The black-backed jackal is a CANID native to two areas of Africa, separated by roughly 900 km. One region includes the southernmost tip of the continent, including South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe. The other area along the eastern coastline including Kenya, Somalia, Djibouti and Ethiopia. It is listed by the ICUN as least concern, due to its widespread range and adaptability although it is still persecuted as a livestock predator and rabies vector.
Compared to the other members of the genus CANIS, the black-backed jackal is a very ancient species, and has changed little since the PLEISTOCENE, being the most basal canine, alongside the closely related side-stripped jackal. It is a fox-like CANID, with a reddish coat and a “BLACK SADDLE” that extends from the shoulder to the base of the tail.
It is a monogamous animal, who may remain with family to help raise new generations of ‘pups’. The black-backed jackal is not a fussy eater, and will feed on small to medium-sized animals, as well as plant matters. They are omnivores, which feed on beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, termites, spiders and scorpions. They also feed on mammals such as rodents, hares and young antelopes. They will, occasionally, feed on fruits and berries. They kill tall prey by biting the legs and loins, and will frequently go for the throat. Like most CANIDS, the black-backed jackal caches surplus food.
In areas where the black-backed jackal is sympatric with the larger side-striped jackal, the former species aggressively drives out the latter from grassland habitats into woodlands. This is ‘unique’ among carnivores, as it is more common for larger species to displace smaller ones. Black-backed jackal pups are vulnerable to golden jackals, caracals, African wild dogs and martial eagles.
In folklore, black-backed jackals feature in the folklore of the KHOIKHOI, where it is often paired with the lion, whom it frequently outsmarts or betrays with its SUPERIOR INTELLIGENCE. One story explains that the black-backed jackal gained its “black saddle” when it offered to carry the Sun on its back. An alternative account comes from the IKUNG people, whose folklore tells that the jackal received the burn, on its back, as a punishment for its scavenging habits.
The black-backed jackal hunts domestic animals including dogs, cats, pigs, goats and poultry. They rarely target cattle. They can be a serious problem for sheep farmers, particularly during the lambing season. They usually kill sheep via a throat bite, and will begin feeding by opening the flank and consuming the flesh and skin of the flank, heart, liver, some ribs and sometimes the stomach and its contents.
South Africa has ben using fencing systems to protect sheep from jackals since the 1890s, though such measures have mixed success, as the best fencing is expensive and jackals can easily infiltrate cheap wire fences.