Black-Backed Jackal

A black-backed jackal makes off with a bit of carcass.

The black-backed jackal is a highly successful scavenger found across much of Southern Africa.

Black-Backed Jackal
Scientific Name:
Canis mesomelas
8Kg (M) 7Kg (f)
Shoulder Height:
38cm (M) 38cm (F)
Mating Season:
Throughout the year


Black-backed jackals are closely related, both genetically and physically, to side-striped jackals. They are leanly built and quite hard to spot in the wilderness as they swiftly move through the terrain into areas of thicker vegetation, with their long, bushy tails bouncing behind them. They are a ginger color below the middle of their sides and their shoulders, and a mixture of black and grey above this line on their backs (the origin of their name). They are generally smaller than they appear in photographs, and weigh only 6 to13 kg (13 to 29 lb), the same approximate size as most species of dwarf antelope.


In Southern Africa they range from southern Angola, throughout Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique as well as most of Namibia and the whole of South Africa. They are absent from the barren coastline and mainland parts of the Namib Desert mainly due to the insufficient supply of prey. Another sub-species of black-backed jackal occurs in parts of Eastern Africa near Ethiopia and Kenya. They are, however, very adaptive to human developed stretches of land and occur close to many rural towns surrounded by farms. They are regular victims of the rifles of livestock farmers because of the way they pester their animals, most often sheep and chickens.  


Black-backed jackals have shown substantial consistency in their population over the past decades, something that other carnivores like wild dogs would very much envy. They are classified as 'of least concern' and carry no current threat, nor are there specific populations within South Africa that are endangered. In fact, they are very widespread across a number of countries, which protects them from diseases or over-hunting in many aspects. Population densities vary drastically, but are at relative constant 2 to 3 individuals per square kilometer within the areas of South Africa where they occur.


Over most of the range of land they occupy, they can be found alongside another species of jackal, whether it be the side-striped or golden jackal. They are, however, most common within acacia woodland areas or grasslands with some of these same trees scattered which provides some shade from the scorching sun. Oddly enough, they are not only carnivorous but also sometimes forage for food such as insects, and are thus not as dependent on the supply of catchable prey like wild dogs, scavenging spotted hyenas or cheetahs are. When there is prey to be caught, they do, however take the opportunity, and are also regular scavengers alongside vultures and hyenas.

Social Organization

Black-backed jackals are another species that mates for life, or is referred to as a monogamous animal. Pairs observed for a number of years in the Serengeti stayed together for more than two years with the longest being eight years and where thought to be divided only by the death of one of them. When this happened, the other would not find a mate. They are also territorial creatures with average territory sizes encompassing an average of close to 2.5 square kilometers. Older young or offspring of previous seasons play an important role in the caring and survival of new litters, and stay on the same territory until they are able to find or compete for their own permanent piece of land.

Social Behavior

Black-backed jackals are one of the three main species of jackal found in Africa, usually patrolling the landscape in an attempt to scavenge on a kill or find small enough prey to hunt themselves. Lion trails are often followed by the fresh trails of black-backed jackals who pursue them in an attempt to make ends meet by scavenging, something its fellow jackal species are not as profoundly good at. They produce a variety of calls through which they convey messages to one another. They also howl like golden jackals and most wolf species. They are nonetheless very aggressive animals, and an estimated 38% of their interactions with one another are thought to be of a defensive or aggressive nature.


When the time of the year comes when a pair must or are instinctively ordered to reproduce they often discourage current pups or young from following them by scolding them or even biting them when they do so. When courtship begins, there are three stages through which they go, starting off with scent marking the area. Next, they show very distinct signs of sexual behavior where females lift their tails to reveal a part of their genitals, and males typically rub against them or wag their own tails. Other ritualistic behavior also happens in at this stage. Genital licking follows along with a few mounts for the next few days, but no full copulation which only follows after this and is repeated daily and frequently. The female finally conceives after this and will give birth to 3 or 4 pups after 60 to 65 days.

Anti-Predator Behavior

Jackals are not immune to predators and are threatened by a number of species. Pups are particularly vulnerable and are considered prey to almost any species of eagle, along with sub-adults. Leopards are the main foes adult jackals look out for. Their only defense or survival option is to run and try to find a decent enough place to shield themselves from danger when a leopard comes around the corner, but eagles can generally be chased away by adults when the survival of their young is called into question. There is a fine line between predator and prey in nature, and jackals can be found on either side of that line depending on the conditions.

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