Jackal

 

aureus

Canis aureus

Golden jackal or common Jackal

Classification

  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Carnivora
  • Family: Canidae

Geographic Range

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

Physical Characteristics

Mass: 8 to 10 kg

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).

Natural History

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.

Reproduction

Golden jackals live in mated pairs and are strictly monogamous. 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.

Behavior

Hunting

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.

Family

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, 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. 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.

Behavior

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.

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 step pe landscapes.

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.