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For other uses, see Jackal (disambiguation).
"Jackel" redirects here. For other uses, see Jackel (disambiguation).
"Thos" redirects here. For the beast in heraldry, see theow.
Flickr - Rainbirder - Golden Jackal (1).jpg
Golden Jackal (Canis aureus)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Canidae
Genus: Included in Canis
Linnaeus, 1758

Golden jackal, Canis aureus
Side-striped jackal Canis adustus
Black-backed jackal Canis mesomelas


The jackal is a small omnivorous mammal of the genus Canis, which also includes the wolf and dog. While the word "jackal" has historically been used for many small canids, in modern use it most commonly refers to three species: the closely related black-backed jackal and side-striped jackal of sub-Saharan Africa, and the golden jackal of south-central Eurasia.

Jackals and coyotes (sometimes called the "American jackal"[1]) are opportunistic omnivores, predators of small- to medium-sized animals and proficient scavengers. Their long legs and curved canine teeth are adapted for hunting small mammals, birds, and reptiles, and their large feet and fused leg bones give them a physique well-suited for long-distance running, capable of maintaining speeds of 16 km/h (9.9 mph) for extended periods of time. Jackals are crepuscular, most active at dawn and dusk.

Their most common social unit is a monogamous pair, which defends its territory from other pairs by vigorously chasing intruding rivals and marking landmarks around the territory with their urine and feces. The territory may be large enough to hold some young adults, which stay with their parents until they establish their own territories. Jackals may occasionally assemble in small packs, for example, to scavenge a carcass, but they normally hunt either alone or in pairs.


The English word "jackal" derives from Persian شغال shoghāl, cognate with Sanskrit सृगालः / sṛgālaḥ.[2][3]

Taxonomy and relationships[edit]

The Blck Jackal is more closely related to wolves and coyotes than to other jackal species

The taxonomy of the jackals has evolved with scientific understanding about how they are related on the canid family tree.

Similarities between jackals and coyotes led Lorenz Oken, in the third volume of his Lehrbuch der Naturgeschichte (1815), to place these species into a new separate genus, Thos, named after the classical Greek word θώς "jackal", but his theory had little immediate impact on taxonomy at the time. Angel Cabrera, in his 1932 monograph on the mammals of Morocco, questioned whether or not the presence of a cingulum on the upper molars of the jackals and its corresponding absence in the rest of Canis could justify a subdivision of the genus Canis. In practice, Cabrera chose the undivided-genus alternative and referred to the jackals as Canis instead of Thos.[4]

Oken's Thos theory was revived in 1914 by Edmund Heller, who embraced the separate genus theory. Heller's names and the designations he gave to various jackal species and subspecies live on in current taxonomy, although the genus has been changed from Thos to Canis.[4]

Modern research has clarified the relationships among the "jackal" species. Despite their similarities, jackals do not all stem from the same branch on the canid family tree. The side-striped jackal and black-backed jackal belong to a separate distinct branch of canids, while the golden jackal, belongs to a branch that includes the Ethiopian wolf (Canis simensis), the coyote, and Canis lupus, the grey wolf/domestic dog.[5] Because of this deep divergence between the black-backed/side-striped jackal and the golden jackal (as well as the rest of the "wolf-like" canids), it has been proposed to change the two species' generic name from Canis to Lupulella.[6]

The intermediate size and shape of the Ethiopian wolf has at times led it to be regarded as a jackal, thus it has been called the "red jackal" or the "Simien jackal", but it has more often been considered and called a "wolf".


Species Binomial authority Description Range
Side-striped jackal
Canis adustus
Side-striped Jackal.jpg
Sundevall, 1847 Primarily residing in wooded areas, unlike other jackal species, it is the least aggressive of the jackals, rarely preying on large mammals.[7] Central and southern Africa
Golden jackal
Canis aureus
Flickr - Rainbirder - Golden Jackal Female.jpg
Linnaeus, 1758 The heaviest of the jackals, it is the only species to live outside Africa. Although often grouped with the other jackals, genetic and morphological research indicate the golden jackal is more closely related to the gray wolf and coyote.[5][8] Southeastern Europe, Middle East, western Asia, and South Asia
Black-backed jackal
Canis mesomelas

Canis mesomelas.jpg

Schreber, 1775 The most lightly built jackal, it is considered to be the oldest living member of the genus Canis.[9] It is the most aggressive of the jackals, being known to attack animal prey many times its own weight, and it has more quarrelsome intrapack relationships.[10] Southern Africa and eastern coast of Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia

Interbreeding with dogs[edit]

Experiments in Germany with breeding poodles and golden jackals have produced hybrids. The results showed that, unlike wolf–dog hybrids, jackal–dog hybrids show a decrease in fertility, significant communication problems, and an increase of genetic disorders after three generations of interbreeding, much like coydogs.[11]

In Russia, golden jackals are one of the founder breeds of the Sulimov dog, a working dog owned exclusively by Aeroflot and used for bomb detection in airport security.

Folklore, mythology and literature[edit]

  • Like foxes and coyotes, jackals are often depicted as clever sorcerers in the myths and legends of their regions.
  • Anubis (Ancient Greek: Ἄνουβις) is the Greek name for a jackal-headed god associated with mummification and the afterlife in ancient Egyptian religion.
  • The jackal (likely the golden jackal, given its present range) is mentioned approximately 14 times in the Bible. It is frequently used as a literary device to illustrate desolation, loneliness and abandonment, with reference to its habit of living in the ruins of former cities and other areas abandoned by humans.
  • Serer religion and creation myth posits the jackal was among the first animals created by Roog, the supreme deity of the Serer people.[12]
  • Pablo Neruda's poem "I Explain a Few Things" describes Francisco Franco and his allies as "...Jackals that the jackal would drive off...".
  • In Rudyard Kipling's collection of stories The Jungle Book, the mad cowardly jackal Tabaqui feasts on the scraps of Shere Khan and the Seeonee wolf tribe.
  • In the King James translation of the Bible, Isaiah 13:21 refers to 'doleful creatures', which some commentators suggest are either jackals or hyenas.[13]
  • Literature in India and Pakistan compares jackal with lion in terms of courage. A famous saying is "One day life of a lion is better than a hundred years life of a jackal (Tipu Sultan)".
  • Multiple jackals are featured prominently throughout the Swiss Family Robinson.


  1. ^ Coyote (2004) by E.M. Gese & M. Bekoff
  2. ^ "jackal". The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. 
  3. ^ Harper, Douglas. "jackal". Online Etymology Dictionary. 
  4. ^ a b Thos vs Canis
  5. ^ a b Lindblad-Toh; et al. (2005). "Genome sequence, comparative analysis and haplotype structure of the domestic dog". Nature. 438 (7069): 803–819. doi:10.1038/nature04338. PMID 16341006. 
  6. ^ Dinets V. The Canis tangle: a systematics overview and taxonomic recommendations. Vavilovskii Zhurnal Genetiki i Selektsii – Vavilov Journal of Genetics and Breeding. 2015;19(3):286-291.
  7. ^ "Side-Striped Jackal" (PDF). Canids.org. Retrieved 2010-03-19. 
  8. ^ "Golden Jackal" (PDF). Canids.org. Retrieved 2007-08-15. 
  9. ^ Macdonald, David (1992). The Velvet Claw. p. 256. ISBN 0-563-20844-9. 
  10. ^ Estes, Richard (1992). The behavior guide to African mammals: including hoofed mammals, carnivores, primates. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-08085-8. 
  11. ^ Feddersen-Petersen, Dorit (2004). Hundepsychologie (in German) (4th ed.). Stuttgart: Franck-Kosmos-Verlag. ISBN 3-440-09780-3. 
  12. ^ Thiaw, Issa laye (23–24 June 2009), "Mythe de la création du monde selon les sages sereer" (PDF), Enracinement et Ouverture — "Plaidoyer pour le dialogue interreligieux" (in French), Dakar: Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, pp. 45–50 
  13. ^ "Jackal", classic.net.bible.org; accessed 26 February 2015.


  • The New Encyclopedia of Mammals edited by David Macdonald, Oxford University Press, 2001; ISBN 0-19-850823-9
  • Cry of the Kalahari, by Mark and Delia Owens, Mariner Books, 1992.
  • The Velvet Claw: A Natural History of the Carnivores, by David MacDonald, BBC Books, 1992.
  • Foxes, Wolves, and Wild Dogs of the World, by David Alderton, Facts on File, 2004.

External links[edit]