Golden Jackal from Meroe

Golden Jackal from Meroe

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Return of the Wolf God

Stone compound in a traditional village in the Menz Guassa Community Conservation Area of the Ethiopian Highlands: The region is known for harboring the rare Ethiopian wolf, but genetic tests are revealing the presence in Ethiopia and elsewhere of a subspecies of gray wolf. Below: Canis lupus lupaster, the newly identified African wolf, was generally considered a subspecies of golden jackal until the recent discoveries. DNA testing of animals (which can be done on scat) is needed to definitively determine its full range and how common it is in comparison with the golden jackal, with which it can also interbreed.

Woollff! shouted Lajos Nemeth-Boka, lead naturalist and tour leader at GreenEye Ecotours. It was November of 2007. Nemeth-Boka was driving slowly along the west bank of the Nile River between Luxor and Aswan. “An animal crossed the road in front of us, coming from the Nile’s shore and running toward the Sahara sands,” he says. “I’ve seen jackals and I’ve seen wolves, and there is a big difference between the two. This was clearly a wolf.”

As it turned out, he was right. The first clues had come thousands of years earlier. But the wolf in jackal’s clothing wasn’t proved to be such until 2011, four years after Nemeth-Boka’s sighting. In the fifth century BC, the Greek historian Herodotus reported that there were wolves in Egypt, describing them as no bigger than foxes. A century later, Aristotle reiterated that these Egyptian wolves were smaller than those of his homeland. And in the first century BC, the Greek historian Diodorus recounted a story that once a Nubian army, invading Egypt from the south, had been repelled by packs of wolves. The wolves drove the army all the way south from the town of Asyut to the thenborder, earning the town the Greek name of Lycopolis, “city of the wolf.”

Until recently, the only wolf universally recognized in Africa was the rare Ethiopian wolf (Canis simensis), found in the Ethiopian Highlands. The scientific consensus was that Egypt had no wolves, and that the ancient texts of Herodotus, Aristotle, and others must have referred to jackals.

The Ethiopian wolf, a rare species, was until recently the only recognized wolf in Africa. It is not a subspecies of gray wolf.

Even the Egyptian jackal, native to Egypt, Ethiopia, and Libya—colloquially called the wolf-jackal—was classified as a subspecies of the golden jackal: Canis aureus lupaster. “But with a question mark,” says ecologist Claudio Sillero-Zubiri, deputy director of the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit at the University of Oxford.

What might the ancient Egyptians have known that we didn’t? Millennia later, the true story is emerging. The tale picks up with an Indian biologist named Jugal K. Tiwari. A decade ago, Tiwari sent Sillero-Zubiri a picture from a video he had filmed in Eritrea. The footage showed a lanky canine with large paws “that might have been a desert-dwelling wolf,” says Sillero-Zuburi. “We hoped more information would turn up, but unfortunately it didn’t.” At least not right away.

A golden jackal in Tanzania: Widespread in northern and central Africa, the species is also found in the Arabian Peninsula, eastern Europe, South and Central Asia, and Southeast Asia.

Then, while doing fieldwork in Ethiopia, biologists from universities in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and Oslo, Norway, noticed that certain golden jackals looked different from others. “They were larger, more slender, and sometimes had a whitish color,” says Nils Christian Stenseth, an ecologist and population biologist at the University of Oslo. The researchers collected scat specimens for mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) analysis. The samples, including some from “more usual-looking” golden jackals, were shipped to Stenseth’s laboratory for analysis. The Oslo scientists soon alerted their counterparts on the project from other countries, including Sillero-Zubiri, that they had a rare find.

The Egyptian jackal samples appeared to be wolf DNA. But when the team attempted to correlate them with other wolf samples in GenBank, the world’s largest repository of genetic sequences, a surprise was in store. “We could hardly believe our eyes when we found wolf DNA that didn’t match anything in GenBank,” says Eli K. Rueness, an evolutionary geneticist at the University of Oslo. Adds Sillero-Zubiri, “We had unwittingly uncovered genetic evidence of a cryptic canid that looked like a golden jackal, but whose genetic code told another tale.”

In January 2011, Rueness, Stenseth, Sillero-Zubiri and colleagues unveiled their findings in the journal PLOS ONE: the Egyptian jackal is in fact a gray wolf. “We now know that wolves were indeed in Africa in the days of the ancient Egyptians—and long, long before,” says Stenseth.

Biologists have since updated the wolf ’s scientific name to Canis lupus lupaster, making it a subspecies of the gray wolf, C. lupus.

The range of the gray wolf had been known to extend as far south as the Sinai Peninsula, in the subspecies C. lupus pallipes, the Indian wolf.

The Indian wolf, another subspecies of gray wolf, is found from India west into Saudi Arabia, but not in Africa.

After the 2011 revelation, biologist Philippe Gaubert of the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris and colleagues spotted wolf-like animals on the periphery of packs of golden jackals near Kheune, in northwest Senegal, thousands of miles west of Egypt. The “jackals” turned out to be none other than lupaster.

The wolves were larger and darker than golden jackals. They also behaved differently, with a solitary and somewhat shy demeanor. The only interactions between the two were when the wolves fought for carcasses eaten by golden jackals. “The latter inevitably abandon[ed] their food to the former,” noted Gaubert and his colleagues.

The scientists looked at the mtDNA of seven animals that proved to be lupaster: one from east of the Djoudj National Bird Sanctuary near Kheune one from the Adrar des Ifoghas massif in eastern Mali and five from Algeria’s northeastern coastal region. The reassessed range of the African wolf from Ethiopia and Egypt across to Senegal, the researchers say, “supports the idea of a wide spectrum of habitats for the species, from Mediterranean coastal and hilly areas (including hedged farmlands, scrublands, pinewoods and oak forests) in Algeria to tropical, semiarid savannas in Senegal and massifs in Mali.”

In 2012, the African wolf appeared again, triggering automatic cameras, or “camera-traps,” in Morocco’s Middle Atlas Mountains, according to a group of zoologists led by Vicente Urios from University of Alicante in San Vicente del Raspeig, Spain. Without genetic analysis the identification is tentative, but if confirmed, it helps fill a gap in the subspecies’ known distribution.

Now biologists are asking: how many golden jackals across Africa are in fact African wolves?

Lupaster looks like a large, blackish-yellow dog. Its tail is brushlike, with black hairs on the end. A mane of long, coarse, black-tipped fur runs from its crown to the base of its tail and onto its shoulders and hips. The golden jackal is smaller than lupaster, with soft, pale fur. Golden jackals are social animals: a breeding pair is often followed by its offspring, and the jackal sometimes forms packs when hunting. Its cry, heard just after dark or shortly before dawn, is a long, wailing howl, often followed by three yelps.

In contrast, lupaster travels alone. A nocturnal creature, it’s sometimes glimpsed as the Sun begins to set, when it emerges from caves and crevices, and from tombs. Whether it howls remains unknown.

The field observations provide the means to distinguish the African wolf from the golden jackal. But hybridization between the two may be happening, at least in Senegal, based on detection of lupaster genes in C. aureus (golden jackals) there.

Cladogram, or branching family tree, of wolves and related species, is based on mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). Analysis of additional mtDNA as well as nuclear DNA may modify details of this picture, but the African wolf, once considered a subspecies of golden jackal known as the Egyptian jackal, now falls firmly within the gray wolf group (Canis lupus).

Gaubert’s team agrees: “Given that ‘jackallike’ canids in Africa are regularly killed to protect livestock, it’s urgent to [develop] a conservation strategy for the African wolf.”

Lupaster’s true identity shines a light on a formerly dark corner of the world, biogeographically,” says Afework Bekele of Addis Ababa University. “It’s part of the Afroalpine fauna and flora, an assemblage of species that evolved in the relative isolation of the highlands of the Horn of Africa.” Bekele is a member of the group that made the 2011 discovery of the wolf ’s genetic heritage.

Ethiopia’s Afroalpine highlands may hold the key to a better understanding of the “new” wolf. Lupaster has been seen most often in this land of short scrubby bushes sprouting from rock-strewn hillsides. Its haunts include the Menz Guassa Community Conservation Area (GCCA), some 160 miles northeast of Addis Ababa in the Menz-Gera Midir district.

“The GCCA is among the Ethiopian highlands’ most pristine and secluded natural wonders,” says Zelealem Tefera, a scientist at the Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) Ethiopia Office. The FZS supports conservation projects throughout Africa in countries including Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Zambia.

The Guassa area is managed through a common property resource system by people who live along its perimeter. The system traces to the seventeenth century, and is one of the oldest conservation management systems in sub-Saharan Africa. Guassa communities live in farmers’ associations called kebeles. To generate an alternative income for these communities and to support management of the GCCA, ecotourism is being promoted by the FZS and by Ethiopian government agencies.

Their efforts have led to the Guassa Community Lodge and several wilderness camping grounds. Visitors may experience a traditional village or a trek up steep hills to look for the Guassa plateau’s rare species. The Ethiopian wolf and the gelada baboon are found only in the Ethiopian highlands. The Abyssinian hare, leopard, serval cat, civet, Egyptian mongoose, and spotted hyena, among others, share this mountaindesert. Lupaster walks among them.

“Out of the corner of your eye at sunset you might just spot an African wolf,” says veterinarian Karen Laurenson, an ecologist and wildlife epidemiologist at the FZS-Ethiopia Office. She’s glimpsed an animal that emerges at dusk, seemingly out of thin air, to return there just as quickly. “I think I’ve seen lupaster, but didn’t know at the time what it was.”

Laurenson is concerned that the wolf could be extinct before we realize it. “What we don’t know,” she says, “is how many of these wolves there are. They may be widespread across Africa, but is that widespread in appreciable numbers, or dotted across certain habitats with only a few animals in each place? It’s critical for their future that we find out.” Small populations are prone to inbreeding, and may be quickly wiped out by diseases such as rabies and canine distemper virus.

Disease and inbreeding aren’t the only challenges lupaster faces. Uncovering this cryptic subspecies’ secrets may be a mixed blessing—if, like the golden jackal, it lives near humans and snags farm animals.

“We know so little about this wolf,” says Sillero-Zubiri. “Who can say whether and when it takes sheep or other domesticated animals? It’s still a shadow on a ridge.”

More than 80 percent of Guassa is highland, with eroded slopes that nonetheless support an expanding human population. Sheep are an important element of the farming system there and throughout northern Ethiopia, with their role increasing because of the unreliability of crops.

What do sheep graze on, in a brushy, highaltitude region such as Guassa? A prized natural resource—Festuca grass (fescue). The inhabitants consider the grass their “cloth, bread, and butter.” One of the main reasons for protecting the Guassa area, FZS’s Tefera says, is for harvesting good quality fescue. It’s used for thatching, robes, and household implements. The grass is sold in distant markets in Addis Ababa and other cities.

Guassa also provides a refuge for livestock when cultivated fields elsewhere lose their grasses, such as during droughts. Most of the sheep that regularly graze there come from adjacent villages. During prolonged droughts, however, sheep from villages farther away stay in Guassa in temporary pens to avoid long daily journeys.

Therein lies the potential dust-up

Lamenting that the golden ackal can be a pest and will attack domestic animals, one resident of Ethiopia asks, “Why not this wolf ?” Similarly, shepherds in Senegal told Gaubert’s team that the golden jackal was only observed preying on lambs, but that the African wolf may hunt larger livestock such as sheep, goats, and even cows.

“If lupaster indeed has a fondness for sheep and goats,” adds Stenseth, “that’s bound to lead it into conflict with local agropastoral people.” Luckily, says Tefera, “the people here refer to it as the ‘nomad jackal’ rather than the more common jackals they’ve accused of killing their lambs.”

Shepherds in the Ethiopian Highlands know that jackals may take lambs they do not know whether the newly identified wolf might be a threat to larger livestock.

Its elusiveness may be lupaster’s salvation. That, and a growing understanding by people in places like Guassa that lupaster is a national heritage. It may also bring an income source through ecotourism—“but only for as long as it’s with us,” says Tefera.

“My Grandma told me about [these] wolves,” offers an East African citizen, in response to the discovery of lupaster. “I would ask if it was a hyena, dog, jackal, or fox, but her answer was, ‘It’s a wolf.’ She described it perfectly, too. She said back then they were common, but she hasn’t seen any for decades. I’ve heard many claims like that from older people.”

In ancient Egyptian art, the god Wepwawet was depicted as part human, part wolf, with the body of a human and the head of a wolf. Five thousands years later, will Wepwawet’s “incarnation” as Africa’s only gray wolf receive the recognition—and protection—it deserves?

Scrapbook page from the travels, ca. 1891–1895, of William Vaughn Tupper includes a photograph of Asyut, on the Upper Nile, a city known to the ancient Greeks as Lycopolis, or City of the Wolf. Both the Egyptian wolf god, Wepwawet, and the jackal god, Anubis, were honored there. Their iconography is not always distinctive, but often a standing figure, such as the “Anubis” Tupper sketched, is likely to be Wepwawet. Part of the commentary reads: “In the hills seen on the horizon are the tombs of the Priests and numberless holes in the rocks once filled with mummies of the Jackal. . . . The hills are now strewn with skulls and bones of the Jackals.” Other nineteenth-century travelers referred to these as wolf mummies.

Genome-wide Evidence Reveals that African and Eurasian Golden Jackals Are Distinct Species

The golden jackal of Africa (Canis aureus) has long been considered a conspecific of jackals distributed throughout Eurasia, with the nearest source populations in the Middle East. However, two recent reports found that mitochondrial haplotypes of some African golden jackals aligned more closely to gray wolves (Canis lupus), which is surprising given the absence of gray wolves in Africa and the phenotypic divergence between the two species. Moreover, these results imply the existence of a previously unrecognized phylogenetically distinct species despite a long history of taxonomic work on African canids. To test the distinct-species hypothesis and understand the evolutionary history that would account for this puzzling result, we analyzed extensive genomic data including mitochondrial genome sequences, sequences from 20 autosomal loci (17 introns and 3 exon segments), microsatellite loci, X- and Y-linked zinc-finger protein gene (ZFX and ZFY) sequences, and whole-genome nuclear sequences in African and Eurasian golden jackals and gray wolves. Our results provide consistent and robust evidence that populations of golden jackals from Africa and Eurasia represent distinct monophyletic lineages separated for more than one million years, sufficient to merit formal recognition as different species: C. anthus (African golden wolf) and C. aureus (Eurasian golden jackal). Using morphologic data, we demonstrate a striking morphologic similarity between East African and Eurasian golden jackals, suggesting parallelism, which may have misled taxonomists and likely reflects uniquely intense interspecific competition in the East African carnivore guild. Our study shows how ecology can confound taxonomy if interspecific competition constrains size diversification.

Natural History

We spend a lot of time debating about how wolves became dogs. A huge debate exists in the archaeological and paleontological literature about how one can determine whether the remains of a canid represent a wolf, a dog, or a transitional form between wolves and dogs. This debate is why the oldest dog remains are dated to around 14,000 years ago and come from the Bonn-Oberkassel site. Anything older than that, a big debate exists among experts about what can be used to define a wolf, a dog, or a transitional form.

But this debate does not exist solely in relatively recent transition between wolves and dogs. The entire evolution of Canis lupus is a hotly contested and often contradictory, depending upon which source one reads and whether one is looking a source that relies upon paleontological and morphological analysis or one that looks at the molecular evolution of the species.

It is well-accepted in European paleontology that Canis lupus evolved from Canis mosbachensis. Mark Derr paid particular attention to this evolution in his How the Dog Became the Dog. He posits that the extinction of the large hunting dog, Xenocyon lycaonoides, created an ecological niche that could be filled by the Mosbach wolf evolving into the gray wolf.

Yes, the Mosbach wolf was smaller than the modern gray wolf. Individuals from Northwestern Europe were mostly about the size of a modern Indian wolf or a “red wolf.” Indeed, the similarities between some of these mosbachensis wolves and red wolves are the best evidence for a unique red wolf species, for one can argue that red wolves are just a relict form of the Mosbach wolf that held on in Eastern North America. Of course, the genetic data do not agree with this assertion, but it is an interesting idea nonetheless.

My reading is that the Mosbach wolf gave rise to Canis lupus in Eurasia between 300,000 and 500,000 years ago. The coyote, though often posited as a primitive Canis, is actually derived from a divergent form of Canis lupus that got marooned in the American Southwest some 50,000 years ago and evolved to fit a jackal-like niche on a continent already dominated by dire wolves.

The Mosbach wolf disappeared from the fossil record around 300,000 years ago, but there is always a debate as to the possibility that it held on longer. The red wolf and Indian wolf are certainly possibilities for its continued existence today, but as we’ve looked at more wolf genomes both of those don’t come out so distinctive. Every study that I’ve seen that uses Indian wolf genomes finds that they are divergent Canis lupus, and the red wolf is a cross between wolves that are of that coyote type and relict Southeastern gray wolves from a later invasion of the continent. I do think there is pretty good historical data that some smaller wolves that we would define as coyotes lived in the Eastern states at the time of contact, particularly the small brown wolf of Pennsylvania mentioned by Shoemaker and the small “wolues” of Jamestown mentioned by John Smith. My guess is that no one really took stock of what they were killing when they killed off the wolves of Eastern states. It is very possible that coyote-like wolves were killed off in great numbers along with the big ones, and later on, coyotes from the plains came East, crossing with wolves and even relict original Eastern coyotes to form the modern Eastern coyote. The red wolf and the larger Eastern coyote are thus recreations of the Mosbach wolf that have happened in modern times.

In Europe, one potential late surviving Mosbach wolf was thought to have been found in Apulia, Italy, at the Grotta Romanelli site. Wolf remains have been found in the cave that date to between 40,000 and 69,000 years ago and they were often described as belonging to a late surviving Mosbach wolf. A recent morphological analysis revealed that these remains were of a peculiar form of Canis lupus that lived in that part of Southern Italy, and they were not of any kind of Mosbach wolf.

However, the Mosbach wolf is particularly intriguing. Occasionally, it has been posited as a direct ancestor of the domestic dog, but because we don’t have an overlap between the signs of the earliest dog domestication and the existence of Canis mosbachensis in the fossil record, one should be very careful in making such an assertion.

This same caveat should be placed when one sees Canis variabilis posited as dog ancestor. For one thing, there is no such thing as Canis variabilis. Instead, all the specimens listed as this species that come from the Zhoukoudian site in China have now been reassigned to Canis mosbachensis. This reassignment posits them as Canis mosbachensis variabilis, so whenever one encounters that “Canis variabilis” in a paper, just remember that they are discussing a particular East Asian form of the Mosbach wolf.

From my own speculative meta-analysis, it seems that the Mosbach wolf is ancestral to the entire wolf/dog/coyote species complex, which may include the African golden wolf, and the Eurasian golden jackal. A genome comparison study that included dogs, wolves, and one Israeli Eurasian golden jackal found that the divergence between the golden jackal and the dog and wolf species happened just before the anatomically modern Canis lupus replaced Canis mosbachensis in the fossil record. The Eurasian golden jackal could potentially be derived from a diminutive form of Canis mosbachensis that moved toward a more generalist scavenger form.

We also have some evidence of small Mosbach wolves in Europe that could have potentially gone in the direction of the golden jackal. This specimen was found not far from the Grotta Romanelli wolf that were found to be anatomically modern and not Mosbach wolves. It was found at the Contrada Monticelli site in Apulia. It was unusual in that it was quite a bit smaller than the Mosbach wolves found in other parts of Europe, and the authors found that Mosbach wolves were as morphologically variable as modern wolves are.

In North Africa, we also have a recent discovery of a canid that was much like the Mosbach wolf. The authors thought it was a bit different from the Eurasian form, and they decided to call this species Canis othmanii. This African wolf-like canid was found at a site in Tunisia and dates to the Middle Pleistocene, and it could potentially be the basal gray wolf that hybridized with the Ethiopian wolf to make the African golden wolf. More work needs to be done on this specimen, for it very well could wind up like Canis variabilis, a regionally distinct form of the Mosbach wolf.

The really fuzzy part about Canis mosbachensis isn’t that it is the ancestor of the gray wolf. The educated speculations I make about its relationship to the golden jackal and the golden wolf could be debated, and we need lots more data to figure out if I am right or not.

The really fuzzy part is what came before the Mosbach wolf. Most scholars think that Etruscan wolf (Canis etruscus), which makes an appearance in the fossil record around 2 million years ago, is the ancestor of the Mosbach wolf. For years, there was a debate about whether the Mosbach wolf was a chrono-subspecies of the Etruscan wolf or a chrono-subspecies of the gray wolf. All these suggestions would be technically true, simply because we could regard the Etruscan wolf-Mosbach wolf-gray wolf as a species that lasted and evolved over this time period.

However, a bit of a debate now exists as to whether the Etruscan wolf is the ancestor of the Mosbach wolf. An extensive morphological analysis of Etruscan wolf remains and those of another Canis species called Canis arnensis, which compared both to the modern black-backed jackal, the gray wolf, the golden jackal, and the golden wolf, found that our previous delineation between arnensis as being jackal-like and etruscus as being wolf-like were over-simplifications. Some characters of arnensis are much more like modern gray wolves than etruscus is, and it is possible that arnesis gave rise to the Mosbach wolf. Still, the bulk of scholarship thinks that the Etruscan wolf is the ancestor of the Mosbach wolf.

However, because the Mosbach wolf was not included in the analysis, it might be difficult to make such a conclusion. However, maybe the Etruscan wolf or something like it is the ancestor of the Ethiopian wolf. The ancestral Ethiopian wolf must have had an extensive range in Northern Africa for it to have hybridized with Canis mosbachensis, Canis othmanii, or a basal modern gray wolf to form the African golden wolf.

I have focused most of this post on the origins of gray wolves in the Old World, but the first Canis species to evolve were found in North America. Canis lepophagus first appeared in the fossil record 5 million years ago. It was very similar to a coyote or a Canis arnensis of the Old World. This is the part of the story where the molecular data has largely shaken up what we used to believe about coyotes. Lepophagus is thought to have evolved into the larger Edward’s wolf (Canis edwardii), which is sometimes called Canis priscolatrans. These animals might have been the same species or very closely related to the Etruscan wolf. The modern coyote is thought to have derived from edwardii/priscolatrans/estrucus 1 million years ago, but genome-wide comparisons put the existence of most recent common ancestor of gray wolves and coyotes at less than 51,000 years ago.

The dire wolf derived from Armbruster’s wolf (Canis armbrusteri). Armbruster’s wolf derived from Canis edwardii/priscolatrans/etruscus 1.8 million years ago. The dire wolf then evolved from that species 125,000 years ago, which means the dire wolf’s most recent common ancestor with modern wolves and the coyote may have been as far back as 2 or even 3 million years ago.

This analysis is still being worked out. The molecular data is constantly throwing wrenches into the machinery of paleontology, especially the paleontology of canids. The most successful extant canid lineage are full of parallel evolution and phenotypic plasticity, and in this way, it has become quite a challenge to sort out the evolutionary history of these species. At various times, large wolf-like forms have evolved as have smaller coyote or jackal-like forms.

The story of Canis starts with a coyote-like lepophagus, but right now, its likely niche is adopted by the modern coyote, which also very similar to it. But the molecular data suggest that the coyote evolved to adopt this similar niche from a larger Eurasian gray wolf and that it did not directly descend from lepophagus over 5 million years in only North America. Instead, it evolved into wolves that wandered into Eurasia, becoming the Mosbach wolf and then anatomically modern gray wolf. Some of these wolves wandered back into North America and became generalist scavengers in the land of the dire wolf.

Very similar stories likely are lost to us, but we must understand that the history of wolves is not just about getting bigger and developing pack-hunting behavior. That is one part of the story, but another part is about evolving to fit niches, which sometimes means evolving a smaller size and more generalist diet.

Some of my ideas here are very speculative, but I think they are nested in my reading of the available literature. Do not assume that I have the final story of how these creatures evolved, but just understand that the molecular side is so rarely considered in paleontology literature that it is almost like we’re reading evolutionary history of two different lineages.

More work must be done to formulate a synthesis between these two disciplines. Otherwise, there will be continued conflict, and the one using an older methodology and often working with much more incomplete data-set will fall by the wayside. And that is not the one using full genomes.

If we know what problems exist using morphological studies on extant and recently extinct canids, it is very likely that we’re missing important data on many extinct species, one for which there is no DNA to test.

Still, paleontology has much to tell us about the way early wolves lived. It can tell us much about how the ecosystems were and why wolves evolved in the way they did. But its methodologies often miss relationships between extant forms and miss the tendency toward parallel evolution.

I tried for about two years to watch Joe Rogan’s interview with Dan Flores, who wrote a book on coyotes that I think is quite full of misunderstandings about canid taxonomy. When Rogan questioned him about the papers that show a recent origin for the red wolf, Flores pretty much just dismissed those papers because they didn’t look at fossil.

That’s not how it works. Within canids, we know that parallel evolution is a big thing, and it is very possible that coyote-like and red wolf-like canids have evolved more than once on this continent. Indeed, a careful reading of the paleontology and molecular data strongly suggests that this is the case.

In fact, it has always been the case with these wolf-like canids. Big ones evolved from small ones, but sometimes, the big ones become small, because it is a better fit for survival.


Distribution and habitat

In South Asia the golden jackal inhabits Afghanistan, [36]  Bangladesh, [36]  Bhutan, [58]  India, [58]  Nepal, [58]  Pakistan, [36]  and Sri Lanka. [36]  In Central Asia it inhabits Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. [36]  In Southeast Asia it inhabits Myanmar and Thailand. [36]  There have been two reported sightings from Cambodia, three from southern Laos, and two from Vietnam – each sighting made only in lowland, open deciduous forest, and no specimens were presented. [67]  In Southwestern Asia it inhabits Iran, [36]  Iraq, [36]  Israel, [36]  Jordan, [36]  Kuwait, [58]  Lebanon, [36]  Oman, [36]  Saudi Arabia, [36]  Qatar, [58]  Syria, [36]  Turkey, [36]  United Arab Emirates, [36]  and Yemen. [36]  In Europe it inhabits Albania, [36]  Armenia, [68]  Austria, [58]  Azerbaijan, [68]  Bosnia and Herzegovina, [69]  Bulgaria, [58]  Croatia, [36]  Estonia, [70]  Georgia, [68]  Greece, [36]  Hungary, [70]  Italy, [36]  Kosovo, [68]  Latvia, [70]  Lithuania, [70]  Macedonia, [36]  Moldova, [68]  Montenegro, [68]  Poland, [70]  Romania, [70]  the Russian Federation, [68]  Serbia, [70]  Slovakia, [71]  Slovenia, [36]  Switzerland, [72][70]  Turkey, [36]  and the Ukraine. [70]  It has been sighted in Belarus, [68]  the Czech Republic, [73]  and Germany. [70]  It was first recorded in Denmark in 2015, likely a natural migrant from further south, and the species has since been confirmed from several locations in Jutland. [74][75][76]  It has been reported in the media in the Netherlands but it is unclear if this jackal was an escapee from a private zoo. [77]  In July 2019, golden jackal was sighted in Eastern Finland, about 100 kilometers from the Russian border, [78]  and subsequently evidence was discovered of an earlier 2018 sighting near Kajaani in Central Finland. [79] The golden jackal's omnivorous diet allows it to eat a large range of foods this diet, together with its tolerance of dry conditions, enables it to live in different habitats. The jackal's long legs and lithe body allow it to trot over great distances in search of food. It is able to go without water for extended periods and has been observed on islands that have no fresh water. [58]  Jackals are abundant in valleys and along rivers and their tributaries, canals, lakes, and seashores, but are rare in foothills and low mountains. In Central Asia they avoid waterless deserts and cannot be found in the Karakum Desert nor the Kyzylkum Desert, but can be found at their edges or in oases. [80]  On the other hand, in India they can be found living in the Thar Desert. [1]  They are found in dense thickets of prickly bushes, reed flood-lands and forests. They have been known to ascend over 1,000 m (3,300 ft) up the slopes of the Himalayas they can withstand temperatures as low as −25 °C (−13 °F) and sometimes −35 °C (−31 °F). They are not adapted to snow, and in snow country they must travel along paths made by larger animals or humans. In India, they will occupy the surrounding foothills above arable areas, [80]  entering human settlements at night to feed on garbage, and have established themselves around hill stations at 2,000 m (6,600 ft) height above mean sea level. [58]  They generally avoid mountainous forests, but may enter alpine and sub-alpine areas during dispersal. In Turkey, the Caucasus, and Transcaucasia they have been observed up to 1,000 m (3,300 ft) above mean sea level, particularly in areas where the climate supports shrublands in high elevations. [22]

The golden jackal is both a predator and a scavenger, [81]  and an omnivorous and opportunistic forager with a diet that varies according to its habitat and the season. In Bharatpur, India, over 60% of its diet was measured to consist of rodents, birds, and fruit. In the Kanha Tiger Reserve, 80% of its diet consists of rodents, reptiles and fruit. Vegetable matter forms part of the jackal diet, and in India they feed intensively on the fruits of buckthorn, dogbane, Java plum, and the pods of mesquite and the golden rain tree. The jackal will scavenge off the kills made by the lion, tiger, leopard, dhole, and gray wolf. In some regions of Bangladesh and India, jackals subsist by scavenging on carrion and garbage, and will cache extra food by burying it. [58]  The Irish novelist, playwright and poet, Oliver Goldsmith, wrote about the golden jackal:

.  Although the species of the wolf approaches very near to that of the dog, yet the jackal seems to be placed between them to the savage fierceness of the wolf it adds the impudent familiarity of the dog . It is more noisy in its pursuits even than the dog, and more voracious than the wolf.

In the Caucasus and Transcaucasia, golden jackals primarily hunt hares and mouse-like rodents, and also pheasants, francolins, ducks, coots, moorhens, and passerines. Vegetable matter eaten by Jackals in these areas includes fruits, such as pears, hawthorn, dogwood, and the cones of common medlars. The jackal is implicated in the destruction of grape, watermelon, muskmelon, and nut crops. Near the Vakhsh River, their spring diet consists almost exclusively of plant bulbs and the roots of wild sugar cane, while during winter they feed on wild stony olives. Around the edges of the Karakum Desert, jackals feed on gerbils, lizards, snakes, fish, muskrats, the fruits of wild stony olives, mulberry, dried apricots, watermelons, muskmelons, tomatoes, and grapes. [81]

In Dalmatia, the golden jackal's diet consists of mammals, fruits, vegetables, insects, birds and their eggs, grasses and leaves. [83]  Jackals change their diet to more readily available foods. In Serbia, their diet is primarily livestock carcasses that are increasingly prevalent due to a lack of removal, and this may have led to the expansion of their population. [84]  In Hungary, 55% of their diet is composed of common voles and bank voles, and 41% is composed of wild boar carcasses. [85]  Information on the diet of the golden jackal in northeastern Italy is scant, but it is known to prey on small roe deer and hares. [22]  In Israel, Golden Jackals are significant predators of snakes during a poisoning campaign against Golden Jackals there was an increase in human snakebite reports, but a decrease when the poisoning ceased. [86]

Social behavior

Golden jackals exhibit flexible social organization depending on the availability of food. The breeding pair is the basic social unit, and they are sometimes accompanied by their current litter of pups. In India, their distributions are a single jackal, 31%, two jackals, 35%, three jackals, 14%, and more than three jackals, 20%. [58]  Family groups of up to 4–5 individuals have been recorded. [87]  Scent marking through urination and defecation is common around golden jackal den areas and on the trails they most often use. Scent marking is thought to assist in territorial defense. The hunting ranges of several jackals can overlap. Jackals can travel up to 12–15 km (7.5–9.3 mi) during a single night in search of either food or more suitable habitat. Non-breeding members of a pack may stay near a distant food source, such as a carcass, for up to several days before returning to their home range. Home range sizes can vary between 1–20 km 2  (0.39–7.72 sq mi), depending on the available food. [58]

Social interactions such as greetings, grooming, and group howling are common in jackals. Howling is more frequent between December and April when pair bonds are being formed and breeding occurs, which suggests howling has a role in the delineation of territory and for defense. [58]  Adult jackals howl standing and the young or subordinate jackals howl sitting. [88]  Jackals are easily induced to howl and a single howl may solicit replies from several jackals in the vicinity. Howling begins with 2–3 low-pitched calls that rise to high-pitched calls. [58]  The howl consists of a wail repeated 3–4 times on an ascending scale, followed by three short yelps. [53]  Jackals typically howl at dawn and in the evening, and sometimes at midday. Adults may howl to accompany the ringing of church bells, with their young responding to sirens or the whistles of steam engines and boats. [89]  Social canids such as golden jackals, wolves, and coyotes respond to human imitations of their howls. [90]  When there is a change in the weather, jackals will produce a long and continuous chorus. [89]  Dominant canids defend their territories against intruders with either a howl to warn them off, approach and confront them, or howl followed by an approach. Jackals, wolves and coyotes will always approach a source of howling. [91]  Golden jackals give a warning call that is very different from their normal howling when they detect the presence of large carnivores such as wolves and tigers. [58][53]


Golden jackals are monogamous and will remain with the one partner until death. [92]  Female jackals have only one breeding cycle each year. Breeding occurs from October to March in Israel and from February to March in India, Turkmenistan, [58]  Bulgaria, and Transcaucasia, with the mating period lasting up to 26–28 days. Females undergoing their first estrus are often pursued by several males that may quarrel among themselves. [92]  Mating results in a copulatory tie that lasts for several minutes, as it does with all other canids. Gestation lasts 63 days, and the timing of the births coincides with the annual abundance of food. [58]

In India, the golden jackal will take over the dens of the Bengal fox and the Indian crested porcupine, and will use abandoned gray wolf dens. [58]  Most breeding pairs are spaced well apart and maintain a core territory around their dens. Den excavations commence from late April to May in India, with dens located in scrub areas. Rivulets, gullies, and road and check-dam embankments are prime denning habitats. Drainage pipes and culverts have been used as dens. Dens are 2–3 m (6.6–9.8 ft) long and 0.5–1 m (1.6–3.3 ft) deep, with between 1–3 openings. Young pups can be moved between 2–4 dens. [58]  The male helps with digging the den and raising the pups. [92]  In the Caucasus and Transcaucasia, the burrow is located either in thick shrub, on the slopes of gullies, or on flat surfaces. In Dagestan and Azerbaijan, litters are sometimes located within the hollows of fallen trees, among tree roots, and under stones on river banks. In Central Asia, the golden jackal does not dig burrows but constructs lairs in dense tugai thickets. Jackals in the tugais and cultivated lands of Tajikistan construct lairs in long grass, shrubs, and reed openings. [87]

In Transcaucasia, golden jackal pups are born from late March to late April, [92]  and in northeastern Italy during late April [22]  they can be born at any time of year in Nepal. [49]  The number of pups born in a single litter varies geographically. Jackals in Transcaucasia give birth to 3–8 pups, Tajikistan 3–7 pups, Uzbekistanق–8 pups, and Bulgaria 4–7 pups in India the average is four pups. [92]  The pups are born with closed eyes that open after 8–11 days, with the ears erecting after 10–13 days. [66]  Their teeth erupt at 11 days after birth, [58]  and the eruption of adult dentition is completed after five months. Pups are born with soft fur that ranges in color from light gray to dark brown. At the age of one month, their fur is shed and replaced with a new reddish-colored pelt with black speckles. The pups have a fast growth rate and weigh 0.201–0.214 kg (0.44–0.47 lb) at two days of age, 0.560–0.726 kg (1.23–1.60 lb) at one month, and 2.700–3.250 kg (5.95–7.17 lb) at four months. [66]  Females possess four pairs of teats, and lactation lasts for up to 8–10 weeks. [58]  The pups begin to eat meat at the age of 15–20 days. [66]

Dog pups show unrestrained fighting with their siblings from 2 weeks of age, with injury avoided only due to their undeveloped jaw muscles. This fighting gives way to play-chasing with the development of running skills at 4–5 weeks. Wolf pups possess more-developed jaw muscles from 2 weeks of age, when they first show signs of play-fighting with their siblings serious fighting occurs during 4–6 weeks of age. [93]  Compared to wolf and dog pups, golden jackal pups develop aggression at the age of 4–6 weeks, when play-fighting frequently escalates into uninhibited biting intended to harm. This aggression ceases by 10–12 weeks when a hierarchy has formed. [94]  Once the lactation period concludes, the female drives off the pups. Pups born late remain with their mother until early autumn, at which time they leave either singly or in groups of two to four individuals. Females reach sexual maturity after 10–11 months and males at 21–22 months. [66]


The golden jackal often hunts alone, and sometimes in pairs, but rarely hunts in a pack. When hunting alone, it trots around an area and occasionally stops to sniff and listen. Once prey is located, the jackal conceals itself, quickly approaches its prey and then pounces on it. [89]  Single jackals hunt rodents, hares, and birds. They hunt rodents in grass by locating them with their hearing before leaping into the air and pouncing on them. In India, they can dig Indian gerbils out from their burrows, and they can hunt young, old, and infirm ungulates up to 4–5 times their body weight. Jackals search for hiding blackbuck calves throughout the day during the calving period. The peak times for their searches are the early morning and the late evening. When hunting in pairs or packs, jackals run parallel to their prey and overtake it in unison. When hunting aquatic rodents or birds, they will run along both sides of narrow rivers or streams and drive their prey from one jackal to another. [89]

Pack-hunting of langurs is recorded in India. Packs of between 5 and 18 jackals scavenging on the carcasses of large ungulates is recorded in India and Israel. [58]  Packs of 8–12 jackals consisting of more than one family have been observed in the summer periods in Transcaucasia. [89]  In India, the Montagu's harrier and the Pallid harrier roost in their hundreds in grasslands during their winter migration. Jackals stalk close to these roosting harriers and then rush at them, attempting to catch one before the harriers can take off or gain sufficient height to escape. [58]


In Southeastern Asia, golden jackals have been known to hunt alongside dhole packs. [40]  They have been observed in the Blackbuck National Park, Velavadar, India, following Indian wolves (Canis lupus pallipes) when these are on a hunt, and they will scavenge off wolf kills without any hostility shown from the wolves. [58]  In India, lone jackals expelled from their pack have been known to form commensal relationships with tigers. These solitary jackals, known as kol-bahl, will associate themselves with a particular tiger, trailing it at a safe distance to feed on the big cat's kills. A kol-bahl will even alert a tiger to prey with a loud "pheal". Tigers have been known to tolerate these jackals, with one report describing how a jackal confidently walked in and out between three tigers walking together. [95][96]  Golden jackals and wild boar can occupy the same territory. [51]


The jackal's competitors are the red fox, wolf, jungle cat, wildcat, and raccoon in the Caucasus, and the steppe wildcat in Central Asia. [66]  Wolves dominate jackals, and jackals dominate foxes. [51]  In 2017 in Iran, an Indian wolf under study killed a golden jackal. [97]  In Europe, the range of wolves and jackals is mutually exclusive, with jackals abandoning their territory with the arrival of a wolf pack. One experiment used loudspeakers to broadcast the calls of jackals, and this attracted wolves at a trotting pace to chase away the perceived competitors. Dogs responded to these calls in the same way while barking aggressively. Unleashed dogs have been observed to immediately chase away jackals when the jackals were detected. [51]  In Europe, there are an estimated 12,000 wolves. The jackal's recent expansion throughout eastern and western Europe has been attributed to the extermination of the local wolf populations. The present diffusion of the jackal into the northern Adriatic hinterland is in areas where the wolf is absent or very rare. [70][88]  In the past, jackals competed with tigers and leopards, feeding on the remains of their kills and, in one case, on a dead tiger. Leopards once hunted jackals, but today the leopard is rare and the tiger is extinct in the jackal's range. [66]

Red foxes and golden jackals share similar diets. Red foxes fear jackals, which are three times bigger than red foxes. Red foxes will avoid close proximity to jackals and fox populations decrease where jackals are abundant. [98]  Foxes can be found only at the fringes of jackal territory. [51]  Striped hyenas prey on golden jackals, and three jackal carcasses were found in one hyena den. [58]


Here is the taxonomy for jackals, according to the Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS):

Kingdom: Animalia Subkingdom: Bilateria Infrakingdom: Deuterostomia Phylum: Chordata Subphylum: Vertebrata Infraphylum: Gnathostomata Superclass: Tetrapoda Class: Mammalia Subclass: Theria Infraclass: Eutheria Order: Carnivora Suborder: Caniformia Family: Canidae Genus: Canis Species:

  • Canis adustus (side-striped jackal)
  • Canis aureus (golden jackal)
  • Canis mesomelas (black-backed jackal)

Jackals: Canine Survivors and Tricksters of Folklore

When you hear the word "canine," what image comes to mind? Perhaps a German shepherd brazenly sniffing through your luggage at the airport? Or a wolf howling at the moon? What about a . jackal? Yes, the 36 species of the Canidae family (also known as "canines" or "canids") includes dogs, wolves, foxes and the oft-forgotten jackal.

Jackals feature prominently in traditional folklore around the world, often as wily tricksters who are up to no good. Jackals inhabit stories like "The Blue Jackal" in the Panchatantra, the ancient Sanskrit fables featuring the animals of India. They also appear in the oral traditions of the Khoi people of southern Africa and even cause mayhem in a TV series spinoff of "The Lion King."

But the fact is that jackals are survivors, successfully thriving because of their resourcefulness and adaptability. Jackals live by their wits and their reputation as the tricksters of the animal world is due to their keen ability to survive.

Types of Jackals

There are three main species of jackals that roam planet Earth, according to Professor Claudio Sillero, chair of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Canid Specialist Group, in an email interview.

One of these breeds is the black-backed jackal (Lupulella mesomelas), whose habitat ranges between Sudan and Tanzania in eastern Africa and also between Angola and South Africa. Another is the side-striped jackal (Lupulella adusta), located between Senegal in western Africa and South Africa. And lastly, we have the golden jackal (Canis aureus), which can be found widely across Asia and Europe. The African golden wolf (Canis anthus) was also considered to be a part of the golden jackal family, until a 2015 study found that they were a separate species.

The Diet of the Jackal

Golden jackals primarily consume "small mammals" as well as dead animals, either wild or domestic, according to Nathan Ranc, a Ph.D. student at Harvard University and Fondazione Edmund Mach, in an email interview. Ranc's expertise is in golden jackal ecology and he's a member of the IUCN/SSC Large Carnivore Initiative for Europe. Jackals are "opportunistic" creatures, according to Sillero, who "will feed on small mammals, birds, reptiles, but may occasionally also take larger prey, such as antelopes."

Jackals have few natural predators, but one of them is us: humans. "Humans are by far the main mortality factor, mostly through hunting and poaching, but also as a result of traffic accidents," says Ranc, adding that "wolves are known to kill golden jackals."

Jackals Live in Families

Jackals, like other canines such as wolves, form family units or packs. Jackal family units are relatively small compared to wolf packs, which may span multiple generations and include a complex pack hierarchy.

Each jackal family unit has a dominant male-female pair, which breeds once every year, according to Sillero. Pregnancy lasts 60 days for a female jackal. Sillero says that jackals are "largely monogamous" and notes that older offspring "may help raise the pups, [which] will be dependent for food and protection for the first five to six months of their lives." According to the Large Carnivore Initiative for Europe, golden jackals mate between February and April, typically giving birth to a litter of four to eight pups.

Jackal Habitats

On the whole, jackals are a pretty adaptable bunch as they roam around a variety of habitats all across the globe, though they favor "open areas" suitable to roaming, according to Sillero. Ranc says that golden jackals in Europe "reach the highest densities at low elevations" less than 3,280 feet (1,000 meters) and typically settle "in wetlands, coastal areas or extensive agricultural landscapes with little snow, intermediate proximity of human settlements and in absence of wolves." According to the IUCN, side-striped jackals in Africa favor shrubland, forests, grassland and savanna.

Sillero says that jackals are "territorial" animals that are "typically defending a home range." But Ranc notes that jackals can travel long distances (up to hundreds of kilometers) in search of mates and suitable habitats. According to Sillero, jackals are active during the day and night, which makes them both diurnal and nocturnal creatures. Then again, this tendency varies by species. For example, the black-backed jackal are more active during the daytime, whereas the side-striped jackal is entirely nocturnal.

Black-backed, side-striped and golden jackals are all listed as species of "least concern" on the IUCN's Red List, so jackals are alive and thriving.

Jackal Appearance and Genetics

The appearance of jackals varies from species to species. Their names offer some not-so-subtle hints: golden jackals have a coat ranging from yellow to gold with a tinge of brown, while black-backed jackals have a tuft of black hair that runs along their backs and boast dark tipped-tails. Side-striped jackals often sport a white stripe between their elbow and hip as well as dark tails with a white tip. Jackals generally range from 13-28 pounds (6-13 kilograms) in weight, according to Sillero. So they're considerably smaller than wolves, which are anywhere from 33-132 pounds (15-60 kilograms).

But what about the jackal's genetic relationship to its fellow canines? "Jackals are related to other wolf-like canids, such as African wolves, Ethiopian wolves, grey wolves and coyotes," says Sillero. Sillero says that while hybridization — or interbreeding between jackals and other canines that results in offspring — may occur, it's pretty unusual. Apparently, breeding between wild jackals and dogs was first spotted in Croatia in 2015. However, humans have intentionally bred jackals and dogs, resulting in the Shalaika (or Sulimov) dog, which is a Russian dog with enhanced sniffing capabilities used to detect explosives in airport security.

Sillero notes that jackals usually live anywhere from 6-9 years, but can reach up to 13 years of age.

The Rise of the Golden Jackal

One species of jackal, however, has proven to be particularly formidable in expanding its reach across the Northern Hemisphere: the golden jackal. Reports have emerged in recent years of the golden jackal's rapid increase across Europe. Ranc says that the expansion of golden jackals began after World War II and increased rapidly from the 1970s onward. "The species is present throughout the Southeastern part of the continent and reproduce as far north as Austria, the Czech Republic, Italy and Slovenia," says Ranc. Ranc notes that a new population cluster of jackals is forming in Estonia, and pockets of jackals are also "being recorded throughout the continent e.g., in the Netherlands, France, Denmark, Germany, Poland and Switzerland."

Ranc estimates that the current number of golden jackals in Europe hovers between 97,000 and 117,000, though it's hard to know how many golden jackals there were previously. "However, country-level trends in hunting data suggest an exponential increase in jackal numbers," says Ranc. "For example, in Hungary, six jackals were shot in 1995, 140 in 2005 and 3,267 in 2015. In Croatia, the number of shot jackals increased by 25 percent between 2012 and 2015."

But just why has the golden jackal population been spreading like wildfire? It's a hot topic of research among experts in the field, who speculate that human activity may be partially to blame. "There is growing evidence that the historic persecution of grey wolves — a dominant competitor and potential predator of golden jackals — by humans. may have triggered the current expansion — a phenomenon called 'mesopredator release," said Ranc. "In addition, the fragmentation of previously dense, continuous forests in Southeastern Europe has created very suitable habitats for jackals."

The most famous jackal may not be a canine, but, rather, a human. Ilich Ramírez Sánchez (nickname: Carlos the Jackal) is a Venezuelan militant who became one of the world's most dangerous terrorists in the 1970s-80s and is currently serving a life sentence in France.

'Golden Jackals' Of Eastward Africa Are Truly 'Golden Wolves'

Despite their remarkably similar appearance, the "golden jackals" of East Africa as well as Eurasia are genuinely 2 exactly dissimilar species. The discovery, based on deoxyribonucleic acid bear witness as well as reported inwards the Cell Press magazine Current Biology on July 30, increases the overall biodiversity of the Canidae--the grouping including dogs, wolves, foxes, as well as jackals--from 35 living species to 36.

A golden jackal (Canis aureus) from Israel. Based on genomic results, the researchers
suggest this animal, the Eurasian golden jackal, is distinct from Canis anthus,
which they suggest live on referred to every bit the African golden wolf
[Credit: Eyal Cohen]
"This represents the kickoff regain of a 'new' canid species inwards Africa inwards over 150 years," says Klaus-Peter Koepfli of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute inwards Washington, DC.

The novel study, led past times Koepfli as well as Robert Wayne of the University of California, Los Angeles, was inspired past times recent reports suggesting that the African golden jackal was genuinely a cryptic subspecies of grayness wolf. Those studies were based on an analysis restricted to mitochondrial DNA, which is passed along via the maternal lineage.

To expand the deoxyribonucleic acid bear witness inwards the novel study, Wayne retrieved deoxyribonucleic acid samples of golden jackals collected 2 decades agone inwards Republic of Kenya from his laboratory freezers. Koepfli as well as Wayne also established collaborations alongside colleagues, who provided them alongside samples from golden jackals inwards other parts of Africa as well as Eurasia. That genome-wide deoxyribonucleic acid bear witness told a dissimilar storey of the canids' evolutionary past.

"To our surprise, the small, golden-like jackal from eastern African was genuinely a pocket-size kind of a novel species, distinct from the grayness wolf, that has a distribution across North as well as East Africa," Wayne says. The researchers postulate hold named this previously unrecognized species the African golden wolf.

Koepfli as well as Wayne suspect that zoologists had false African as well as Eurasian golden jackals for the same species because of a high flat of similarity inwards their skull as well as molar morphology. However, the genetic information supports the persuasion that they are inwards fact 2 split upwards lineages that postulate hold been evolving independently for at to the lowest degree a 1000000 years. In fact, the novel canid household unit of measurement tree suggests that these 2 lineages aren't fifty-fifty closely related. The African species is to a greater extent than closely related to the lineage leading to grayness wolves as well as coyotes than jackals, which explains their novel designation every bit African golden wolves.

The findings come upwards every bit a reminder that "even amid well-known as well as widespread species such every bit golden jackals, in that place is the potential to regain hidden biodiversity," alongside the aid of genomic evidence, Koepfli says. The researchers tell they volition maintain to study the relationships amid golden jackal as well as wolf lineages inwards Africa, Eurasia, as well as the Middle East.

The specimens had a distinct mix of traits from each of their parents’ species. These jackal-dog hybrids came to be completely naturally. They weren’t pets. The study also found, based on the statistics compiled, that it was most common for wild female jackals to mate with domesticated male dogs.

They spread across the north of Africa, the south of Asia, and the southeast of Europe (essentially linking the first two locations into a wide swath). Anywhere these wild canines can be found, there’s the chance that they can naturally crossbreed with dogs.

The jackal-dogs studied in Croatia proved (through genetic testing) that the first hybrid specimen, a female, was indeed the mother of the second hybrid specimen, a male. You can’t beat that data. It undeniably proves that the jackal-dog hybrid is indeed capable of reproduction. The third specimen they studied further enforced this fact based on its own DNA.

Golden Jackal

Among the most resilient and resourceful of the Canidae family – which includes jackals, dogs, wolves, coyotes and foxes – the golden jackal can thrive in widely diverse habitats across extensive ranges. These include, for instance, said the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), environments as varied as the “semi-desert, short to medium grasslands and savannas in Africa and forested, mangrove, agricultural, rural and semi-urban habitats in India and Bangladesh.”

By comparison, the side-striped jackal, distinguished by its dark, broadly striped sides and black, white-tipped tail, occupies moist savannahs, brushlands and marshes in central and southern Africa. The black-backed Jackal, marked by its silvery black fur back, occupies savannas and woodlands in southeastern and southern Africa.

Golden Jackal Characteristics

The golden jackal – the largest of the jackals – resembles a small wolf, but it has a comparatively more slender build, shorter legs and shorter tail. Its appearance varies considerably across its range.

  • Size and Weight: Shoulder height, roughly one and a half feet length, two to three and one-half feet weight, male, about 30 pounds maximum and female, roughly 10 percent less.
  • Body: Both sexes generally wolf-like in shape, but with proportionally longer torso females, five pairs of teats.
  • Head: Relatively narrow skull, pointed muzzle, relatively thin canine teeth, fox-like ears.
  • Legs: Lean and nimble, well suited for running.
  • Tail: Full, about a foot in length.
  • Fur and Color: Fur short and coarse color variable, but generally yellowish-gold coat, lighter in summer than in winter back sometimes darker than the belly.
  • Senses: Excellent night vision (sees well in dawn and twilight hunts) acutely sensitive hearing (can detect small, potential prey moving in underground burrows) highly developed ability to smell (perhaps 100 times more sensitive than that of a human).

Range, Habitat and Diet

The golden jackal ranges across northern Africa, southeastern Europe, the Arabian Peninsula, the Great Indian Desert, the Indian Subcontinent and western Indochina, occupying an environmental niche analogous to that of the coyote in the American Southwest. With its numbers reflecting its adaptability, the jackal’s population in the Indian Subcontinent alone exceeds 80,000. Its population in other ranges, while apparently still fairly abundant, has not been estimated. Although the golden jackal -- which includes 13 subspecies -- occupies a diversity of habitats, it seems to prefer arid, open country with grasslands, brush and scrub vegetation.

An opportunistic forager, the golden jackal capitalizes on every possible scavenging opportunity, often seizing on remnants of kills by the larger predators such as lions and leopards or even crocodiles. It may bury meat temporarily to hide it from competing scavengers. It preys, primarily at dawn and dusk, on small mammals and ground nesting birds as well as reptiles (including poisonous snakes) and even insects. With its mate, it may take the young of the larger animals, for instance, the gazelle. The jackal can run, in bursts, at speeds up to 20 miles per hour and, for long distances, up to 10 miles per hour. Denied carrion or prey, it feeds on fruits and seeds. Around
humans, it scavenges in garbage, searching out scraps of food. It may prey on small or newborn livestock.

Behavior and Life Cycle

The golden jackal forms a lifelong mating bond, with a pair leading a small and changeable pack of offspring. It establishes a territory, marking the boundaries with urine and feces. Highly verbal, particularly on moonlit night, it issues distinctive yelps, yaps and howls to call its mate or pack or to signal a kill. Jackal mates howl together to demonstrate their mutual commitment. Each pack develops its own distinctive suite of calls, which helps discourage competing packs from coming into accidental contact.

The breeding pair mates once a year, with the time depending on their particular range and the seasons. The male closely guards his mate through the breeding season. The female, with her pregnancy lasting a little over two months, digs a nursery den just before she gives birth. Typically, she delivers three to five soft furry pups, each blind and helpless for the first several days of its life. A faithful mother, she will nurse them for several weeks, never leaving them alone during that time. The male, with support from offspring from the den of the year before, helps the mother care for the newborn. The mother may change den sites every few weeks to minimize detection by predators.

About 10 days after their birth, the pups find their eyesight. About three weeks of age, they venture outside their den, at first pawing and wrestling clumsily but soon ambushing, pouncing and chasing gleefully. Over the next several weeks, they graduate to a diet that comprises, not only the milk produced by their mother, but also regurgitated food provided by both parents. After about three months, when the family abandons the den, the pups follow their still-nurturing parents, learning the trade of an opportunistic

At about six months of age, the pups have become competent hunters. They may remain with the family through the following year, helping with the next generation, while older siblings – with the males reaching sexual maturity within two years and the females, within one year – may leave the pack to seek out mates and begin producing their own families. If a pup reaches maturity, it may live for 10 or 15 years in the wild, perhaps a few years longer in captivity.


Although it may sometimes fall to larger predators or to human hunters, the golden jackal’s major peril is not predation. Its overriding threats are looming urbanization, industrialization and intensive agriculture. Its populations are dwindling, naturalists believe, across much of its range, except for national parks and sanctuaries, said the IUCN. The jackal “may persist for a while, but eventually disappear.” Nevertheless, it still ranks as a species of “Least Concern” by the IUCN.

Watch the video: Dog u0026 Golden Jackal crossbreed. Colour u0026 appearance like a dog but jackal like nocturnal behaviour (June 2022).


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