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What Is a Jackal? (Vet-Approved Facts)


Apr 7, 2023
Black Backed Jackal staring towards the camera


Black Backed Jackal staring towards the camera
Dr. Marta Vidal-Abarca Photo

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Jackals are animals commonly found in Africa and Asia. At first glance, they look similar to coyotes and even to some domesticated dogs. This has raised the question, are jackals dogs? What exactly are jackals? Jackals are a species of canine that is very closely related to domesticated dogs. In fact, jackals are very closely related to dogs because of their inclusion in the genus Canis.

Here is everything you need to know about jackals and their relationship to common domesticated dogs, including interbreeding and other similar species.


Jackal Overview

Jackals are a species of dog-like carnivores that feed on whichever food source is most readily available, making them an opportunistic omnivore.1 Jackals live in open lands primarily in Africa and Asia and are often compared to wild dogs and hyenas based on their size, appearance, and behavior. There are three primary species of jackal. The common or golden jackal, Canis aureus, and two others that are still part of Canidae family but have recently been moved to a  different genus, called Lupulella.2 These are the side-striped Jackal (Lupulella adusta) and the black-backed Jackal (Lupullea mesomelas). Jackals are known to be cowardly, though that is generally a misconception. Jackals are also scavengers and will eat leftover carcasses from other larger predators. Jackals are very common in certain parts of the globe, and their cries and calls are instantly recognizable to those familiar with these animals.

Species: Canis aureus; Lupulella mesomelas; Lupulella adusta
Habitat: Flat lands; savanna, desert grassland
Height: 12 – 20 inches
Weight: 12 – 30 pounds
Lifespan: 8 – 10 years
Diet: Omnivore; insects, fruit, carrion, birds, grass

Jackals look and in some ways behave like dogs, but are they true dogs? The answer to that question might seem surprising, but it is no. Jackals are not the same as dogs. However, they are very closely related.

Jackal on a camping site
Image Credit: Fotografie-Kuhlmann, Shutterstock

Jackals Are Not Dogs

The common dog that everyone is familiar with is the species known as Canis familiaris. Both the golden jackal and the common dog are part of the genus Canis. The genus Canis is a part of the family of Canidae, which is where the word canine comes from. Since both domesticated dogs and jackals are a part of the genus Canis, it means they are closely related.

The genus Canis comprises a variety of related species. Many of the species in this category can interbreed to create dog hybrids which is a telltale sign that these species are closely related.

Species in the genus Canis include:

  • Coyotes
  • Wolves
  • Domesticated dogs
  • Golden Jackals

The only species of jackal that is in this category is the golden jackal or the common jackal. These jackals are the most numerous and the species that is most commonly thought of as the definitive jackal. The other two jackals are part of the aforementioned genus Lupulella.

Jackal-Dog Hybrids

Very few species can successfully interbreed. Two species capable of interbreeding mean that they are genetically very closely related. It takes a very specific genetic makeup to allow species to interbreed. Another famous breeding pair includes horses and zebras (zorse) and horses and donkeys (mules.)

Golden jackals and dogs can interbreed, though it does not happen very often. When a jackal and a dog interbreed, they create a jackal-dog hybrid. These animals have been created in captivity on numerous occasions. They have also been found in the wild, albeit rarely. It is hard to get a dog and jackal to behave normally in close proximity without having both species in captivity together.

Other species capable of interbreeding with domesticated dogs include coyotes and wolves. These species make up the heart of the Canis genus.

Black Backed Jackal
Image Credit: Achim Rodekohr, Pixabay



Jackals are commonly found prowling around in Africa. They have a reputation for being cowardly and pesky, but in fact, they are very similar to domesticated dogs. Jackals can interbreed with common domesticated dogs. Jackals are closely related to coyotes, wolves, and domesticated dogs.

Featured Image Credit: Zuzana Gabrielova, Shutterstock

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