The black-backed jackal (Canis mesomelas)

Kruger National Park | November 2017

The black-backed jackal is one of two species of jackals that can be found in the Singita Lebombo / Sweni area (the other one is the side-striped jackal). The black-backed jackals are the more common of the two that occur in our area.

The black-backed jackal is a small canid (dog) that is fairly similar in appearance to a fox. It has a shoulder height of approximately 38 to 48 cm and weighs up to 13 kg. It has big ears, longish legs and a bushy tail (with a black tip). It is predominantly reddish in colour (hence the name “Rooijakkals” in Afrikaans – meaning red jackal) on the flanks and legs, and has a black / grey, grizzled back often with a black stripe separating the “saddle” from the sides.

Black-backed jackals tend to live in open areas with short grass cover and are highly territorial animals (although they can be seen in greater numbers where there are large carcasses to scavenge from). They form monogamous pairs, although previous youngsters may remain in the area for a while and help raise the next generation of pups.

Black-backed and side-striped jackals are some of the “oldest” dogs known to man and fossils of jackals have been found in East Africa and Southern Africa, showing that they were around at least two-three million years ago and that they have not changed much since then.

Jackals are carnivores and black-backed jackals feed predominantly on invertebrates (such as insects, spiders, scorpions etc.), small vertebrates such as rodents, reptiles and birds, and even small mammals (up to the size of small antelope). A particular pair of black-backed jackals in our concession have been seen attacking and killing full-grown adult impalas. Black-backed jackals are seen as “problem-animals” in many farming areas of South Africa due to the fact that they can and do often kill sheep and cattle calves. Black-backed jackals will also consume various fruits (although not as often as side-striped jackals). In Namibia black-backed jackals are seen regularly along the coastline (particularly in the areas surrounding seal colonies), where they scavenge on the carcasses of seals and even hunt sick or injured seals and their pups. Black-backed jackals will also scavenge from carcasses that have been killed by larger predators such as lions and cheetahs. The jackals are much smaller than these large cats and therefore usually only scavenge on the carcasses once the cats have left the area.

The jackals in our area usually give birth to between one and six pups during late spring and early summer, after a gestation period of two months. The pups are often hidden in a den, which usually consists of a hole in the ground. The pups become sexually mature at approximately one year of age and then start to look for a partner and an area to set up a territory.

Black-backed jackals mark and advertise their territories by defecation (they often defecate at obvious sites such as on top of exposed rocks, on top of impala middens or on grass clumps), urination, posturing and calling. Black-backed jackals have a very distinct wailing, high-pitched howl. They also tend to call when they see large predators in the area, which can be a good indication to our guides as to where the big cats may be moving.

Jackals are seen as sly and clever animals and are featured in cultural stories, where they often outwit larger carnivores such as lions.