Like the Ancestors of Today’s Dogs, Israeli Jackals May Be Undergoing Domestication

May 25, 2023 | Pesach Benson
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The jackal is likely mentioned several times in the Hebrew Bible, although in each case the translation is disputed. But there is no doubt that these genetic relatives of wolves and dogs have roamed the Levant for millennia, and are still found in the wild in Israel. Recently, zoologists have noticed some significant changes in their behavior. Pesach Benson writes:

Golden jackals, an overabundant species in urban habitats, have long been observed thriving near human populations. However, a Tel Aviv University study conducted on the Golan Heights suggests that the existing closeness between humans and jackals might be initiating the first stages of domestication, akin to the domestication of dogs from wolves.

During a camera survey on the Golan Heights, the researchers discovered five unusual jackals with long fur, white patches, and upright tails. One of these jackals, nicknamed “Jackie,” became the focal point of the study. One indicator of domestication is a change in fur color. . . . Genetic and skull examinations confirmed that Jackie was 100-percent jackal, ruling out any dog hybridization or known coat-color mutations.

The discovery of Jackie raises the possibility that this might be an incipient stage of self-domestication, a phenomenon that has not been witnessed in the thousands of years since the domestication of the last wild mammal. Israel, particularly the Golan region, holds historical significance as the birthplace of plant and mammal domestication.

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