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Golden jackal (Canis aureus)

Golden jackal © Yannick Fanin
  • Appearance: canine, similar to a fox, but with longer legs and stockier body, a shorter tail (20–30 cm) and golden brown backside of the ears (a fox’s are black). Compared to a wolf, the golden jackal is more delicate with a slenderer muzzle. Fur colour can vary, usually golden to yellow-brown, with darker mottled sides and back. The golden jackal also has a face mask, with white areas around the mouth, throat and chest. The tail is often the darkest part of the animal.
  • Size: body length 80–105 cm, shoulder height 44–50 cm. Males slightly larger than females
  • Weight: males 11–16 kg, females 8–13 kg
  • Life expectancy: up to 8 years in the wild

Status and threats

Legal status:

Red List of Endangered species:

The species did not yet establish itself in Switzerland. Possible threats consist in the illegal killing, killings as a result of mistaken identity, and traffic collisions.

Spatial & Social structure

The golden jackal is a very adaptable species regarding its habitat. It prefers richly structured areas and areas in proximity to water, e.g. wetlands, where they can find sufficient cover and food. Golden jackals can also occur close to settlements, albeit sparsely populated ones. They generally avoid higher altitudes with closed snow covers for long periods, and intensively managed agricultural areas without cover. Moreover, they often avoid areas with wolves, as these might kill a golden jackal at an encounter.

Golden jackals are primarily nocturnal. They can live either alone, in pairs, or also in small packs. As a pair or pack, they can hunt even more successfully and are able to catch larger prey. Golden jackals usually bond for life. Their home ranges reach a size of about 5–15 km² and are defended by the whole group.


In Europe, the mating season lasts from January to February. After a gestation period of approx. 60 days, the female gives birth to usually 4—5 pups. However, litters of up to 12 pups have been recorded. Females become sexually mature at an age of 10–11 months, males only at an age of 21–22 months. The majority of the young leave the parental territory shortly before the birth of the next litter. Some individuals stay in the family pack and help with rearing the new pups. Dispersal distances can reach more than 200 km.


The golden jackal is an omnivore, and can consequently use a large variety of food sources. Similar to the red fox, it preys on smaller animals such as rodents, amphibians, reptiles, hares or birds. Moreover, it utilises carrion and vegetable matter. As a pair or a pack, they can also hunt larger prey such as roe deer.

History in Switzerland

The first picture of a golden jackal in Switzerland was taken during the lynx monitoring in the north-western Alps in the winter 2011/12. © KORA/D. Combremont, J. Roch

The golden jackal is not a Neozoa: it was not introduced into a new area by humans. It is native in large parts of the Arabian Peninsula and India, and from the Middle East to Turkey and Europe. In Europe, it originally occurred only in south-eastern Europe. However, the species is able to profit from the human-caused absence of wolves in large parts, from global warming, and even from the fragmentation of forests. These and other factors enabled the golden jackal in the 1950s to start enhancing its distribution towards Central Europe. In 2015/16, there were already the first records of golden jackals in Western and Northern Europe. In November/December 2011, the first golden jackal was recorded in Switzerland by a camera trap. After a break, the next record came in 2015. Since then, there are regularly a few observations of golden jackals in Switzerland.

Humans and golden jackal

As a group, golden jackals are able to hunt down larger prey, e.g. livestock, too. This could lead to conflicts with agriculture, but potentially also with hunters.

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