contributed in the creation of northern dog breeds. Lorenz theorised that wolf blood was added to an already existing jackal derived population only when humans began colonising Arctic zones in order to improve the hardiness of their animals in cold weather. He further pointed out that with the exception of northern dog breeds, which treat their human masters as pack leaders as wolves would do, the majority of dogs view their captors as parent animals, and display a submissive behaviour not usually found in northern breeds, a trait consistent with the golden jackal which does not rely heavily on pack members to procure food and survive. While capable of absolute obedience, the supposed jackal derived dogs are lacking in the deeper traits of loyalty and affection. He later rescinded this view upon taking into account the golden jackal's complicated repertoire of howling, which is absent in dogs and wolves.
Although the general consensus among modern scientists is that dogs originated from Asian wolves, there are still those who advocate the possibility of a partial jackal contribution. Dog specialist Dr Ian Dunbar pointed out how jackals have often been recorded to mate with pariah and dingo-like dogs and produce offspring, thus the possibility of jackals having influenced some breeds is a possibility. Author Michael Rice further argues that the golden jackal may have played a large part in the creation of Ancient Egyptian hunting hounds, pointing out how Pharaoh hounds do indeed have vocalisations similar to golden jackals, including the latter species' ability to almost mimic the calls of their human masters. Among other similarities, Pharaoh hounds tend to give ritual "noddings and groanings" to people they encounter for the first time, and tend to be monogamous, and only choose to mate with members of the same breed.
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