1. Introduction

Canis mesomelas can (debatably) be argued as being Africa's smartest animal.  We recall the Afrikaans "Jakkals en Wolf" tales from child hood.  Wolf was always the dummy, caught time and again by the much more cunning Jakkals.

Much had been said and published about the small stock farmerís arch enemy number one, yet we still know so little of him.  Research has never been easy on elusive animals.  (See references to work by Bothma and Ferguson)

My personal observations of the Black Backed jackalís behavior lack the statistical significance that would allow me to formulate sound scientific conclusions.  I nevertheless hold the creature in awe, despite (or perhaps because of?) this lack of knowledge.  It is somewhat like walking around that fighter plane at the air show: you donít understand the details of the make-up, but you somehow realize that there is a lot more to this than meets the eye!  I shall therefore mostly refer to the researched findings of others, and throw my own 2 cents worth in between.

2. Description

Built like a Border Collie, with flanks, legs and head a brick-red to buff-brown.  Black band with white patches on the back, giving a silvery appearance.  This characteristic "saddle" is broader at the shoulders, tapering to the neck and rump.  Whiter chest contrasts somewhat with reddish face.  The bushy tail starts off with body color, but gets blacker towards the tip.  Large, triangular ears with rounded tips provide for acute hearing sense.  Muzzle is pointed like that of a fox.  The hind feet show all 4 toes on the spoor, and the front feet show only 4 of the 5 toes, about the size of a small dog.

Relatives:

The Side-striped Jackal (Canis adustus) prefers the wetter, well wooded north-eastern areas of Southern Africa. Slightly larger, less conspicuous "saddle"

From North Africa, Canis aureus, known as the "golden jackal".  I assume that these were the chaps that Samson of the Bible tied tail-to tail and set fire to the crops of the Philistines 

The endangered Canis simensis (better known as the Ethiopian wolf) is in big trouble.  It faces extinction if the First World does not intervene soon

The much bigger North American wolf, Canis lupus, speculated to be in-bred with the Eastern coyote (bigger than the Western coyote)

North America's infamous Coyote (Canis latrans), against which more war was waged by man than perhaps any other animal on earth.  It is estimated that four hundred years ago there were about 2 million coyotes on that continent.  Today there are a mere 2 million left, and their numbers are growing as they move further east!  The referenced links to American web sites have a wealth of information in store on this incredible survivor.  (Use "Links" button on the main menu.)  Amongst these are some excellent bulletin boards, where the worldís most experienced varmint hunters share their know-how.

3. Distribution and Habitat

All over South Africa, except wet forest, but prefers the dry western parts of the country.  Tolerate almost any kind of habitat.  Where there are hills, they seek refuge against pursuit by humans.  Ferguson's research has shown, however, that jackals avoid the rocky pinnacles of hills, where typically leopard and reed buck hold.  Jackal will easily move close to human settlement into parks and undeveloped ground.  It competes for food with omnivores like baboons, and with other predators such as especially foxes, brown hyena, caracal and the small cats.

4. Reproduction

Mating takes place around March to June (depending on area and abundance of food) with a mate that was chosen for life.  Gestation is about 9 to 10 weeks, and litters can vary from 2 to 10, in burrows abandoned by (typically) aardvark.  Availability of food, and especially hunting pressure determines litter size.  The jackalís survival mode kicks in when reproduction is threatened.  When the female dies, the male takes over the responsibility of caring for the litter.  He will feed them by regurgitating food and will solicit help from the previous yearís litter, and even the neighbors, in an effort to raise his offspring.  Communal support contributes to the jackal's resilience.

It was found that hunting pressure on a previously undisturbed jackal community would frequently have the effect of bigger litters, hence increasing the local population.  Indiscriminant war against the species may, however, eradicate local populations, causing ecological imbalances.  (Such as an influx of caracal or fox.)  See also the section on "conservation" under "About Us" on the main menu.

5. Diet

The Black backed jackal is an extremely opportunistic and versatile feeder.  All insects, mammals, birds, carrion and even berries and roots will qualify.  In its natural state, jackal prefer to act as scavengers, but in the absence of larger carnivores doing the killing it adapted to become a super hunter.  Obviously livestock make for a huge temptation, but I have seen sheep farms with abundant jackal, yet no losses, as long as its natural food supplies last. 

6. Jackal and Humans

In a balanced ecology, the jackal full-filled its role as scavenger, but when man came to Africa, things went horribly wrong.  Want to hear more?

7. Hunting the Black Backed Jackal

In open country with large camps such as the Northern Cape, the use of dogs and off-road vehicles is common practice.  Elsewhere they are mostly hunted at night, using search lights to look for eyes from a moving vehicle.  My preference is calling and selective shooting.  Our chapter on Predator Calling on the main menu deals with this method in more detail.  See also the links to America talk forums on the topic under Links on the main menu.

8. Collage of Interesting Facts

Did you know that a jackal...

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