Canis mesomelasblack-backed jackal

Geographic Range

The black-backed jackal can be found only in Africa. The species lives in two discrete areas separated by roughly 900km. One region includes the southern-most tip of the continent including South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe. The other area is along the eastern coastline, including Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia (Smithers 1983). This separation may exist for geographical reasons. Between both populations lies Olduvai Gorge (part of the Great Rift Valley) in northern Tanzania. This landscape is extremely arid making living conditions for most organisms extremely difficult.


The habitat of the black-backed jackal is quite variable ranging from small cities and the suburbs of large cities to the Namib desert (Ginsberg 1990). They tend to be more common in dry areas that receive an annual rainfall of between 100-200 cm (Downs et al. 1991). These jackals are associated with open terrain and not forest or heavy brush. This species can scavenge in an area where bigger game is hunted and killed or it can feed off the remnants of human handouts. Furthermore, in the open grasslands of today, human development in the form of agriculture provides an additional source of food for this species.

Physical Description

The main characteristic of the black-backed jackal, which gives it its name, is the black hair running from the back of the neck to the tail (Van Valkenburgh 1994). The chest is white, and the under parts are white to rusty-white, whereas the rest of the body ranges from reddish brown to ginger in appearance. Adults stand about 38cm at the shoulder and are nearly a meter long in length. The head is dog-like, with a pointed muzzle and high pointed ears.

The winter coat of male adults develops a reddish to an almost deep russet red color. Females tend to be less richly colored (Ginsberg 1990). Sexual dimorphism does exist; males tend to be larger than females, but this difference is small. (Ginsberg, 1990)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • Range mass
    5 to 10 kg
    11.01 to 22.03 lb
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    21.533 W


This species is one of the few mammals that has a long-term mate.

The female usually has her litter underground in a vacated but semi-elaborate antbear burrow allowing for multiple entrances and escape routes. Black-backed jackals less frequently use caves and rock crevices where typically only a single entrance exits. Mating occurs anytime between May and August. Gestation lasts approximately 60 days; litter size at birth averages around 4 pups, but commonly only 1-3 survive. A pup becomes sexually mature at 11 months and can live up to 14 years in captivity but at most 8 years in the wild. Male and female parents both take part in the rearing and feeding of young. The social unit usually consists of the two parents and their young. The only exception is when multiple jackals hunt in large packs. Pups usually follow the parents out of the den at 3 months and are on their own within a year (Smithers 1983).

  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 7
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average number of offspring
  • Range gestation period
    60 to 65 days
  • Range weaning age
    56 to 63 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female
    309 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    Sex: male
    251 days
  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • post-independence association with parents
  • extended period of juvenile learning



Black-backed jackals are active both diurnally and nocturnally, but near the outskirts of urbanization they are mainly nocturnal (Fox 1971). When active, this species is usually out searching/scavenging for food. Normal movement is at a trot; when hunting an individual walks slowly with its ears pricked and alert. Their senses are extremely acute and well-developed, especially their senses of hearing and smell. If startled, a jackal will retreat a certain distance and then circle back in a wide arc in order to interpret the scent of the disturbance. Jackals are wary of humans and are not considered "aggressive" towards larger animals. Jackals are also cunning. They tend to be territorial and will become aggressive only to defend the boundaries of their territories. Paired adults have smaller home ranges (almost 75% smaller) than do unpaired adults who are searching for mates.

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

Black-backed jackals are like other social canids in their foraging (Colby 1965). They often hunt in packs to make it possible to bring down large prey. However, black-backed jackals have also been found to hunt alone or in mated pairs.

In a sample of 96 stomachs (Smithers 1983), insects occurred most frequently (52%); this was followed closely by ominivorous remains (37%); vegetable matter and "other" made up the rest (11%). Black-backed jackals are known to kill domesticated animals (dogs, young sheep, and poultry), but mainly feed on smaller mammals such as rodents, hares, and small antelopes. Many jackals have been observed scavenging the remains of a feline kill such as that of a lion or leopard before vultures pick everything clean. (Colby, 1965; Smithers, 1983)

  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • mammals
  • reptiles
  • carrion
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • Plant Foods
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Humans have sold the pelts of the black-backed jackal. In South Africa, the jackal may be hunted throughout the year for its meat (Ginsberg 1990).

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

In South Africa and elsewhere, the black-backed jackal carries the reputation of a killer of poultry and other domesticated livestock. They also prey on sheep, but primarily during lambing.

Conservation Status

Occurs in numerous protected areas including the Serengeti National Park, Tanzania, and the Kruger National Park and Giant's Castle Game Reserve, South Africa.


Benjamin Fishman (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Phil Myers (editor), Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


flesh of dead animals.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


Having one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


active during the night


an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


uses touch to communicate


defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.


Colby, C. 1965. Wild Dogs. New York, New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce.

Downs, C., J. Bowland, A. Bowland, M. Perrin. 1991. Thermal parameters of serval felis-serval felidae and black backed jackal canidae. Journal of Thermal Biology, 16(5): 277-280.

Fox, M. 1971. Behaviour of Wolves, Dogs, and Related Canids. Malabar, Florida: Robert E. Krieger Publishing Company, Inc.

Ginsberg, J. 1990. Foxes, Wolves, Jackals, and Dogs. Gland, Switzerland: International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN).

Smithers, R. 1983. The Mammals of the Southern African Subregion. Pretoria, Transvaal---Republic of South Africa: University of Pretoria.

Van Valkenburgh, B., R. Wayne. 1994. Shape divergence associated with size convergence in sympatric East African jackals. Ecology, 75(6): 1567-1581.