Black Backed Jackal (Canis mesomelas)
Order: Carnivora, Family: Canidae
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. The chest is white, and the underparts are white to rusty white, whereas the rest of the body ranges from reddish brown to ginger in appearance. Adults stand about 38 cm (15 inches) at the shoulder and are nearly 1 meter (3 feet) long in length. The head is dog-like, with a pointed muzzle and high, pointed ears. The winter coats of male adults develop reddish to an almost deep russet red color. Females tend to be less richly colored.
I. CHARACTERISTIC FEATURES:
II. SPECIAL CHARACTERISTICS/REPRODUCTION:
- 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. The chest is white, and the underparts are white to rusty white, whereas the rest of the body ranges from reddish brown to ginger in appearance. Adults stand about 38 cm (15 inches) at the shoulder and are nearly 1 meter (3 feet) long in length. The head is dog-like, with a pointed muzzle and high, pointed ears. The winter coats of male adults develop reddish to an almost deep russet red color. Females tend to be less richly colored.
- Black-backs have a striking similarity to domestic dogs. Their (dark brown) pups are born helpless, nurtured by their mother's milk and raised with the help of family members. The way they move, lift their legs, raise their hackles, scratch, bury excess food and roll in something rotten, is pure pooch. They also display a remarkable array of social skills such as tail wagging, ritualized submission and dominant behavior, and their senses are well developed. In fact the dark, white-flecked saddle, the black-tipped tail and the large, pointed ears could lead it to be mistaken for a small Alsatian on the loose.
III. GEOGRAPHIC LOCALE:
- This species is one of the few mammals that have a long-term mate. The female usually has her litter underground in a vacated but semi-elaborate burrow allowing for multiple entrances and escape routes. Black-backed jackals less frequently use caves and rock crevices where typically only a single entrance exists. Mating occurs anytime between May and August.
- Gestation lasts approximately 60 days; litter size at birth averages around four pups, but commonly only one to three survive. A pup becomes sexually mature at 11 months and can live up to 14 years in captivity, but at most eight 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 of age and are on their own within a year.
- The black-backed jackal can be found only in Africa. The species lives in two discrete areas separated by roughly 900 km (560 miles). One region includes the southernmost tip of the continent, including South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe. The other area is along the eastern coastline, including Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia. 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 Namibia desert. Black-backs tend to be more common in dry areas that receive an annual rainfall of between 100 and 200 cm (39-78 inches). 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.
- Black-backed jackals are like other small wolves and foxes in their foraging. They are social animals and often run in packs when hunting. Working together as a team eases the difficulty of bringing down a large prey. However, the black-backed jackal has also been found to hunt alone or with its mate.
- In a sample of 96 stomachs, insects occurred most frequently (52 percent); this was followed closely by omnivorous remains (37 percent); vegetable matter and "other" made up the rest (11 percent). 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, leopard or tiger before vultures pick everything clean.
- 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.
VII. LIFE EXPECTANCY:
- Their most common enemies are leopards, cheetahs, lions and pythons.
VIII. MORE BLACK-BACKED JACKAL FACTS:
- Their life expectancy is from 10 to 14 years.
- Black-backed jackals are active both diurnally and nocturnally, but near the outskirts of urbanization they are mainly nocturnal. 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" toward 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 percent smaller) than do unpaired adults who are searching for mates.
- The black-backed (or silver-backed) jackal must rank as one of the most intelligent, wary and cunning animals in Africa. It has developed a remarkable ability to acquire and share knowledge on how to avoid danger, such as sophisticated trapping by man. It also exhibits incredible skill in adjusting to and surviving in a wide variety of habitats.
- Like its side-striped cousin, the black-backed jackal combines sharp eyesight with an acute sense of smell when hunting. Inside the jackal's nose there is a sensory surface area with about 50 times as many smell-sensitive cells as humans.
- Healthy jackals, like healthy dogs, have cold, wet noses because of the smell-stimulated flow of sensory secretions. So next time you see the jackal pause and sniff upward, look half a mile or more in the direction he is pointing if you want to see what attracted his nose.
- Scavenging is their main activity and they are most often seen alongside vultures, waiting for a chance to dash in and steal a piece of the carcass. On the hunt, group members take turns to run down, harass and attack selected prey — usually the old or weak.
- Communication is through distinctive yapping or wailing, usually provoking responses from nearby individuals or groups. This gives way to high-pitched, repeated yelping when alarmed or when mobbing large carnivores.