Egyptian jackal

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Egyptian jackal or African wolf
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Canidae
Genus: Canis
Species: Canis aureus
Subspecies: C. a. lupaster
Trinomial name
Canis aureus lupaster
(Hemprich and Ehrenberg, 1833)

C. lupaster
C. lupus lupaster[1]
C. sacer Hemprich and Ehrenberg, 1833

The Egyptian jackal (Canis aureus lupaster[2][3] or possibly Canis lupus lupaster[4]) also known as the African wolf[1] or wolf jackal is an African canid that was thought to be a subspecies of the golden jackal,[2] until 2011 when extensive genetic studies confirmed that it is in fact a subspecies of the gray wolf.[5] However, mitochondrial DNA analysis of golden jackals from Senegal has detected the presence of Canis lupus lupaster haplotypes implicating that some isolated African wolf populations had also historically hybridized with the former.[6] It is native to Egypt, Libya, and Ethiopia, though its post Pleistocene range once encompassed the Palestine region.[7]


African wolf skull (left), compared with that of golden jackal (right).

Historically, whether or not lupaster is a large jackal or a small wolf has been the subject of debate. Aristotle was the first European to write of wolves in Egypt, mentioning that they were smaller than the Greek kind. Georg Ebers wrote of the wolf being among the sacred animals of Egypt, describing it as a "smaller variety" of wolf to those of Europe, and noting how the name Lykopolis, the Ancient Egyptian city dedicated to Anubis, means "city of the wolf".[8] Some authors have rejected this as evidence for the existence of wolves in Egypt, as the name was bestowed upon the city by the Greeks rather than its Egyptian creators.[9] Hemprich and Ehrenberg, upon seeing similarities between North African jackals and wolves, gave the species the binomial name Canis lupaster. Likewise, Thomas Henry Huxley, upon noting the similarities between the skulls of lupaster and Indian wolves, classed the species as a wolf. However, the animal was classed as a jackal by Ernst Schwarz in 1926. Walter Ferguson of the Tel Aviv University rejected this classification, and argued in favour of lupaster being a species of wolf, based on cranial measurements.[8]


A comparative genetic analysis undertaken by the University of Leeds on Egyptian and Syrian jackals, as well as on wolves from Saudi Arabia and Oman, revealed that the classification of lupaster as a jackal could be valid, as there was a sequence divergence of only 4.8% between Egyptian and Israeli jackals, although only limited data were available.[10]

However, a collaborative study conducted by the University of Oslo, Oxford University's Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) and Addis Ababa University compared the genetic material from golden jackals in Ethiopia with the Israeli and Egyptian samples mentioned above, and with other wild wolf-like canids. The results place the "Egyptian jackal" and similar "jackals" from Ethiopia firmly within the grey wolf species complex, together with the Holarctic wolf, the Indian wolf, and the Himalayan wolf. The analysis indicated that the Egyptian jackal represents an ancient strain of wolf, together with the Indian and Himalayan wolf, which colonised Africa prior to the spread of Canis lupus to the northern hemisphere.[1]

A more extensive mitochondrial DNA study of wolf-like jackals in Algeria, Mali, and Senegal revealed the presence of wolf-like haplotypes among supposed jackals in that country. This same study also included a field study of the behavior of wolf-like jackals and more typical golden jackals. The wolf-like jackals had wolf-like threat postures, while the jackals behaved more like jackals. The researchers concluded that these jackal-like wolves were actually wolves and should be listed as Canis lupus lupaster, which is the oldest wolf mtDNA lineage still in existence.[11]


Pair of Egyptian wolves in Fayoum

The Egyptian jackal resembles a large, blackish-yellow dog in size and appearance, with the addition of a dorsal mane. The tail is brush-like and relatively short, with black hairs on the tip and upper side. The front of the forelimbs have black markings. Adults measure 872 mm in head and body length, 312 mm in tail-length (36% of head and body length) and weigh 13 kg.[12] The skull is almost indistinguishable in size from that of the Indian wolf, though the teeth of the Egyptian jackal are not as large.[13]

The Egyptian jackal has a dorsal mane consisting of long, coarse and black-tipped hairs which fade to buff or white at the bases. The mane extends from the crown to the base of the tail and onto the shoulders and hips. The flanks are yellowish with some black and white-tipped hairs. The chin is greyish, while the throat, belly and the insides of the legs are whitish to yellowish. The chest sports a medial strop of black-tipped hairs. The face is rufous, but grizzled with white, yellowish or black hairs. The feet are orangish buff.[12]

Compared to other wolves, the Egyptian jackal is not gregarious, and is mostly found travelling alone or in pairs.[14] Although a nocturnal animal, the African jackal is occasionally seen in the late afternoon. It shelters in tombs, natural caves and crevices. Egyptian jackals living in the north of El-Faiyum reportedly live on fish caught in shallow water, while those of the Nile Valley and Delta feed on various cultivated crops and fruit and domestic animals. The breeding season occurs in March, April, and May, with an average litter size of 4.5 and a maximum of eight.[15]

In culture[edit]

The Ancient Egyptians revered the animal, and the god Anubis was fashioned after the Egyptian jackal.




  1. ^ a b c Rueness E K, Asmyhr M G, Sillero-Zubiri C, Macdonald D W, Bekele A, et al. (2011). Gilbert, Thomas M, ed. "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. PMC 3027653. PMID 21298107. 
  2. ^ a b Wozencraft, W. C. (2005). "Order Carnivora". In Wilson, D. E.; Reeder, D. M. Mammal Species of the World (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 532–628. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494. 
  3. ^ Canis aureus lupaster, ITIS
  4. ^
  5. ^ Nowak, Ronald M. (1999). Walker's Mammals of the World, 6th edition. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1936 pp. 664f. ISBN 0-8018-5789-9
  6. ^
  7. ^ Ucko, Peter (2007). The Domestication and Exploitation of Plants and Animals. Aldine Transaction, ISBN 0-202-36169-1
  8. ^ a b Ferguson, W.W. (1981). "The systematic of Canis aureus lupaster (Carnivora : Canidae) and the occurrence of Canis lupus in North Africa, Egypt and Sinai". Mammalia 45 (4). doi:10.1515/mamm.1981.45.4.459. 
  9. ^ Rice, Michael (2006). Swifter than the arrow: the golden hunting hounds of ancient Egypt, I.B. Tauris, ISBN 1-84511-116-8
  10. ^ Nassef M (2003). The Ecology and Evolution of the golden jackal (Canis aureus) Investigating a cryptid species. Master thesis. The University of Leeds.
  11. ^ Gaubert, Philippe; Bloch, Cécile; Benyacoub, Slim; Abdelhamid, Adnan; Pagani, Paolo; Djagoun, Chabi Adéyèmi Marc Sylvestre; Couloux, Arnaud; Dufour, Sylvain (2012). Kolokotronis, Sergios-Orestis, ed. "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. PMC 3416759. PMID 22900047. 
  12. ^ a b Osborn & Helmy 1980, pp. 361–362
  13. ^ Lydekker, Richard (1907) Game Animals of India, Burma, Malaya and Tibet, page 358, London, R. Ward, limited
  14. ^ Wilkinson, Sir John Gardner (1837). Manners and customs of the ancient Egyptians, Volume 3, p. 27, J. Murray
  15. ^ Osborn & Helmy 1980, pp. 370–371