Golden jackal (Canis aureus)

Also known as: Asiatic jackal, common jackal, Oriental jackal
French: Chacal Commun, Chacal Doré, Le Chacal Commun
Spanish: Chacal
GenusCanis (1)
SizeHead-body length: 60 - 132 cm (2) (3)
Tail length: 20 - 30 cm (3)
Shoulder height: 38 - 50 cm (3)
Weight7 - 15 kg (2) (3)

The golden jackal is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix III of CITES (4).

The golden jackal (Canis aureus) is a slender, medium-sized canid with long legs, a long, pointed muzzle, and a relatively short, bushy tail (2) (3) (5) (6). The coat is rather coarse (3) (5), and, as the name suggests, is generally golden or yellowish in colour, although individuals vary from pale cream to tawny, and coat colour may also vary between seasons (2) (6) (7). The back is often mottled black, brown and white, while the head, ears, sides and limbs may have a reddish-brown hue. The underparts are pale. The golden jackal can be distinguished from other jackal species by the black tip to the tail (3) (5) (6) (7) (8). Occasional dark (melanistic) individuals are reported (7) (8), and several subspecies of golden jackal are recognised (7) (9).

The golden jackal is a very vocal species, using a variety of barking, growling, cackling and whining calls. The most distinctive is the high-pitched, wailing howl, often given in chorus at dawn and dusk, and thought to reinforce family bonds or advertise territory ownership (2) (5) (6) (7).

The golden jackal is the most widespread and most northerly ranging of the three jackal species, and the only one to occur outside of sub-Saharan Africa (10). It can be found across North and East Africa, through the Middle East and Arabian Peninsula, and into southeast Europe and South Asia, as far as Burma and Thailand (2) (3) (7) (10).

Its tolerance of dry habitats and opportunistic diet enable the golden jackal to inhabit a wide variety of habitats (7), ranging from desert, to grassland, forest, and even agricultural and semi-urban areas, although it most commonly occurs in dry, open country (2) (3) (7) (8).

The golden jackal is an adaptable and opportunistic forager, feeding on a wide range of food sources, and active both day and night in areas where human disturbance is low. Although it may scavenge on carrion and garbage, it is also a skilled hunter of birds and mammals, up to the size of flamingos and young antelope, and also takes reptiles, fish, insects and fruit (2) (3) (6) (7) (8). The lithe body and long legs allow the jackal to travel easily over long distances while searching for food, which is typically swallowed rapidly, allowing it to be transported to a mate or young and then regurgitated, reducing the risk of theft by other predators. Pairs or families sometimes hunt cooperatively, and surplus food may be buried (2) (6) (7).

The golden jackal is monogamous, the breeding pair occupying a territory which is regularly scent-marked and defended against intruders (2) (3) (5) (6). Breeding usually occurs during the time of peak food availability, the female giving birth to up to nine pups in an underground den or disused termite mound, after a gestation period of around 63 days. The young golden jackal opens its eyes at ten days old, and is weaned by about four months (2) (3) (6) (7), by which time its dark coat has developed the pale colour of the adult (8). Although the golden jackal reaches sexual maturity at 11 months, the young typically remain with the adults for up to two years, during which time they often help feed and guard the next litter of pups (2) (3) (5) (7). Lifespan may be up to 8 years in the wild, or 16 in captivity (2) (3) (8).

The golden jackal is a widespread and fairly common species, found at high densities in suitable areas and able to thrive even close to human settlement (1) (2) (7). However, although it has extended its European range in recent decades, its population, except where it occurs in protected areas, is undergoing a decline. The main threat to the species comes from the replacement of traditional land use practices by industrialisation and intensive agriculture, reducing cover and food availability (1) (7) (10).

Some hunting and persecution do occur, particularly where the golden jackal predates livestock or damages crops (1) (7) (11), but the species is not generally considered as damaging as the red fox (Vulpes vulpes) or grey wolf (Canis lupus) (10), and may even benefit humans by scavenging waste and controlling pest species such as rodents and rabbits (3). Perhaps a greater threat comes from diseases such as rabies and distemper, which periodically kill large numbers of jackals. These can be caught from feral dogs, and rabid jackals frequently attack dogs, domestic livestock and humans (2) (3) (7).

The golden jackal occurs in many protected areas, such as in the Serengeti-Masai Mara-Ngorongoro complex in Africa, and in nearly all the National Parks in India. It is not currently considered a high conservation priority, and few specific conservation efforts are in place for the species, although a number of research projects are underway (1) (7), and a conservation action plan has been drawn up for the species in Greece (10).

Enforcement of the laws controlling garbage dumping may help control jackal numbers in problem areas, so reducing conflict with farmers (11). However, levels of human-jackal conflict are usually relatively low, potentially making conservation measures easier to enforce than with many other canids (10). Oral rabies vaccination campaigns have been effective at reducing cases of the disease in this species (12), so providing a way of protecting both jackal and human populations.

Find out more about the conservation of the golden jackal and other canids: 

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. IUCN Red List (July, 2009)
  2. Macdonald, D.W. (2006) The Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  3. Nowak, R.M. (1991) Walker’s Mammals of the World. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.
  4. CITES (July, 2009)
  5. Alden, P.C., Estes, R.D., Schlitter, D. and McBride, B. (1996) Collins Guide to African Wildlife. HarperCollins Publishers, London.
  6. Estes, R.D. (1992) The Behavior Guide To African Mammals: Including Hoofed Mammals, Carnivores, Primates. University of California Press, Berkeley, California.
  7. Sillero-Zubiri, C., Hoffmann, M. and Macdonald, D.W. (2004) Canids: Foxes, Wolves, Jackals and Dogs. Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN/SSC Canid Specialist Group, IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK. Available at:
  8. Kingdon, J. (1988) East African Mammals: An Atlas of Evolution in Africa. Volume 3, Part A: Carnivores. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
  9. Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS) (July, 2009)
  10. Giannatos, G. (2004) Conservation Action Plan for the Golden Jackal Canis aureus L. in Greece. WWF Greece, Athens.
  11. Yom-Tov, Y., Ashkenazi, S. and Viner, O. (1995) Cattle predation by the golden jackal Canis aureus in the Golan Heights, Israel. Biological Conservation, 73: 19 - 22.
  12. Yakobson, B.A., King, R., Amir, S., Devers, N., Sheichat, N., Rutenberg, D., Mildenberg, Z. and David, D. (2006) Rabies vaccination programme for red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) and golden jackals (Canis aureus) in Israel (1999-2004). Developments in Biologicals, 125: 133 - 140.