Posts Tagged ‘black-backed jackals’

This is from a documentary about brown hyenas on the Skeleton Coast of Namibia, but the black-backed jackals stole the scene here!

They are like piranhas in canid form!


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Kent Hovind is out of prison, and seeing as he has a month of home confinement to waste time on the internet, he has been posting daily Q and A sessions on Youtube. Just e-mail him, and he’ll answer your question on Youtube.

So the other day, I sent him an e-mail with the following question:

Scottie Westfall Jul 22
To (Kent Hovind)
Would you say that black-backed jackals, side-striped jackals, African wild dogs (Cape hunting dogs or painted dogs) and dholes (Asiatic wild dog) are part of the same kind that includes golden jackals, coyotes, wolves/domestic dogs/dingoes, and Ethiopian wolves?

Why would I ask this question?

Well, within the wolf-like canids, it is well-known that some species are still chemically interferitle. We have a nice phylogenetic tree, which was drawn from a sequencing of domestic dog genome:

dog family phylogentic tree

Domestic dogs are basic a type of “grey wolf,” so they certainly do interbreed.  One could make the case in a creationist sense that these animals are all part of the same “kind,” because a “kind” is generalized term that pretty much is based solely on whether they can “bring forth”– produce offspring. Wolves and dogs have interbred and produced fertile offspring with coyotes and golden jackals. Golden jackals and coyotes have done the same. Ethiopian wolves (which are a really specialized canid that is found only in the Ethiopian Highlands) have interbred with domestic dogs, and in some instances, there have been viable, fertile hybrids produced.

By the Biblical definition of kind, these animals fit.

However, interfertility stops with the Ethiopian wolf. Although there are rumors of hybrids being produced between dogs and dholes and between dholes and golden jackals, we have no verified hybrids. There are claims that the Bangkaew dog started out as a dhole/domestic dog hybrid, but I’ve never seen anyone confirm this ancestry in the breed.

When this phylogenetic tree was drawn, it really did change the way we view jackals. When I was a kid, we tended to think of all the jackals as being closely related. We even called the Ethiopian wolf the “Simien jackal.”  But even before this study came out, it was pretty clear that the canid of the Ethiopian Highlands was closer to the wolves than the other endemic African jackals.

But this study revealed that golden jackals are even more closely related to wolves/dogs and coyotes than to the other jackals, and that the two endemic African jackals, the side-striped and black-backed jackals, are actually more distantly related to the interfertile canids than African wild dogs and dholes are. African wild dogs and dholes have traditionally been given their own genus names (Lycaon and Cuon), but those two endemic African jackals have always been listed as part of Canis. We now think of Canis as a paraphyletic grouping, which means it is not a clade. To make it a clade, we would have to move the African wild dog and the dhole into Canis, which is what I would do, or create a new genus for the two endemic African canids.

In an earlier video, Kent Hovind was answering a question about the kinds of animals on the ark, and he said something along the lines of how jackals, wolves, coyotes, and dogs are all descended from a single dog “kind” that was put on the ark.  (In that video, Hovind actually claimed that hyenas were part of the dog kind, which isn’t even close to being true).

But if a “kind” is defined as what can produce offspring, we have a very hard big problem here. When a creationist says “jackal,” I don’t think they understand that the three species of jackal are actually quite distinct from each other. You cannot breed a black-backed jackal to a dog, even if people claim that basenjis are derived from them, or that they have an African village dog that looks like one. The two species are very distinct from one another.

So if these animals all are distinct kinds, then God had Noah put several ancestral Canis-type dogs on the ark.  Black-backed and side-striped jackals probably can interbreed, but their genomes haven’t been studied in the interfertile Canis species have been. So that would be a kind. Dholes and African wild dogs probably can hybridize as well, so that would be another kind. And then you’d have the classic “dog kind, ” which has all the wolf-like species that hybridize a lot.

So we’d have these three separate kinds, but why?

Wouldn’t an intelligent deity just want one dog kind?

I mean, a Western coyote and a black-backed jackal are essentially the same organism in terms of their behavioral ecology. They hunt small animals. They gang up and hunt ungulates, and they do a lot of scavenging. They both have intense pair bonds, and they do cause problems with livestock producers.

Why would there have to be two separate “kinds” for this mid-sized, generalist canid?

Well, Hovind tried to answer my question, and he did very poorly. Now, I must confess that he was answering a bunch of questions about the flat earth and geocentrism (which many of his most devout followers wish he believed in), so I don’t think he was expecting a question like mine or understood its significance.

Here’s his answer (and he thinks my name is Daniel):


He tells me to go look up Baraminology, which I did.

But when I went to Answers in Genesis, I found that they fell into exactly the same trap as Hovind.

They point out that there was a discovery a few years ago that there were some “golden jackals” in Africa that were found to be a primitive lineage of wolf. Now, these are not Ethiopian wolves. People mess this up all the time. These are African wolves (Canis lupus lupaster), and they are actually pretty widespread. Populations of these wolves have been found as far from Ethiopia as Senegal, and they do cross with golden jackals there.

But note that the African wolves are breeding with GOLDEN jackals, and they were being confused with GOLDEN jackals. We know that golden jackals are close to wolves and domestic dogs, and they do hybridize.

One could make the case that golden jackals are part of the same “kind” that includes dogs, coyotes, and wolves, but you cannot say that black-backed and side-striped jackals are part of this same kind. They no more can cross with dogs than they a dog can with a petunia or a guinea pig.

So if you hear a creationist talking about jackals being part of the same “kind” as domestic dogs, just ask them about black-backed and side-striped jackals.

They don’t understand the problem with their reasoning at all.

Nor do they care.


AronRa has a nice video on canid evolution, though I do have few quibbles about it, such as the location of where dogs were domesticated and the size of some borophagine dogs, it gives you a good understanding of the problem when creationists mess around with interfertility in dog species.


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Jackal love


Black-backed jackals are highly monogamous animals.

You can really see how strongly this pair has bonded in this video.

See related post:

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If all it takes for carnivorous animal to become domesticated is for it to scavenge off of people and eventually evolve tolerance towards humans to fit this niche, why didn’t man domesticate the black-backed jackal?

I find this species to be the biggest affront to the Coppinger model, because it is one species that has lived very close to man for tens of thousands of years. For example, analysis of “dog” remains from South Africa’s Western Cape Province that had been dated to the Later Stone Age turned out to be black-backed jackals. These “dogs” were living within hunter-gatherer camps in Southern Africa, but they were not dogs at all. They may have been on their way to becoming semi-domesticated, and jackals would have been great to have around. Leopards are known to stalk both people and jackals, and the jackals would have given an alarm call whenever they scented a leopard nearby.

Traditional accounts of dog domestication say that this is all you need.

But black-backed jackals do this very well, and they likely have been doing it longer than any other species of wild dog.

But no one has domesticated the black-backed jackal.

I think Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, a dog writer and anthropologist, who wrote The Hidden Life of Dogs, a book that is often misrepresented in the popular culture by those who haven’t read it. She often gets attacked for saying that dogs “marry,” but she did indeed have two Siberian huskies that formed a pair bond and were monogamous. When the male of the pair was given away, the female became open to suitors, which is exactly how wolves reproduce. Most wolves form monogamous pairs because it is much easier to rear puppies in this fashion, but there are always Casanova male wolves that come in and try to mate with females that aren’t part of pair bond.  When these bitches give birth, the pups usually die because their mothers don’t have access to the pack’s dens and regular nutrition.  However, in Yellowstone, these bitches have managed to rear their litters, creating super packs once the pups mature. All that dogs have done is adopt that model of reproduction. But it doesn’t mean that they are incapable of forming pair bonds.

Now, in her second book, The Social Lives of Dogs. examines human behavior more closely. In her first dog book, the work examines how her dogs relate to each other, but in this book, she examines how her dogs relate to humans, cats, and parrots, which all live in her house. Part of her book was in response to Coppinger’s work, which lays out a domestication theory that has the elements listed above.

But she had grown up rather unusually. As I mentioned, she is a trained anthropologist. Her mother, Lorna Marshall, was an anthropologist who wrote the first ethnography of the !Kung people of the Kalahari.  The whole family lived with the !Kung for parts of nearly two decades. (!Kung are a Bushmen people. The ! represents the click sound you are supposed to make before saying the K in “Kung.”)

It is from this perspective that she examines how dog domestication could have happened, using the relationship between the Bushmen and the black-backed jackals as a very good analogy for how dog domestication happened.


Using an entirely different methodology from Mark Derr, Elizabeth Marshall Thomas realized that domestication could not happen from scavenging and alarm-sounding canids alone.

There has to be some room for cooperative in the domestication theory.

Black-backed jackals do hunt cooperatively. They are somewhat aggressive with each other– but so are Jack Russell terriers. And Jack Russells have been used to hunt everything from rats to wild boar to black bears.

For this reason I reject the notion that black-backed jackals were not domesticated because they were more aggressive with their social partners.  Many domestic dog breeds, including virtually all terriers, have been selected for their scrappy dispositions. It’s well-known never to let more than two intact male terriers of certain breeds run around loose together in a backyard. You are simply asking for trouble.

I think that Thomas got the real reason why they weren’t domesticated.

They simply had no interest in socializing with people or hunting the same prey as people.

Socialized wolves definitely would have been interested in going on long hunts in ways that these jackals simply were not. And still aren’t.

We have had ample opportunity to domesticate this species, which lives in roughly the same areas where our species first evolved.  This is likely the first species in the genus Canis with which we had contact. It has proven to be very adept at living near people and scavenging off of them.

But none has developed spots or floppy ears.

None has become a dog.


Contrary to popular belief, black-backed jackals play no role in dog domestication. There are no black-backed jackal/dog hybrids. Black-backed jackals are more distantly related to the domestic dog than the dhole and African wild dog are, and there have been no confirmed hybrids between dholes and domestic dogs or African wild dogs and domestic dogs. (Although the Bangkaew dog is said to be part dhole, I would like to see the DNA evidence).



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Cape black-backed jackal

So just for the record, I will admit that I am wrong about the existence of black-backed jackal dog hybrids, if someone can provide me a link to a study or record of a hybrid that has some form of DNA evidence– either a mitochondrial DNA or a y chromosome analysis will suffice. I will also accept any nuclear DNA studies of African dogs that find evidence of crossing with either of these jackals.

If someone can find the same evidence for a side-striped jackal and dog hybrid,  I will also admit that the African-only jackals can hybridize with dogs.

Side striped jackal

I’ve heard it claimed that these two jackals will cross with dogs or wolves or some other variant of Canis lupus, but I’ve never read of record of them breeding in any nineteenth century menagerie.

Hybrid in the genus Canis have occurred between all things that are currently part of Canis lupus, including the red wolf (whatever it is), Ethiopian wolves (which are not technically jackals), golden jackals, and the coyote. Verified hybrids have been found with all of these animals.

As far as I know and as far as I’ve looked, the two Africa-only jackals have not hybridized with any of these animals.

That’s probably because they are the two oldest species of true dog (tribe Canini) that are still in existence today.

And they are more genetically distant from domestic dogs than dholes and African wild dogs are– and we all know that neither of those can hybridize with domestic dogs.

Indian pariah dogs have been seen running with dhole packs, but no one has ever reported a dhole-dog.

I guess I’ve made a zoological challenge.

I’d like to see real evidence of a hybrid between a dog and one of these jackals.

All I have received in the past have been photographs and someone saying these are jackal-dogs.

However, as we know, one can easily find dogs with virtually any phenotype in any randomly breeding population.

It does not mean that these dogs have jackal in them.  German shepherds are more closely related to mastiffs than they are to wolves, but it is still widely claimed that they are derived from wolf hybrids.

I stand by what I say about these two jackals interbreeding with dogs.

But if someone can provide me some kind of DNA proof that a hybrid exists between a dog and either of these two jackals, then I will accept the correction.

The black-backed jackal really varies in terms of its mitochondrial DNA from all the other species of jackal, including the side-striped jackal, its closest relative.

I don’t think we have a very good grasp on how unique the black-backed jackal actually is.

It superficially looks like a small coyote or golden jackal with a grizzled blanket on its back.

It’s not.

It’s very unique.

I have called them the closest thing to naturally occurring Jack Russell Terriers, because they are very scrappy with each other. The Southern African or Cape black-backed jackals are typically just a little bit bigger than a terrier.


BTW, in a future post, I will make the case that the two subpopulations of black-backed jackal might be separate species.

I’m not going to do that here.

I don’t know if anyone has looked into this possibility from a genetic standpoint, but in terms of phenotype and behavior, the East African and Cape subspecies are quite different from one another– and probably have been separated for a long time.


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East African black-backed jackal

I’ve been looking into the black-backed jackal this week. At first I was checking into the possibility that they can hybridize with domestic dogs.

I am still skeptical that they can.

However, what I have found about this species is they are quite strange.

There are two populations of this species that are not contiguous. One exists in southern Africa, and the other exists in East Africa. The East African subspecies is larger than the southern African or “Cape” subspecies. It also does not howl and has a more carnivorous diet than the other subspecies. (The only howling jackal in East Africa is the golden jackal).

I have heard people claim that both of these are good enough reasons to consider domestic dogs a separate species from the wolf, but because we’re dealing with two subspecies of a jackal, an animal without all the cultural baggage the  dogs and wolves have, it is universally accepted that these both represent Canis mesomelas.

Now, that was weird enough.

It turns out that the East African subspecies has rather amazing variance in its mtDNA sequences. Contiguous populations have been found to have as much as 8 % variance in that part of their genome. That’s a lot, and the questions it has raised have not been answered. We do not know why there is so much variance within this single subspecies.

If I were a molecular geneticist, this is the dog species that would have my attention. After all, the dog genome has been decoded, and we are starting to find answers about the evolutionary relationship between dogs and wolves.

No one has answered these questions, and because it is now accepted that the black-backed jackal and the side-striped jackal are the oldest members of  Canis, these animals might have a lot to tell us about the other species in this genus.

Black-backed jackals are much more aggressive with other jackals and with each other than either golden or side-striped jackals, and although they are capable of killing larger prey than themselves because they just that bold.

In essence, a black-backed jackal is a naturally occurring Jack Russell terrier.

They are also probably the first species of the genus Canis with which hominids and later modern humans would have had some familiarity.  These are probably the first “dogs” to scavenge off of hunter-gatherer kills.

Yet no studies have found that these animals have contributed to the dog genome. There are plenty of dogs in East and Southern Africa that look like black backed jackals, and some traditional societies call such dogs “jackal-dogs.” I have not heard of any verified hybrids between these two species, although they are often speculated.

I don’t think I can believe until I see a study that shows a definite hybrid, because I think what we’re seeing here is that jackals and dogs are developing similar conformation in what is called parallel evolution. Both of these animals live in the same habitat and both share a common ancestor. However, the ancestor for the dogs was the Eurasian wolf, which evolved from different line of the ancient Canis species.  When the two species have to live in the same habitat and eat the same food, the Eurasian wolf derived species  begins to develop adaptations and phenotypes that are similar to the native East and Southern African species. (This differs from convergent evolution because convergent evolution is when two entirely unrelated species develop similar features and adaptations– like the wolf-like canids and the Thylacine.)

Now, that’s the established view. This is also pretty much what I think is happening here.

However, I was confronted with a study that did make me scratch my head.

In South Africa’s Western Cape Province, bones dating to the later Stone Age that were assumed to be domestic dogs , simply because of their proximity to human settlements. When the DNA was tested, these “dogs” all turned out to be black-backed jackals. That means that humans have had a relationship with Canis mesomelas that could have become like the relationship between humans and the wolves that became dogs.

It is also possible that there were populations of black-backed jackals that were semi-domesticated before the arrival of wolf-derived domestic dogs. When these dogs arrived, they replaced the semi-domesticated black-backed jackals as the most common canids in the camps.

That we have never been able to fully domesticate these jackals is another big question to the Coppinger hypothesis, because it is very likely that these jackals have been relying upon human kills and the excesses of civilization for a very long time. Yet there is no evidence of fully domesticated form of black-backed jackal, which would definitely be genetically distinct from the wolf-derived domestic dogs.

Now, I found all of this out through a discussion on the blog and through e-mail with a reader who has seen golden jackals and dogs live in close proximity in India.  This reader is skeptical of the evidence that dogs are derived from C. lupus and thinks that jackals did play some role. I am willing to admit that the golden jackal and Ethiopian wolf may have played some minuscule role, as could the coyote. However, black-backed and side-striped jackals probably did not.

I am open to the possibility that such hybrids exist, but I want proof n terms DNA evidence. I know these “Africanis” dogs look like jackals, but as we have seen time and again, looks alone cannot indicate that sort of relationship.

I want to thank Gurjinder Sahota for alerting me to these studies, and at least opening my mind about the possibility that black-backed jackals could hybridize with domestic dog and that jackals might be an ancestor of the domestic dog.  Most of the links in this post actually come from our discussions on this blog and via e-mail.

Although I was aware that East African black-backed jackals had wide variance in their mtDNA sequences, I had no idea that ancient African dog remains have been found to be black-backed jackals.

I think the really big question is why black-backed jackals were never turned into true domestic animals. I think the big reason may have to do with their heightened aggression towards their social partners. I don’t think hunter-gatherers would tolerate that sort of aggression in a pet , which is one reason why I think the original wolf populations were far less aggressive towards their social partners than modern wolves are now. Further, both wolves and men had similar ecological niches, which is the basis of Schleidt and Shalter’s theory about the co-evolution of man and dog.

To me, this questions all lead back to one major conundrum:

Why wolves and not these others?

Update: (Greyling 2004) Finds no evidence of jackal in DNA of Africanis dogs.

I still think there is a chance that a semi domesticated “dog” derived from black-backed jackals may have existed in southern Africa.

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The fight between a vulture and jackal towards the end involves a golden jackal and lappet-faced vulture.

Also, these two jackal species cannot interbreed. The golden jackal is more closely related to wolves coyotes and coyotes. The golden jackal can interbreed with wolves, dogs, and coyotes.  The golden jackal is found through northern and eastern Africa, as well as much of Asia. The species is found in Europe as far north and west as Hungary, where it is called the “reed wolf.”

The black-backed jackal is actually quite a bit older than the golden. We actually know that the black-backed jackal is the oldest living species in the genus Canis.

The two populations of black-backed jackal are also quite genetically distinct. The East African population has been isolated from the southern Africa population for quite some time.

Both of these species do hunt. The black-backs that live near fur seal colonies and Namibia regularly take fur seal pups. Golden jackals are known to work in packs to hunt gazelle fawns. So to denounce the jackal as a mere scavenger is not entirely correct.

The only reason why we think of jackals as being related is that all three species share roughly the same niche. They are mid-level predators and scavengers. The golden, black-backed, and side-striped jackals are all roughly the same size and do look oddly similar. In fact, it would be easy to mistake the coyote for being a species of jackal. In fact, at one time coyotes had their own genus Thous. The coyote was considered part of this genus.

Our understanding of how these animals evolved shows us that the golden jackal and coyote are related, and both are closely related to the wolves. We now know that one former jackal species, the so-called Simien jackal, is actually much more closely related to the wolves than to any species of jackal. In fact, its modern name is the Ethiopian wolf.

The black-backed and side-striped jackals live only in Africa. They are a different evolutionary offshoot of the genus Canis. One could make the case that these two species might need their own genus. The painted dog or painted wolf of Africa (Cape hunting dog or African wild dog) and the dhole or red dog of Asia are relatives of the Canis species. However, because they are not as closely related to the main Canis line, they are in their own distinct genuses.  The painted wolf or painted dog is  Lycaon pictus (literally “painted wolf”) and the dhole or red dog is Cuon alpinus (“mountain dog).

Maybe the black-backed and side-striped jackals need to be returned to the genus Thous. However, doing so would probably disrupt our ability to classify the basal Canis species. Of course, that’s what both of these African jackals are, and such a move would probably do nothing more than invite confusion.

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