The black – backed jackal (Canis mesomelas – Schreber, 1778) although detested by small stock farmers, is one of the most delightful, intelligent and resourceful citizens of the African bush. They are beautiful looking animals the coloration as shown in the image being the same in males and females. The Afrikaans name “rooijakkals” aptly describes the rufous colouring whereas the English name is a good description of the dorsal black and silver saddle.
They belong to the dog family (Canidae) and are small and fairly lightweight. Males average 7,9kg. (17,4 pounds) in weight the females slightly lighter at 6,6 kg. (14,5 pounds).
They are widely distributed but tend to prefer drier regions. Studies on stomach contents indicate that their diet consists mainly of insects but they will also feed on carrion, mice, birds, reptiles, small mammals (including young lambs of both domestic and wild herbivores), scorpions, and wild fruits. Indeed the large jackal berry tree (Diospyros mespiliformis) was given it’s name because of the large amounts of it’s seeds found in jackal droppings.
The reason small stock farmers hate jackal is that they can cause quite significant losses in sheep and poultry.
It can readily be distinguished from it’s cousin the side striped jackal (Canis adustus) in a number of ways.
In size and general shape they are almost identical however the dark saddle is very distinct in the black backed jackal and absent in the side striped jackal. The black backed jackal has a black tip to it’s tail as opposed to the white tip found in the side striped jackal from whence it gets its Afrikaans name “witkwasjakkals”. The stripe on the side of the side striped jackal is also quite distinct. Their calls differ. Whereas the call of the black back jackal consists of two syllables first rising then falling that of the side striped jackal is a series of monosyllabyllic ascending yelps.
Black backed jackal are opportunists and will always be on the lookout for a quick and easy meal. They will often hang around the periphery of a kill where other larger predators are feeding. They will suss the situation out carefully and when an opportunity presents itself will dart in to snatch some tasty titbit. They are real survivors and will often live close to human habitation.
They are generally nocturnal and their calls will often be heard in the early evening just after sunset. They appear to be most vocal during the winter months when the females are in oestrus (Skead, 1973). A resourceful hunter in it’s own right, black backed jackal are just as effective in the role of scavenger and will observe the flight and descent of vultures to lead them to a carcass. They forage singly but live in small groups sleeping in dens located in old aardvark or warthog burrows. They have litters of up to six pups – usually in the early spring. Both parents and sometimes older siblings assist in the raising of the young. Jackal will mark territory by depositing their droppings at strategic points.