On our recent (2016) trip to the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater, my World Safaris’ tour group had some fantastic opportunities to observe and photograph golden jackal behavior in close quarters. The golden or common jackal (Canis aureus) is a wild member of the dog family (Canidae), now determined through DNA analysis to be closely related to North America’s grey wolf (http://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/golden-jackals-of-east-africa-are-actually-golden-wolves-biologists-report ).
East Africa’s golden jackal is actually a wolf.
Similar to a small grey wolf or coyote in appearance, the golden jackal has a more slender build, a smaller, pointed muzzle, and a shorter tail. It typically weighs between 15 and 35 pounds. The species inhabits open savannas, deserts, and arid grasslands. Despite its similar name, it is not closely related to the black-backed jackal (Canis mesomelas) which overlaps its range.
The black-backed jackal is not closely related to the golden jackal, but shares its range in East Africa.
The golden jackal is an opportunistic hunter, taking prey ranging in size from rodents and hares to baby wildebeest, as well as birds and reptiles. However, it will also eat plants and is omnivorous. Jackals occasionally form small packs to scavenge a carcass, but they typically hunt either alone or in pairs.
The golden jackal is monogamous, but is flexible in its social behavior, living either alone or in family groups of 4-5 individuals. Its vocalizations are similar to those of the domestic dog, including howling.
Howling golden jackal near the Naiabi Road, southern Serengeti.
Although its behavior is very dog-like, we did observe one pair engaging in intensive social grooming behavior, biting at the fur of another. This could be important for both social bonding and for the removal of external parasites, such as ticks.
A golden jackal pair engaging in intensive social grooming.
Jackals are highly territorial. Pairs defend their territory from other pairs by chasing and threatening intruders and by marking the area with their urine and feces. As in many mammals, olfaction (smell) is an important form of communication. Some young adults may remain with their parents until they can establish their own territories.
Births occur mainly in January-February in East Africa. In the Serengeti, golden jackals court at the end of the dry season and produce pups during the rainy season. The gestation period is approximately 63 days. Young are born in a den within the parents’ territory. Litters consist of between one to nine pups, but two to four is typical. The pups’ eyes open after around 10 days. The pups are weaned at around 8 weeks of age. Older young are fed by regurgitation with partially digested food, taking some solid food at about three months. Both parents provide food and protection for the young until they are old enough to go out on their own. Sexual maturity occurs at around eleven months of age.
A young golden jackal resting, but alert in Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania
Golden jackals are just one of the many species of fascinating animals one can encounter on safari in East Africa. Let World Safaris’ show you the wonders of African wildlife.