Black-backed Jackal

The Black-backed Jackal is a species of canids extensively spread across its habitat in several countries in Africa. They get their name from the dark vertical mark on the back that is a typical characteristic to this species. They have a bad reputation for stealing livestock. These beasts are also hunted down by the poachers regularly for their fur.

Scientific Classification

C. mesomelas
Canis mesomelas

Table Of Content

Scientific Classification

C. mesomelas
Canis mesomelas

Physical Description

Size: Their height is 38–48 cm (15–19 in) at the shoulder, measuring about 67.3–81.2 cm (26.5–32.0 in) in length.

Weight: Weighs anything between 6 and 13 kg (13–29 lb).

Fur/hair/coat: The base color is tan or reddish brown, with a black saddle intermixed with its silvery hair that extends from its shoulders ending to the tail’s base. A long, black stripe also extends along its flanks, separating its saddle from the remaining body.

Typical Features: Has a slender body, long legs, and large ears.

Tail: The tail is bushy and with a back tip.

Black-backed Jackal

Teeth: Dentition is robust and with very sharp incisors.

Sexual Dimorphism: No visual differences except that the males tend to be larger than the females.


They can live up to 14 years in captivity (like in zoo), but almost half – around 8 years – in the wild.


Black-backed jackals are found in the southernmost tip of the continent, including South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and Botswana, as also, along the eastern coastline that includes Djibouti, Kenya, Somalia, Eritrea, and Ethiopia.


They prefer open terrain and not forest or heavy brush areas. In recent years, open grasslands close to human development in the form of agriculture also provide these animals with an additional source of food.

Black backed Jackal Habitat
Black backed Jackal Hunting

Classification of Species

The jackal has two subspecies: The cape jackal (C. m. mesomelas), the nominate subspecies, and the East African jackal (C. m. schmidti).


These jackals are both diurnal and nocturnal, and can remain active all day and night. However, close to human habitats, especially urbanized locales, they are primarily nocturnal. They spend most of their time searching for food, as well as scavenging, if given a chance.

A social unit is mostly made up of the two parents and their young ones. However, they are also seen in groups while hunting in large packs.

They normally move in small trots, but while hunting, they are seen walking at a slower pace, with pricked ears and an alert look. The senses of these canids are extremely strong and highly developed, especially that of smell and hearing.

They are cunning but not aggressive in nature, and are wary of humans. These territorial beasts only display aggression when it comes to defending the boundaries within their territories. The home range of unpaired adults that are searching for mates have around 75% larger boundaries than the paired adults.

Calls & Sounds

This species is highly vocal, and are best known for their characteristic high wailing calls mostly emitted in the early evening. Interestingly, when one of these jackals calls, the other individual answers from a distance, and this continues until a chorus builds up.


Black-backed jackals are omnivores, but mostly consume meat. They prey on antelopes, hares, hoofed livestock, insects, rodents, small carnivores including mongooses, polecats, and wildcats, etc. They also feast on carrion. Among plant matters, they feed on seeds, grains, nuts, and fruits.

Reproduction & Life Cycle

The black-backed jackals are monogamous, and in fact, one of the few mammals that indulge in a long-term relationship. After mating, the females generally give birth to the babies in underground vacated antbear burrows that has several ways for escape and entrance. This is the reason why they avoid caves and rock crevices, where there is only one entrance/exit.

The mating season continues from May to August, with the gestation period lasting for about two months. The average litter size is 4, but mostly 1-3 young juveniles eventually survive. Both the father and the mother jointly take care of their offspring, taking an active part in rearing and feeding the pups.

Black backed Jackal Pup
Jackal Black Backed

The juveniles usually take three months while coming out of their den, following their parents. They become sexually mature at about 11 months of age, and almost a month more to live completely independently.


  1. As a behavioral adaptation, they are known to give out repeated yapping while chasing a predator together in a group. Such a group call often irritates even large animals like lion or leopard that eventually make them leave the spot.
  2. The long legs of the jackal have fused bones in the forelimbs, which made it an excellent runner, enabling it to move in a slow trot of 12 to 16 kmph.


Adult jackals have few natural predators except for occasional attacks of leopards and African wild dogs.

Conservation Status

The IUCN 3.1 has marked these animals as ‘LC’ (Least Concern).

Black Backed Jackal Skull
Black-backed Jackal Animal

Interesting Facts

  • Fossil deposits have revealed that this canid is one of the oldest dog species that existed quite much unchanged since the Pleistocene era – up to 2.5 million years ago.
  • Black-backed jackals are considered as the carrier of rabies in southern Africa, and are associated with four- to eight-year cyclic epidemics.
  • In folklore among the south-western African tribal ‘Khoikhoi’, the jackal often travels in tandem with the lion and often outsmarts or betrays the latter using its superior intelligence.

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