The flexible social system of the golden jackal, Canis aureus
The study provides information on the intra-specific variation in social behaviour found within carnivores in terms of food supply. Jackals were chosen for study because they live in a variety of habitats, in several of which they had already been studied by others.
An area was selected where at least a section of the jackal population obtained 92% of its food from one feeding site of only 10 m2 area (based on analysis of 2,120 faeces). The jackals were observed by day and by night (with infra-red equipment) and many of them could be individually recognised. Other data were gathered by detailed field tracking. Examples of the jackals' behaviour and the interactions both within and between groups are described.
Some of the jackals of this area were organised into two groups (numbering about 20 and 10 individuals respectively); these two groups had a stable composition and occupied neighbouring ranges which, for one of them, could be termed a territory. The limit of this territory was delineated by faeces arranged in piles or middens. Food marking experiments and subsequent faecal analysis confirmed that these middens marked a genuine territorial boundary.
These findings are compared with those of other authors and it is clear that the flexibility of carnivore social systems in general, and that of jackals in particular, is considerable. The limits to the flexibility of social systems differ for various carnivore species. The description of selection pressures which have fashioned inter-specific differences in the possibilities for intra-specific variation within carnivore communities is an important task for the future.
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