Although the word jackal has often been used historically to refer to many small- to medium-sized species of the wolfgenus of mammals, Canis, today it most properly[clarification needed] and commonly refers to three species: the black-backed jackal, the side-striped jackal of sub-Saharan Africa, and the golden jackal of northern Africa and south-central Eurasia. The black-backed and side-striped jackals are more closely related to each other than they are to the golden jackal, which is closer to wolves, dogs, and coyotes. The English word “jackal” derives from Turkish çakal, via Persian شغال shaghāl.
Jackals and coyotes (sometimes called the “American jackal”) are opportunistic omnivores, predators of small- to medium-sized animals and proficient scavengers. Their long legs and curved canine teeth are adapted for hunting small mammals, birds, and reptiles, and their large feet and fused leg bones give them a physique well-suited for long-distance running, capable of maintaining speeds of 16 km/h (9.9 mph) for extended periods of time. Jackals are crepuscular, most active at dawn and dusk.
Their most common social unit is that of a monogamous pair which defends its territory from other pairs by vigorously chasing intruding rivals and marking landmarks around the territory with their urine and feces. The territory may be large enough to hold some young adults which stay with their parents until they establish their own territories. Jackals may occasionally assemble in small packs, for example, to scavenge a carcass, but they normally hunt either alone or in pairs. The taxonomy of the jackals has evolved with scientific understanding about how they are related on the canid family tree.
- Like foxes and coyotes, jackals are often depicted as clever sorcerers in the myths and legends of their regions.
- Anubis (Ancient Greek: Ἄνουβις) is the Greek name for a jackal-headed god associated with mummification and the afterlife in ancient Egyptian religion.
- The jackal (likely the golden jackal, given its present range) is mentioned approximately 14 times in the Bible. It is frequently used as a literary device to illustrate desolation, loneliness and abandonment, with reference to its habit of living in the ruins of former cities and other areas abandoned by humans.
- Serer religion and creation myth posits the jackal was among the first animals created by Roog, the supreme deity of the Serer people.
- Pablo Neruda‘s poem “I Explain a Few Things” describes Francisco Franco and his allies as “…Jackals that the jackal would drive off…”.
- In Rudyard Kipling‘s collection of stories The Jungle Book, the mad cowardly jackal Tabaqui feasts on the scraps of Shere Khan and the Seeonee wolf tribe.
- In the King James translation of the Bible, Isaiah 13:21 refers to ‘doleful creatures’, which some commentators suggest are either jackals or hyenas.
- Literature in India and Pakistan compares jackal with lion in terms of courage. A famous saying is “One day life of a lion is better than hundred years life of jackal (Tipu Sultan)”.