The Golden Jackal is a canid native to north and northeastern Africa, southeastern and central Europe, Asia Minor, the Middle East, and southeast Asia. It is classed by the IUCN as Least Concern, due to its widespread range in areas with optimum food and shelter. It is a social species, whose basic social unit consists of a breeding pair, followed by its offspring. The golden jackal is highly adaptable, being able to exploit many foodstuffs, from fruit and insects to small ungulates. As of 2005, 13 subspecies were recognized, but C. l. lupasater has since been recognized as a subspecies of the Gray Wolf.
The golden jackal is very similar to the grey wolf in general appearance, but is distinguished by its smaller size, lighter weight, shorter legs, more elongated torso and shorter tail. The end of the tail just reaches the heel or slightly below it. The head is lighter than the wolf's, with a less-prominent forehead, and the muzzle is narrower and more pointed.
Its skull is similar to the wolf's, but is smaller and less massive, with a lower nasal region and shorter facial region. The projections of the skull are strongly developed, but weaker than the wolf's. Its canine teeth are large and strong, but relatively thinner than the wolf's, and its carnassials are weaker. Occasionally, it develops a horny growth on the skull, which is associated with magical powers in southeastern Asia. This horn usually measures half an inch in length, and is concealed by fur. The iris is light or dark brownish. Females have 4-5 pairs of teats.
Although the most desert-adapted jackal, it can survive in temperatures as low as -25° or -35°, though it is not maximally adapted for living in snowy areas. Its preferred habitats consist of flat shrublands, humid reeded areas and floodplains. Although it generally avoids mountainous forests, it may enter alpine and subalpine areas during dispersal.
The golden jackal is an omnivorous and opportunistic forager; its diet varies according to season and habitat. In Bharatpur, India, over 60% of its diet consists of rodents, birds and fruit, while 80% of its diet consists of rodents, reptiles and fruit in Kanha. In the Caucasus and Transcaucasia, the golden jackal primarily hunts hares and mouse-like rodents, as well as pheasants, francolins, ducks, coots, moorhens and passerines.
Vegetable matter eaten by jackals in these areas includes fruits, such as pears, hawthorn, dogwood and the cones of common medlars. It is implicated in the destruction of grapes, watermelons, muskmelons and nuts. Near the Vakhsh River, the jackal's spring diet consists almost exclusively of plant bulbs and the roots of wild sugar cane, while in winter it feeds on the fruit stones of wild stony olives. In the edges of the Karakum Desert, the golden jackal feeds on gerbils, lizards, snakes, fish and muskrats. Karakum jackals also eat the fruits of wild stony olives, mulberry and dried apricots, as well as watermelons, muskmelons, tomatoes and grapes. In Hungary, its most frequent prey animals are common voles and bank voles. Information on the diet of the golden jackal in northeastern Italy is scant, but it certainly preys on small roe deer and hares.
In west Africa, it mostly confines itself to small prey, such as hares, rats, ground squirrels and grass cutters. Other prey items include lizards, snakes, and ground-nesting birds, such as francolins and bustards. It also consumes a large amount of insects, including dung beetles, larvae, termites and grasshoppers. It will also kill young gazelles, duikers and warthogs. In East Africa, it consumes invertebrates and fruit, though 60% of its diet consists of rodents, lizards, snakes, birds, hares and Thomson's gazelles.
The golden jackal's social organisation is extremely flexible, varying according to the availability and distribution of food. The basic social unit is a breeding pair, followed by its current offspring, or offspring from previous litters staying as "helpers". Large groups are rare, and have only been recorded to occur in areas with abundant human waste. Family relationships among golden jackals are comparatively peaceful compared to those of the black-backed jackal; although the sexual and territorial behavior of grown pups is suppressed by the breeding pair, they are not actively driven off once they attain adulthood. Golden jackals also lie together and groom each other much more frequently than black-backed jackals.
In the Serengeti, pairs defend permanent territories encompassing 2–4 km², while in Tajikistan, home ranges can have a radius of 12 km. Breeding pairs will vacate their territories only to drink or when lured by a large carcass. During severe winters or brushfires, when food is scarce, golden jackals may travel 40–50 km, sometimes appearing in villages and cultivated areas. The pair patrols and marks its territory in tandem. Both partners and helpers will react aggressively towards intruders, though the greatest aggression is reserved for intruders of the same sex; pair members do not assist each other in repelling intruders of the opposite sex.