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Black Backed Jackal Masaai Mara April 2008.JPG
A Black-backed Jackal in Maasai Mara
Scientific classification
in part

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


A jackal is a member of any of three (sometimes four) small to medium-sized species of the family Canidae, found in Africa, Asia and southeastern Europe.[1] Jackals fill a similar ecological niche to the Coyote (sometimes called the American Jackal) in North America, that of predators of small to medium-sized animals, scavengers, and omnivores. Their long legs and curved canine teeth are adapted for hunting small mammals, birds and reptiles. Big feet and fused leg bones give them a long-distance runner's physique, capable of maintaining speeds of 16 km/h (9.9 mph) for extended periods of time. They are crepuscular, most active at dawn and dusk.

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


The English word "jackal" derives from Turkish [çakal] error: {{lang}}: text has italic markup (help), via Persian [shaghal] error: {{lang}}: text has italic markup (help), ultimately from Sanskrit [sṛgālaḥ] error: {{lang}}: text has italic markup (help).[2][3]

Taxonomy and relationships

In 1816 in the third volume of Lorenz Oken’s Lehrbuch der Naturgeschichte, the author found sufficient similarities in the dentition of jackals and the North American coyotes to place these species into a new separate genus Thos after the classical Greek word θώς=[clarification needed]. Oken’s idiosyncratic nomenclatorial ways however, aroused the scorn of a number of zoological systematists. Nearly all the descriptive words used to justify the genus division were relative terms without a reference measure and that the argument did not take into account the size differences between the species which can be considerable. Angel Cabrera, in his 1932 monograph on the mammals of Morocco, briefly touched upon the question 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, he chose the undivided-genus alternative and referred to the jackals as Canis.

Oken’s Thos theory had little immediate impact on taxonomy and/or taxonomic nomenclature, though it was revived in 1914 by Edmund Heller who embraced the new genus theory. Heller’s name and the designations he gave to various jackal species and subspecies live on, though the genus has been changed from Thos to Canis.[4]

Modern research has clarified the relationships between the "jackal" species. Despite their outward similarity, they are not all closely related to one another. The Side-striped Jackal and Black-backed Jackal are close to each other, but separated from the other African and Eurasian wild dogs and wolves by some six or seven mya. The Golden Jackal and Ethiopian Wolf are part of a group also including the Grey Wolf, domestic dog and Coyote[5]. Breeding experiments in Germany with poodles, jackals, and later on with the resulting hybrids showed that unlike wolfdogs, jackal/dog hybrids show a decrease in fertility, significant communication problems as well as an increase of genetic disorders after three generations of interbreeding, much like coydogs.[6]


Ancient use

The Ancient Egyptian god of embalming and the underworld, Anubis, was depicted as a man with a jackal's head. Today they are one of the more commonly seen animals on safaris, and are found outside of national parks and do well in human altered landscapes and even near and in human settlements.

Use in slang

The popular, although rather inaccurate image of jackals is as scavengers, and this has resulted in a somewhat negative image.

  • The expression "jackalling" is sometimes used to describe the work done by a subordinate in order to save the time of a superior. (For example, a junior lawyer may peruse large quantities of material on behalf of a barrister). This came from the tradition that the jackal will sometimes lead a lion to its prey. In other languages, the same word is sometimes used to describe the behavior of persons who try to scavenge scraps from the misfortunes of others; for example, by looting a village from which its inhabitants have fled because of a disaster.
  • In Nonviolent Communication, "jackal language" refers to communication that labels, judges, and criticizes.


  • 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.

See also

External links

  • AWF.org, Jackal: Wildlife summary from the African Wildlife Foundation


  1. ^ Ivory, A. 1999. "Canis aureus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed January 18, 2007 at ummz.umich.edu
  2. ^ American Heritage Dictionary - Jackal entry
  3. ^ Online Etymology Dictionary - Jackal entry
  4. ^ Thos vs Canis
  5. ^ Lindblad-Toh et al. 2005. Genome sequence, comparative analysis and haplotype structure of the domestic dog. Nature 438: 803-819.
  6. ^ Doris Feddersen-Petersen, Hundepsychologie, 4. Auflage, 2004, Franck-Kosmos-Verlag 2004