Canis aureusgolden jackal

Last updated:

Geographic Range

The golden jackal occurs in North and East Africa, Southeastern Europe and South Asia to Burma.

Habitat

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.

Physical Description

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
    17.62 to 22.03 lb

Reproduction

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.

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.

  • Key Reproductive Features
  • gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)
  • sexual
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 9
  • Average number of offspring
    4.5
  • Average number of offspring
    3
    AnAge
  • Range gestation period
    60 to 63 days
  • Range weaning age
    50 to 90 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female
    334 days
    AnAge
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    Sex: male
    334 days
    AnAge
  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • post-independence association with parents
  • extended period of juvenile learning

Lifespan/Longevity

Behavior

The basic social unit of the golden jackal is a mated pair or a mated pair and its young. Golden jackal pairs forage and rest together. All of their behavior is highly synchronized. Cooperative hunting is important to the jackals. Pairs are three times more likely to be successful than individuals in hunting. Members of the same family also cooperate in sharing larger food items and transport food in their stomachs for later regurgitation to pups or to a lactating mother. Hunting families hold territories of two to three square kilometers throughout the year, portions of which are marked with urine, either by the male or the female jackal, to ward off intruders.

Though the golden jackal is a capable hunter, it normally does not attack larger animals. When the gazelles in the Serengeti give birth, every day several newborns are grabbed by the jackals and are taken to the dens to be eaten. Jackals also take part in the kills of larger animals, such as those of the lion. They howl when a lion makes a kill, which usually lures other jackals to the scene. If a sated lion leaves an unfinished carcass, the jackals rush in to devour the remains. Should other animals arrive at the scene, the jackals bury their pieces of meat. Using their forepaws, they dig a trench, lay the bits of quarry into it, and then close the trench using the ridge of the nose.

Both male and female members of a golden jackal pair have important roles in maintaining their territory and in raising the young. When one parent dies, it is unlikely that the rest of the family will survive. However, most jackel families have helpers. These helper associations are probably responsible for reports of large packs hunting together. Within the family, helpers are subordinate to parents.

Helpers strengthen the family in several ways. The presence of a single adult at the den provides considerable protection: adults both "rumble growl" and "predator bark" to warn the pups to take refuge, and a single adult can successfully drive off large predators. Helpers also bring food to a lactating mother and improve the provisioning of the pups indirectly by allowing the parents to spend more time foraging alone or hunting as a pair. Families with helpers may be able to defend and exploit a carcass more successfully than an individual would be able to. Pup survival improves in the presence of helpers, though not as markedly in golden jackals as in other jackal species.

The female golden jackal initiates all den changes. Though the males are predominantly monogamous, females reserve their aggression for female intruders, preventing the sharing of the male and his paternal investment.

Golden jackals are strictly nocturnal in areas inhabited by humans, but may be partly diurnal elsewhere. They dig caverns for shelter, or use crevices in rocks, or caverns that were dug by other animals. Golden jackals live in pairs and are friendly to one another, scratching their partners all over their bodies. However, if strange jackals meet each other, most of the behavior expresses subordination, superiority, or eagerness to attack.

They behave in a manner similar to domesticated dogs and wolves. Males raise a hind leg when spraying their urine, and females squat at the site they wish to spray. Males and females alike mark their territory by spraying, primarily during the mating season.

Each jackal species communicates through its own repertoire of calls. Golden jackals use a wide inventory of howls to locate one another. By howling together, a pair shows that there is a bond between them, and thus the choral howling can be considered a kind of betrothal.

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

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

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

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.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

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.

Conservation Status

The golden jackal is prevalent and is not threatened.

Other Comments

Golden jackals live eight to nine years in the wild and up to sixteen in captivity. They have made a deep impression on people of the Middle East and play a significant role in many fables. They have the same reputation for slyness as the fox has in European fables.

Jackals are referred to repeatedly in the Bible, particularly in conjunction with descriptions of desolate regions.

Golden jackals also played a significant role in ancient Egypt. Here the god Anubis was depicted as a jackal, or as a man with the head of a jackal. Anubis was the god of the netherworld and weighed the heart of the deceased. The golden jackal fulfilled this function among Egyptian deities. Thus the evening howling of these animals, which lived on the edge of civilization, frightened people and aroused their curiosity as much as death would.

Contributors

Alicia Ivory (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Glossary

Ethiopian

living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map

Palearctic

living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map

altricial

young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

carrion

flesh of dead animals.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

cooperative breeder

helpers provide assistance in raising young that are not their own

desert or dunes

in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.

diurnal
  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
dominance hierarchies

ranking system or pecking order among members of a long-term social group, where dominance status affects access to resources or mates

endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

monogamous

Having one mate at a time.

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

nocturnal

active during the night

omnivore

an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals

oriental

found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.

World Map

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

social

associates with others of its species; forms social groups.

tactile

uses touch to communicate

territorial

defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.

savanna

A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.

References

Corbet, G.B. and Hill, J.E. 1991. A World List of Mammalian Species. Third Edition. Oxford University Press, NY.

Grzimek, Bernard. 1990. Encyclopedia of Mammals, Volume Four, pgs. 107-114. McGraw-Hill Publishing Company, NY.

MacDonald, D. 1984. Encyclopedia of Mammals, pgs. 63-67. Facts on File Publications, NY.

Nowak, Ronald M. 1991. Walker's Mammals of the World, pgs. 1065-1068. Fifth Edition. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.

Sarker, NoorJahan. 1990. Biological Abstracts, Volume 92. Philidelphia, PA.