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Animal Identification Throwdown: Golden Jackal vs… Golden Jackal?

When I was compiling images for my 2016 Wild Canids calendar, I found photos of golden jackals in my archive.  Since I was hoping to present a different canid species every month, it was nice to find the golden jackals to complement the black-backed and side-striped jackals I was already planning to include in the calendar.  It was simply a matter of deciding which image to use, one from my very brief encounter in Tanzania or a photo from my more recent encounter in India in 2015.

As you can see, the animals look more or less the same, something you’d expect from the same species (though minor morphological differences due to geography and habitat wouldn’t be a surprise).

Golden Jackal or Golden Wolf

Golden jackal (as IDed by my guide) photographed in Tanzania.

Golden Jackal from India

Golden jackal photographed in India.

They also bear similarities to other canids, such as the side-striped jackal of southern Africa and the coyote of North America.

Side-Striped Jackal

Side-striped jackal photographed in South Africa.

 

Coyote

Coyote photographed in Yellowstone National Park.

 

But wait!  It turns out the African and Eurasian jackals are actually not the same species!

Though both the African golden jackal and Eurasian golden jackal were previously classified under the scientific name Canis aureus, the latest studies insist that these are two distinct species.  Furthermore–and here’s where it gets a little wild–the African golden jackal is actually more closely related to wolves than it is to the Eurasian golden jackal!

Genetic research by Dr. Klaus Koepfli shows that Eurasian golden jackals split off from European gray wolves and coyotes more than 600,000 years before the African golden jackals.  Their morphological similarities can be attributed to parallel evolution more than genetic similarities.

As a result, Dr. Koepfli proposes that the African golden jackal be renamed the African golden wolf, or Canis anthus.  So, meet what may soon be the African golden wolf.

African golden wolf

The African golden wolf, if scientists get their way.

I guess I could have included them both in the calendar after all!

Update @8:37am: Scottie Westfall has pointed out that the first and final images may actually be a side-striped jackal.  I looked around quite a bit trying to reconfirm the ID given by my Tanzania guide when I took the photo, but other image comparisons proved to be inconclusive.  Facially, it does look very similar to the side-striped in the photo further down the page, but the body markings are different.  Thanks to Scottie for his help!

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