The Golden jackal has long, pointed ears and long hair. The coat of the animal is rather coarse and not very long. The tail is fluffy and long. Being the largest species of jackal, this animal, however, has lighter tread, shorter tail, more slender build and a narrower, more pointed muzzle, compared to other jackal species. The coloration of their fur depends on the season of year and region, varying from yellow to pale gold with a brown tip.
These jackals are widely distributed from North and East Africa to southeastern Europe and South Asia, including Burma. Their preferred habitat is steppe terrains, short and arid grasslands as well as dry, open country.
Living nearby human settlements, Golden jackals are strictly nocturnal. However, those living in other areas can be partly diurnal. The main social unit of these animals is a mated pair as well as a family, consisting of a mated pair and its young. Living in pairs, the jackals share most of their activity with the partners. Their behavior is strictly synchronized: they forage, hunt and rest together. As a matter of fact, hunting in pairs, they are three times more successful, than hunting alone. Jackal families hunt on a territory of about 2-3 sq. km. all year round. Looking for shelter, they frequently use caverns, dug by other animals. Golden jackals can also dig caverns themselves as well as use crevices in rocks. They are very friendly to their partners. Scratching one another all over their bodies is a common activity between mates. Nevertheless, once strange jackals encounter each other, their behavior shows subordination, domination and even readiness to attack.
Golden jackals are omnivores. These opportunistic foragers have a rather diverse diet. They feed on a wide variety of animal species such as young gazelles, hares, reptiles, ground birds and their eggs, fish frogs as well as insects. The usual diet Golden jackals also includes various fruits. During the winter months, they frequently eat rodents. In addition, they can consume carrion.
Golden jackals have monogamous mating system with females, fiercely defending the territory from other females. Thus they try to restrict access of female intruders to the male, not sharing him and preventing his paternal investment. Usually, a jackal family contains one or two adult individuals called "helpers". These are the ones, who, reaching sexual maturity, continue living with the parents for about a year. They do not breed and help the parents in rearing the next litter. Breeding season takes place in the beginning of February or in the end of January (if the weather is warm enough), lasting about 26-28 days. After the gestation period of 63 days, the female gives birth in a den within the pair's territory. One litter can yield 1-9 babies, with an average of 2-4 pups. The female nurses the young for about 8 weeks, after which they are weaned. Females reach sexual maturity during the first year of their lives while male jackals become sexually mature within two years.
One of the serious concerns to their population is diseases. Rabies and distemper, for example, occasionally cause high numbers of mortality among these animals. On the other hand, they are hunted and persecuted as livestock predators and pests. However, the major threat is the alteration of traditional land use practices. Some parts of their habitat are presently turning to industrial areas and agricultural lands, which leads to reduction of cover and food shortages.
Golden jackals are common and widespread, found in large numbers throughout the area of their range. The overall number of their population is presently unknown but increasing. In India, for example, specific populations of Golden jackals are estimated to be about 80,000 individuals. On the IUCN Red List, the species is classified as Least Concern (LC).
Golden jackals are key scavengers in their home range. They consume garbage and carrion around villages and towns. Also, they control numbers of prey populations. Thus, they benefit agriculture, feeding upon rodents and lagomorphs.