Black-Backed Jackal
Black-Backed Jackal





The Black-Backed Jackal, also known as the Silver-Backed or Red Jackal, is a species of jackal which inhabits two areas of the African continent separated by roughly 900 km. The fossil record indicates the species is the oldest extant member of the genus Canis. Although the most lightly built of jackals, it is the most aggressive, having been observed to singly kill animals many times its own size, and its intrapack relationships are more quarrelsome.


Black-backed jackals are small, fox-like canids and are the smallest of the three species called jackal. They measure 30–48 cm (12–19 in) in shoulder height and 60–90 cm (24–35 in) in length. The tail measures 26–40 cm (10–16 in) in length. Weight varies according to location; East African jackals weigh 7-13.8 kg (15-30 lb). Male jackals in Zimbabwe weigh 6.8-9.5 kg (15-21 lb), while females weigh 5.4–10 kg (12-22 lb). Their skulls are elongated, with pear-shaped braincases and narrow rostra. The black-backed jackal's skull is similar to that of the side-striped jackal, but is less flat, and has a shorter, broader rostrum. Its sagittal crest and zygomatic arches are also heavier in build. Its carnassials are also larger than those of its more omnivorous cousin. Black-backed jackals are taller and longer than golden jackals, but have smaller heads.

The general color is reddish-brown to tan, while the flanks and legs are redder. Males tend to be more brightly colored than females, particularly in their winter coat. The back is intermixed with silver and black hairs, while the underparts are white. Their tails have a black tip, unlike side-striped jackals, which have white-tipped tails. The back of the ears are light yellowish-brown, well covered with hair without and within. The hair of the face measures 10–15 mm in length, and lengthens to 30–40 mm on the rump. The guard hairs of the back are 60 mm on the shoulder, decreasing to 40 mm at the base of the tail. The hairs of the tail are the longest, measuring 70 mm in length.


In their northeastern range, black-backed jackals inhabit habitat zones intermediate to the grasslands favored by golden jackals and the woodlands favored by side-striped jackals. In the Serengeti, they predominate in Acacia and Commiphora woodlands, while the golden species limits itself to open plains. In their southern range, where golden jackals are absent, black-backed jackals are found in more open and arid habitats, though preferring areas with scattered brush.


Black-backed jackals are omnivores, which feed on invertebrates, such as beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, termites, millipedes, spiders and scorpions. They will also feed on mammals, such as rodents, hares and young antelopes up to the size of topi calves. They will also feed on carrion, lizards, and snakes. A pair of black-backed jackals in the Kalahari desert was observed to kill and devour a kori bustard and, on a separate occasion, a black mamba via prolonged harassment of the snake and crushing of the snake's head. Black-backed jackals will occasionally feed on fruits and berries. In coastal areas, they will feed on beached marine mammals, seals, fish and mussels. A single jackal is capable of killing a healthy adult impala (individual infirm). Adult dik dik and Thomson's gazelles seem to be the upper limit of their killing capacity, though they will target larger species if they are sick, with one pair having been observed to harass a crippled bull rhinoceros. They typically kill tall prey by biting at the legs and loins, and will frequently go for the throat. In Serengeti woodlands, they feed heavily on African Grass Rats. In East Africa, during the dry season, they hunt the young of gazelles, impalas, topi, tsessebe and warthogs. In South Africa, black-backed jackals frequently prey on antelopes (primarily impala and springbok and occasionally duiker, reedbuck and steenbok), carrion, hares, hoofed livestock, insects, and rodents. They will also prey on small carnivores, such as mongooses, polecats and wild cats. On the coastline of the Namib Desert, jackals feed primarily feed on marine birds (mainly Cape and white-breasted cormorants and jackass penguins), mammals (including Cape fur seals), fish, and insects.


Jackals usually den in holes made by other species, though they will occasionally dig their own; females will dig tunnels 1–2 meters in depth with a 1-meter-wide entrance. Black-backed jackals are monogamous and territorial animals, whose social organisation greatly resembles that of golden jackals. However, unlike the latter species, the assistance of elder offspring in helping raise the pups of their parents has a greater bearing on pup survival rates. During the mating season, they become increasingly more vocal and territorial, with dominant animals preventing same-sex subordinates from mating through constant harassment. In southern Africa, mating occurs from late May to August, with a 60-day gestation period. Pups are born from July to October. Summer births are thought to be timed to coincide with population peaks of vlei rats and four-striped grass mice, while winter births are timed for ungulate calving seasons. Litters usually consist of three to six pups. For the first three weeks of their lives, the pups are kept under constant surveillance by their mother, while the father and elder offspring provide food. They typically leave the den after three weeks, and become independent at six to eight months. Pups have drab colored coats, which only reach full intensity at the age of two years. Unlike golden jackals, which have comparatively amicable intrapack relationships, black-backed jackal pups become increasingly quarrelsome as they age, and establish more rigid dominance hierarchies. Dominant cubs will appropriate food, and become independent at an earlier age.