The golden jackal (Canis aureus) is a well-known wolf-like canid found in Southwest Asia, Southeast Europe, regions of Southeast Asia, and South Asia.
Golden jackals’ coats can vary in colour from a dark tawny beige in winter to a pale creamy yellow in summer.
It is listed on the IUCN Red List as least concern, and this is due to its high density and widespread distribution in areas of optimum shelter and available food.
The golden jackal is said to have an ancestor and is assumed to be the extinct Arno river dog that occurred in Mediterranean Europe 1.9 mya (million years ago).
It is described to have the appearance of a small, jackal-like canine. In a shelter called Ksar Akil rock near Beirut, Lebanon, lays the oldest golden jackal fossil, which was said to be 7,600 years old.
There are seven recognised subspecies of the golden jackal. It is more closely related to the Ethiopian wolf, coyote, gray wolf, and African golden wolf than the side-striped jackal or African black-backed jackal.
It is a very social animal, and the basic social unit consists of any young offspring and a breeding pair. It is adaptable, with the ability to exploit different sources of food ranging from insects and fruits to small ungulates.
They will attack domestic fowls and mammals up to the size of water buffalo calves. The golden jackal’s competitors are the wolf, red fox, wildcat, jungle cat, in Central Asia the Asiatic wildcat, and in the Caucasus, the raccoon.
During the Early Pleistocene around 1.9 mya (million years ago), there was a species of canine (although now extinct) called the Arno river dog (Canis arnensis), and it was native to Mediterranean Europe.
It is assumed to have the appearance of a small jackal-like dog and is believed to be the ancestor of modern jackals.
Its morphology and anatomy relate it more to the modern golden jackal than the other two African jackal species; the side-striped jackal and the black-backed jackal.
The oldest recorded golden jackal fossil was found at the Ksar Akil rock shelter located 6.2 mi (10 km) northeast of Beirut, Lebanon. The oldest fossils found in Europe are from Kitsos and Delph in Greece and are dated 7,000 to 6,500 years ago.
|Subspecies||C. a. aureus, C. a. ecsedensis, C. a. cruesemanni, C. a. indicus, C. a. naria, C. a. moreoticus, C. a. syriacus|
|Persian jackal (C. a. aureus)||The general colour of the outer fur is usually white and black, while the underfur varies from pale slate-grey to pale brown. The front legs and ears are buff, sometimes tan, while the feet are pale-coloured. The forethroat and chin are usually whitish. Weight varies geographically, ranging around 18 to 22 lb (8 to 10 kg).||Iran, Middle East, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Western India, and Pakistan.|
|Indochinese jackal (C. a. cruesemanni)||It is smaller than the Indian jackal (C. a. indicus), weighing up to 18 lb (8 kg). Its fur resembles that of a dog. It inhabits near farms, mountainous areas, or residential forests, and its prey includes small animals like reptiles, birds, and frogs, although it occasionally eats fruits. It can be active both night and day. Siamese jackals are solitary animals, but a male and female will interact during the mating season.||Northeast India, Myanmar, Vietnam, and Thailand.|
|Indian jackal (C. a. indicus)||Its fur is a mixture of white and black, with buff on the legs, ears, and shoulders. The buff colour is more prominent in specimens from high altitudes. Black hairs predominate on the tail and middle of the back. The sides of the legs, chest, and belly are creamy white, while the lower flanks and face are grizzled with gray fur. Adults grow to a length of 39 in (100 cm), 14 to 18 in (35 to 45 cm) in height, and 18 to 24 lb (8 to 11 kg) in weight.||Nepal, India, Bhutan, and Bangladesh.|
|European jackal (C. a. moreoticus)||The largest among the golden jackal subspecies, animals of both sexes average 47 to 49 in (120 to 125 cm) in total length and 22 to 33 lb (10 to 15 kg) in body weight. The fur is coarse and is generally brightly coloured with blackish tones on the back. The upper legs, thighs, forehead, and ears are bright-reddish chestnut.||Moldova, Southeastern Europe, the Caucasus and Asia Minor.|
|Sri Lankan jackal (C. a. naria)||Measures 26 to 29 in (67 to 74 cm) in length and weighs 11 to 19 lb (5 to 8.6 kg). The winter coat is smoother, shorter, and not as shaggy as that of the Indian golden jackal. The coat is darker on the back, being black with speckles with white. The underside is more pigmented on the hind throat, chin, fore-belly, and chest, while the limbs are of a rich tan or rusty ochreous.||Sri Lanka and Coastal South West India.|
|Syrian jackal (C. a. syriacus)||Measures 24 to 35 in (60 to 90 cm) in body length, 7.9 to 11.8 in (20 to 30 cm) in tail length, 5.9 to 7.1 in (15 to 18 cm) in head length, and weighs 11 to 26 lb (5 to 12 kg).||Syria, Israel, western Jordan, and Lebanon.|
|C. a. ecsedensis||Some researchers do not regard it as a separate subspecies but consider it to be C. a. moreoticus because the “discovered specimen” was living in a zoo and no other jackals were permanently living in Hungary at that moment.||Central Europe and Pannonian Basin.|
Distinct from the Arabian wolf, which is regarded as the smallest of the gray wolves (Canis lupus), the golden jackal is smaller and possesses a shorter tail, shorter legs. Other features include a less prominent forehead, a more elongated torso, and a more pointed and narrower muzzle.
Males measures 28 to 33 in (71 to 85 cm) in body length while females measure 27 to 29 in (69 to 73 cm). Males weigh 13 to 31 lb (6 to 14 kg) and females weigh 15 to 24 lb (7 to 11 kg). The shoulder height is 18 to 20 in (45 to 50 cm) for both.
The skull of a golden jackal is similar to that of the dingo, and also closer to that of the gray wolf (C. lupus) and the coyote (C. latrans) than that of the side-striped jackal (C. adustus), black-backed jackal (C. mesomalas), and the Ethiopian wolf (C. simensis).
Distinct from the wolf, the skull of the golden jackal is less massive and smaller, with a shorter facial region and a lower nasal region.
The skull of a golden jackal is less specialized than the gray wolf’s skull, and this skull features relate to the jackal’s diets of rodents, small birds, insects, small vertebrate, fruit, carrion, and some vegetable matter.
The golden jackal often develops a horny growth on the skull referred to as a jackal’s horn, which usually measures 0.51 in (1.3 cm) in length and is covered in fur.
The jackal’s fur is relatively short and coarse, with the base colour golden, varying seasonally from dark tawny to a pale creamy yellow.
The fur on the back consists of a mixture of brown, black, and white hairs. The underparts are a cream colour and light pale ginger. Their unique light markings on the chest and throat serve as a means of identification of each individual.
The coat of jackals from lowland counterparts tends to be more vivid-coloured than those of high elevations. Some golden jackals in mountainous, rocky areas may exhibit a grayer shade of coat. The bushy tail has a black to tan tip.
The golden jackal moults twice a year, in autumn and in spring. The spring moults last for 60 to 65 days. The spring moult begins with the limbs and head, and extends to flanks, belly, chest, ends of the tail, and rump.
The fur is absent on the underpants. Autumn moult starts with the rump and the tail and spreads to the flanks, back, chest, belly, and head.
Habitat and distribution
In South Asia, the golden jackal is native to Bangladesh, Afghanistan, India, Bhutan, Pakistan, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. In Central Asia, it is native to Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.
In Southeast Asia, it inhabits Thailand and Myanmar. In Southwestern Asia, it inhabits Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Israel, Lebanon, Kuwait, Saudi, Oman, Qatar, Arabia, Turkey, Syria, Yemen, and United Arab Emirates.
In Europe, it inhabits Armenia, Albania, Azerbaijan, Austria, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Estonia, Croatia, Greece, Georgia, Italy, Hungary, Latvia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Lithuania, Montenegro, Moldova, Romania, Serbia, Poland, the Russian Federation, Slovenia, Slovakia, Turkey, Switzerland, and Ukraine. The golden jackal has been sighted in the Czech Republic, Belarus, and Germany.
Golden jackals are abundant beside rivers and their tributaries (lakes, canals, and seashores) and in valleys. They are rare in low mountains and foothills.
The golden jackal is both a scavenger and a predator, and an opportunistic forager and an omnivorous with a diet that varies according to the season and its habitat.
In Bharatpur, located in India, over 60% of a golden jackal diet consists of birds, rodents, and fruits. In Kanha Tiger Reserve, 80% of its diet consists of reptiles, rodents, and fruits.
Vegetables are also included in a jackal’s diet, and in India, they feed intensely on the fruits of dogbane, buckthorn, Java plum, the pods of the golden rain tree, and mesquite. The jackal will scavenge off the prey killed by a tiger, lion, dhole, leopard, and gray wolf.
In Transcaucasia and the Caucasus, golden jackals primarily hunt mouse-like rodents, hares, francolins, pheasants, ducks, moorhens, coots, and passerines.
At the edges of the Karakum Desert, jackals feed on lizards, gerbils, fish, snakes, muskrats, the fruits of wild stony olives, dried apricots, mulberry, muskmelons, watermelons, grapes, and tomatoes.
In Dalmatia, the olden jackal’s diet consists of birds and their eggs, mammals, insects, vegetables, leaves, and grasses.
Golden jackals are known to practice monogamy and will remain with one partner until death. Female golden jackals breed once each year.
Breeding occurs from February to March in India, Bulgaria, Turkmenistan, and Transcaucasia, with a mating period lasting up to 26 to 28 days. In Israel, golden jackal breeds from October to March. The gestation period may last up to 63 days.
In India, a golden jackal will take over the dens of the Indian crested porcupine and Bengal fox and will also use abandoned gray wolf dens.
Dens are 6.6 to 8 ft (2 to 3 m) long and 1.6 – 3.3 ft (0.5 – 1 m) deep, with between 1 to 3 openings. Young pups can be moved between 2 to 4 dens. The male helps with raising the pups and digging the den.
In Transcaucasia and Caucasus, the burrow is located either on the slopes of gullies, in thick shrubs, or on flat surfaces. In Azerbaijan and Dagestan, litters are sometimes located among tree roots, within the hollows of fallen trees, and under stones on river banks.
A single litter may contain a certain number of pups, but it varies geographically. Jackals in Tajikistan give birth to 3 to 7 pups, Transcaucasia 3 to 8 pups, Bulgaria 4 to 7 pups, Uzbekistan 2 to 8 pups, and in India it is averagely four pups. The pups are born with their eyes shut, and it opens after 8 – 11 days, with the ears erecting after 10 – 13 days.
After birth, their teeth erupt at 11 days, and the formation of the adult dentition is usually completed after five months.
The pups grow fast and weigh 0.44 to 0.47 lb (0.201 to 0.214 kg) at two days of age, 1.23 to 1.60 lb (0.560 to 0.726 kg) at one month, and 5.95 to 7.17 lb (2.700 to 3.250 kg) at four months. The pups start to eat meat at the age of 15 – 20 days.
Compared to dog and wolf pups, golden jackal pups develop aggression at 4 to 6 weeks. This aggression ceases by 10 to 12 weeks when a hierarchy is created.
When the lactation period ends, the female drives the pups away, although pups born late may stay with their mother until early autumn, at which they leave in groups or singly.
Males reach sexual maturity after 21 to 22 months and the females at 10 to 11 months. The lifespan of a wild golden jackal is 8 to 9 years, while in captivity, it is said to leave up to 16 years.