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What Is the Black-Backed Jackal?

By A. Delgado
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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The black-backed jackal, or Canis mesomelas, is a small canid named for the black fur that runs the length of its body from neck to tail. They are found in a variety of habitats in parts of southern and eastern Africa. Most black-backed jackals are active during both day and night, although those that live near humans are more nocturnal. Known for its cunning nature, these jackals forage for food in groups, feeding on mammals, reptiles, birds, carrion and garbage. Instead of forming packs, they live as individual families consisting of a male and female pair and their offspring.

Black-backed jackals have rusty or reddish-colored coats with white bellies and chests. The patch of black fur running down their back sets them apart from other species, such as the sandy-colored golden jackal. They have large, pointed ears and narrow muzzles. An adult black-backed jackal typically weighs between 11 and 22 pounds (5 to 10 kg) and measures around 3 feet (1 meter) in length.

This highly adaptive species lives in several habitats in areas of southern Africa, including South Africa, Botswana & Namibia. They can also be found in eastern African countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia. Black-backed jackals are clever and manage to find food and shelter in deserts, savannas and open woodlands, as well as in cities and suburbs.

These jackals are considered both diurnal and nocturnal. They are often out looking for food during the day and at night. Jackals living near cities and towns tend to be more active during the night in order to avoid potential conflicts with humans. Although they are not generally aggressive, they will attack in order to defend their territory.

The black-backed jackal is an opportunistic forager with a varied diet. They generally gather in small groups of up to ten individuals to scavenge for any food that is available near their territories. Common food sources include insects, fruits, small & medium-sized mammals, birds, carcasses and trash, although the jackals occasionally prey on pets and livestock.

Social units among the black-backed jackal species are small compared to canids that gather in packs. A typical group has two adults and their pups, although offspring from previous years sometimes remain with their parents for awhile. Unlike many other species of mammals, pairs of black-backed jackals remain monogamous for most or all of their lives. Females give birth to litters of one to seven pups during the spring or summer.

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