There are three distinct species of jackal, all of which stand around 40 cm at the shoulder and weigh between 5 and 12 kilograms. The differing characteristics between the species are:
Golden Jackal: This is the most common species of jackal (known as the ‘common jackal’), and it features a tan-golden coloration on its coat. Golden jackals can be found in Africa, Asia, and Europe. However, due to living in different regions, they have significant differences, which has led to scientists classifying them into different subspecies. There are up to seven different subspecies of the golden jackal.
Black-Backed Jackal: This is the most recognizable jackal species thanks to its unique coloration. Black-backed jackals are typically what you see on African Wildlife documentaries. They have golden fur with a black or silver strip running along their backs. Black-backed jackals are arguably the bravest in their family, as they have evolved to compete with the big cats and hyenas of Africa.
Side-Striped Jackal: Side striped jackals features a silver coloration on its back and dark black stripes on its sides. It also lives in Africa; however, it prefers woodland or forest habitats.
Range & habitat
All jackal species live in Africa, albeit in different regions.
Black-backed jackals live mostly in the savanna, but are also found living in woodlands. This species can be found either in the southern region of the continent in countries such as Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe, or in the eastern part in countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia. These two populations rarely come into contact due to the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, whose harsh terrain makes it almost impossible to cross.
The side-striped jackal prefers tropical regions and, therefore, is typically found in forests, bushlands, and mountains.
The golden jackal, on the other hand, is highly adaptable and can be found in almost every region, including open savannas, arid grasslands, and deserts. You are likely to find it in North and East Africa, as well as Burma, South Asia, and Southeastern Europe.
Jackals can be both diurnal and nocturnal. This means that they can look for food both day and night. All jackals are omnivorous, meaning that their diet consists of both meat and plants.
They are well adapted for hunting, thanks to their curved canine teeth, long legs, and incredible stamina. Being small animals, however, their meat options are limited to small mammals, reptiles, birds, and amphibians. They will also not miss out on a chance to scavenge on kills made by big predators. In fact, they usually build up the courage to steal chunks of meat while lions are eating. Nonetheless, this is an extremely risky endeavor.
When it comes to killing small prey, they usually do so by delivering a bite to the back of the neck and vigorously shaking the animal. They will eat any fruits, insects, or edible vegetation they come across, as well.
Behaviour & lifestyle
Unlike most animals on the planet, jackals are monogamous animals, mating for life. A male and female jackal live together for their entire lives. They can also form packs with their children.
Jackal pairs are highly synchronized and work together to hunt and raise their pups. This is because working as a pair exponentially raises the chances of success during hunting or foraging. In the case of lactating mothers, they do not have to worry about starving, as the male will swallow large chunks of meat to regurgitate to the ‘wife’ once he gets back to the den. If they are working as a pack, the better.
Even though jackals are excellent hunters, their small stature prevents them from attacking larger prey animals. Nevertheless, they usually have a field day with newborns from gazelle or wildebeest. Working cooperatively, one will distract the mother as the other grabs the newborn and makes a break for it.
Jackals are also extremely intelligent animals. They know that by following lions, chances are that they will get some leftovers from the big cats’ kills. As such, wherever there are lions, jackals are always in the vicinity. Fortunately, lions do not see jackals as anything more than a nuisance, and will even tolerate jackals at their kills. Hyenas and leopards, on the other hand, will gladly kill a jackal whenever they get the opportunity.
Jackals also understand the concept of storage; it is not uncommon for them to dig holes to bury pieces of meat.
It is interesting that jackals can make distinct howls to communicate with their significant others across long distances, in case they cannot find each other. Pairs have also been observed to howl together, and it is believed that that is one way of strengthening their relationship.
Fun jackal facts
- Jackals are surrounded by superstitions across many cultures due to the eerie howls they make at times. Ancient Egyptians’ representation of their god of death, Anubis, was a man with a jackal’s head.
- They are monogamous with a pair typically mating for their entire lives.
- They are not a threatened species, with the IUCN classifying them under “Least Concern.”
Meet the jackal
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Read about more safari animals.
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Grzimek, Bernard. 1990. Encyclopedia of Mammals, Volume Four, pgs. 107-114. McGraw-Hill Publishing Company, NY.
MacDonald, D. 1984. Encyclopedia of Mammals, pgs. 63-67. Facts on File Publications, NY.
Nowak, Ronald M. 1991. Walker’s Mammals of the World, pgs. 1065-1068. Fifth Edition. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.
Sarker, NoorJahan. 1990. Biological Abstracts, Volume 92. Philidelphia, PA.