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Canis mesomelas (Black-backed jackal)

 rooijakkals, swartrugjakkals [Afrikaans];  Schabrackenschakal [German];  chacal ŕ chabraque [French];  bweha nyekundu [Swahili];  ikhanka, ipungutjha enzima [isiNdebele];  impungutye [isiXhosa];  impungushe, ikhanka, inkanka [isiZulu];  phukubję, phokobję [Sepedi];  phokobje, phokojoe, phokojwe [Sesotho];  phokobję, phokobyę, phokojwę, phokoję, sekgęę [Setswana];  hunguabwe [Shona];  mpungutje, impungutjee, imphungushe, jakalasi [siSwati];  mhungubya, phungubya, hungudzwa, jajaja [Zitsonga];  phungubwe, phunguhwe, phunguhwei re na mutana mutswu [Tshivenda]; |Girib, |gireb [Nama, Damara]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Synapsida (mammal-like reptiles) > Therapsida > Theriodontia >  Cynodontia > Mammalia (mammals) > Placentalia (placental mammals) > Laurasiatheria > Ferungulata > Ferae > Carnivora > Family: Canidae (foxes, dogs and jackals)

Canis mesomelas (Black-backed jackal)

Canis mesomelas (Black-backed jackal), Rietvlei Nature Reserve, South Africa. [photo Philip Fourie ©]

Canis mesomelas (Black-backed jackal)

Canis mesomelas (Black-backed jackal), South Africa. [photo Philip Fourie ©]

Widespread in southern Africa but has been exterminated in some farming areas as it attacks livestock. Pairs mate for life and rear their litters in underground burrows made by other animals. They are sometimes assisted by subadults from their previoius year's litter. They eat a wide range of prey from invertebrates to small antelope and even consume fruit.


The black-backed jackal refers to the distinctive broad black saddle that extends over the upper parts from the neck to the base of the tail. The black saddle is liberally flecked with white hair. In appearance, this species resembles a medium sized dog. The face, flanks and legs are a reddish brown in colour, with the underparts lighter. The muzzle is pointed, with the lips throat and chest white. The ears are pointed, erect and relatively large, they are reddish and lined with white hair on the inner edge. The black tail is very bushy. The dentition is well-adapted for varied diet of an omnivorous species. The sharp, curved canines are adapted for the catching and holding of prey. The well-developed carnassial teeth are used for slicing and the broad molars for grinding.


Total Body Length: 96-110 cm; height at shoulder 38 cm; weight range 6 -10 kg.

Dental Formula

 I C P M = 42

Distribution and habitat

Widespread in southern African subregion, but absent from the north-east. They have a wide habitat tolerance but prefer drier areas, from the arid Namib desert to the moist Drakensberg.

General behaviour

The black-backed jackal is mainly active at night (nocturnal) but they are often seen during the day in protected environments where there is little human disturbance. Normally solitary or in pairs, but they may occur in family parties that include the sub-adults from the previous year. When resting they lie in burrows dug by other animals, rock crevices or concealed in thick bush thickets. However, in areas where they are protected they will rest in more open areas from where they can survey their surroundings.


Jackals are adept at finding any source of food, including carrion. They are also skilled hunters of small birds, reptiles and mammals (e.g. small antelope) and readily eat insects and fruit. Jackals are regarded as wary and cunning and are extremely difficult to trap.

The territorial call is a long drawn out high-pitched wavering howl that is followed by staccato yaps. It is one of the characteristic calls of the African night. A persistent alarm call is used when danger or a predator is sighted.

This Black-jacked jackal attacked this mole snake presumably to eat it but as can be seen in the left-hand photo, the snake manage to bite the jackal. After that the jackal had anothe go at subduing it - don't know if it eventually managed to kill it and eat it. Photographed in Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park by Lorinda Steenkamp ©.

Canis mesomelas (Black-backed jackal)

Black-backed jackal with a freshly caught Cape turtle-dove. It waited until the moment that the dove dipped its head in the water to drink, then grabbed it in a rapid attack. See the Flickr photoset for the full story. [© 2011, Pim Stouten]


Mated pairs are territorial and both the male and the female will mark and defend their territory. Pairs mate for life (monogamous), and family groups consist of parents and their offspring. Gestation lasts about 60 days. Litters of 1-6 (usually 3) cubs are born from July to October, in underground burrows dug by other species. Both the male and female bring food to the young often assisted by “helpers” – subadults from the previous breeding season. The young start to forage with their parents when they are about 14 weeks old, at this stage they no longer use the den. Life span: 4-8 years.

Predators, parasites and commensals

Predators occasionally include large raptors and caracal and they succumb to diseases such as rabies and distemper.


Unfortunately the Black-backed jackal can be a problem to sheep and goat farmers by killing live stock and are regarded as vermin. Determined extermination programmes have resulted in the species being completely eradicated from some areas in their distribution range. Currently the species is not regarded as threatened.

Text by Denise Hamerton