The jackal, a medium-sized carnivore with doglike features and
a bushy tail, is widely distributed in Africa, the Middle East
and India. This animal has long been the subject of superstition
about death and evil spirits. The ancient Egyptians believed a
jackal-headed god, Anubis, guided the dead to those who judged
their souls. Such beliefs were probably encouraged by the
jackal's cleverness, nocturnal habits, eerie howling and
||Common (Canis aureus),
side-striped (Canis adustus),
black-backed (Canis mesomelas)
||15 to 20 inches at the
||15 to 35 pounds
||10 to 12 years
||Open and wooded savanna
||About two months
The three species of jackal in East Africa are the
golden or common jackal, the side-striped jackal and the
black-backed or silver-backed jackal. The golden jackal is
somewhat shorter and stockier, and the black-backed is the most
slender and upstanding, with noticeably larger ears. Mainly,
they differ in color and choice of habitat.
The sandy-colored golden jackal prefers open, grassy plains,
while the side-striped jackal lives along water courses with
dense undergrowth. This jackal is drabber in color, has a white
tip on the tail and indistinct black and white stripes along the
sides of the body. The black-backed jackal is easily recognized
by the mantle of black hair on the back that contrasts with the
rust-colored body. The black mantle is streaked with white and
from a distance has a silvery appearance. The tail is
black-tipped, as is that of the golden jackal.
The black-backed jackal is usually the most frequently seen
as it is more diurnal than the other two species. When they live
close to well-settled areas, however, black-backed jackals often
confine most of their activities to nighttime.
The common jackal lives in open savannas, deserts and arid
grasslands. Side-striped jackals are found in moist savannas,
marshes, bushlands and mountains. The sliver-backed jackal lives
primarily in savannas and woodlands.
Jackals live singly or in pairs, and are sometimes
found in small packs. They are among the few mammalian species
in which the male and female mate for life. Mated pairs are
territorial, and both the female and male mark and defend the boundaries of their territory.
Yipping calls are made when the family gathers. Members only
respond to their own family's calls and ignore those of other
individuals. Although they have long had a reputation as sneaky,
skulking scavengers, research has shown jackals to be agile,
lithe hunters with close-knit, cooperative family groups. They
have been successful in adapting to changing environments.
Jackals can best be described as opportunistic omnivores. They
cooperatively hunt small or young antelopes such as dikdiks or
Thomson's gazelles or even domestic sheep. They also eat snakes
and other reptiles, insects, ground-dwelling birds, fruits,
berries and grass. A pair of jackals will move through their
territory at a fast trot, stopping frequently to examine
something, sniff the air or listen-ready for any opportunity
that might provide a meal.
Caring for the Young
Litters number up to six but usually average two to
four. It takes about 10 days for the infants' eyes to open, and
for the first few weeks of life they remain in the thickets or
holes where they were born. At about 3 weeks they begin to spend
time outside playing with their litter-mates. At first the games
are clumsy attempts at wrestling, pawing and biting. As they
become more coordinated, they ambush and pounce, play tug of war
and chase each other. The mother changes den sites about every
two weeks, so the young are less likely to be found by
The pups are suckled and fed regurgitated food until they are
about 2 months. By 3 months they no longer use the den, but
start to follow their parents, slowly learning the territory and
observing hunting behavior. By 6 months, they are hunting on
their own. Their parents, however, continue to feed, groom and
play with them.
Sometimes pups stay with their parents and help raise their
younger brothers and sisters. At times they bring back food to
their younger siblings or babysit them while the parents hunt
for food. Most pup deaths occur during the first 14 weeks of
life, so the presence of helpers increases the survival rate.
Leopards, hyenas and eagles are jackals' most feared
predators. Eagles are small pups biggest threat.
Did you know?
- Jackals are noisy. Family or pack members communicate with
each other by a screaming yell and yapping, or a sirenlike
howl when a kill is located.
- Jackals are very cunning and resourceful. Although usually
considered scavengers-they do pick over kills made by large
carnivores and frequent rubbish dumps-they also hunt and kill
a variety of prey.