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Black-backed jackal

Related subjects: Mammals

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Black-backed Jackal
Temporal range: Pliocene - Recent
Conservation status

Least Concern ( IUCN 2.3)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Canidae
Genus: Canis
Species: C. mesomelas
Binomial name
Canis mesomelas
Schreber, 1775
Black-backed Jackal range

The Black-backed Jackal (Canis mesomelas), also known as the Silver-backed Jackal is a mammal of the order Carnivora. The Black-backed Jackal inhabits two areas of the African continent separated by roughly 900 kilometers. 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.


The fossil record indicates that the Black-backed Jackal is the oldest member of the genus Canis.

As its name suggests, the species' most distinguishing feature is the silver-black fur running from the back of the neck to the base of the tail. The chest and under parts are white to rusty-white, whereas the rest of the body ranges from reddish brown to ginger. Females tend not to be as richly colored as males, like many other animals, such as ducks. The winter coat of adult males develops a reddish to an almost deep russet red colour.

The Black-backed Jackal is typically 14-19 inches (32–42 centimeters) high at the shoulder, 45-90 centimeters (18-36 inches) long and 15–30 pounds (7–13.5 kilograms) in weight. Specimens in the southern part of the continent tend to be larger than their more northern cousins.

The Black-backed Jackal is noticeably more slender than other species of jackals, with large, erect, pointed ears. The muzzle is long and pointed. The dental formula is 3/3-1/1-4/4-2/3=42.

Scent glands are present on the face and the anus and genital regions. The Black-backed Jackal has 6-8 mammae.


The Black-backed Jackal usually lives together in pairs that last for life, but often hunts in packs to catch larger prey such as the Impala and antelopes. It is very territorial; each pair dominates a permanent territory. It is mainly nocturnal, but the Black-backed Jackal comes out in the day occasionally. Its predators include the Leopard and humans. Jackals are sometimes killed for their furs, or because they are considered predators of livestock.

Diet and Hunting

A pair of black-backed jackals scavenging on a Cape Fur Seal carcass

These jackals adapt their diets to the available food sources in their habitat. It often scavenges, but it is also a successful hunter. Its omnivorous diet includes, among other things: the Impala, fur seal cubs, gazelles, guineafowls, insects, rodents, hares, lizards, snakes, fruits and berries, domestic animals such as sheep and goats, and carrion. As with most other species of small canids, jackals typically forage alone or in pairs. When foraging, the Black-backed Jackal moves with a distinctive trotting gait. Its hunting methods are typical of canids which hunt small prey. Small prey such as rodents may be detected by listening for movement in dry grass or other vegetation. When the prey is thus located the jackal will then stalk until it is close enough to pounce, either pinning the prey beneath its forepaws or flushing it into the open where a brief chase may ensue. Small prey is killed with a bite to the nape of the neck, often accompanied by violent shaking which dislocates the cervical vertebrae. Despite its size, a single jackal is also capable of killing small antelope such as gazelles. When killing antelope and livestock such as sheep and goats, the jackal uses a prolonged throat bite which results in suffocation of the victim.


The Black-backed Jackal has a 2-month gestation period. Each litter consists of 3–6 pups, each of which weighs 200–250 grams. At 8 months pups are old enough to leave their parents and establish territories of their own. Often, a young jackal returns to help the parents raise another litter. In these cases, the next litter is much more likely to survive. Like several jackal species, the Black-backed Jackal is typically monogamous.


The Black-backed Jackal occurs in a wide variety of African habitats, such as open woodlands, scrubland, savanna, and bush. They can easily adapt to different habitats. They are quite common throughout their range, and have a low risk of endangerment.


There are two recognized subspecies of this canid:

  • Canis mesomelas mesomelas
  • Canis mesomelas schmidti
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