Black-backed jackal (Canis mesomelas)

Also known as: silver-backed jackal
GenusCanis (1)
SizeHead-body length: 96 - 110 cm (2)
Shoulder height: 38 cm (2)
Weight (East African population): 7 - 13.5 kg (2)
Weight (Southern African population): 6.8 - 9.5 kg (2)

The black-backed jackal is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The slender black-backed jackal (Canis mesomelas) is a long-legged, medium sized canid with a pointed, fox-like muzzle (3) (4). The black and silver saddle marking on its back gives this species its distinctive appearance and name (3) (4). The rest of the body is mainly reddish-brown to tan, becoming redder on the sides and legs (3).

The black-backed jackal has a bushy tail with a black tip and large pointed ears (3). Its long legs have fused bones in the forelimbs, making it an excellent runner and enabling it to maintain a slow trot of 12 to 16 kilometres per hour for long periods of time (2).

The male black-backed jackal is slightly larger and heavier than the female (4).

The black-backed jackal is endemic to Africa, where it occurs in two distinct populations (1). One subpopulation is found in East Africa, including Kenya and Ethiopia. The other occurs in southern Africa, where it is found in countries such as Botswana and Namibia (1).

The highly adaptable black-backed jackal lives in a variety of habitats, ranging from arid coastal desert to woodland savannah. However, this species typically favours open habitats lacking in dense vegetation (1).

The black-backed jackal is an opportunistic scavenger and predator, taking food that is both abundant and easy to acquire, as well as hunting its own prey (3). Its diet typically includes reptiles, birds and their eggs, plants, coastal debris such as mussels and fish, carrion and even human refuse (4). It also feeds on invertebrates and small to medium sized mammals, using its large, mobile ears to detect them before leaping and pouncing on the unsuspecting prey (4). It is mainly nocturnal, with activity extending into daylight in areas where human disturbance is low (2) (4).

The social structure of black-backed jackal society usually consists of a monogamous mated male and female pair, their offspring, and often non-breeding adult helpers which are usually offspring from a previous litter (5). The pair has a strong bond and can stay together for eight years or more (3). Like other canids, the black-backed jackal has a hierarchy within its family group, with the mated pair being dominant (3). In order to reinforce its dominance, an individual will body-slam a subordinate by swinging its hindquarters in to the forelegs of the submissive animal, in order to knock it off balance (3).

The territory of a black-backed jackal pair can be up to 10.6 square kilometres, which they mark by leaving urine and faeces in conspicuous places (3) (6). The territory is aggressively defended against trespassers, especially other pairs (3). The pair will mate and produce between one and nine pups which are born in an underground burrow within the territory (3). The pups are born blind and remain so until they are eight to ten days old, and will spend most of their time in the den until they are around seven weeks old (3). The pups are played with, groomed and cared for by the helpers. Black-backed jackal pairs with helpers are known to successfully raise more young (5).

The black-backed jackal suffers from diseases which are common in canines such as rabies, canine distemper and canine parvovirus (3). This species acts as a reservoir for rabies and can be responsible for outbreaks of this disease in domestic dog populations (7).

Persecution by humans is the main threat to the black-backed jackal (1). It is considered vermin in some areas due to its habit of preying on livestock, such as young goats and sheep (4).

This species is also a reservoir for rabies and is culled in some areas for this reason. However, population reduction efforts generally only have a short term impact on local numbers (1).

Snaring and road accidents also result in a number of black-backed jackal mortalities (4).

The black-blacked jackal is not currently targeted by any conservation actions. It is known, however, to occur in several protected areas throughout its range (4). 

Find out more about the black-backed jackal and other canids:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. IUCN Red List (August, 2011)
  2. Macdonald, D.W. (2006) The Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  3. Walton, L.R. and Joly, D.O. (2003) Canis mesomelas. Mammalian species, 715: 1-9. Available at:
  4. Sillero-Zubiri, C., Hoffmann, M. and Macdonald, D.W. (2004) Canids: Foxes, Wolves, Jackals and Dogs: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN/SSC Canid Specialist Group, IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK. Available at:
  5. Silk, J. (2007) The adaptive value of sociality in mammalian groups. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 362: 539-559.
  6. Haywood, M.W. and Haywood G.J. (2010) Potential amplification of territorial advertisement markings by Black-backed jackals (Canis mesomelas). Behaviour, 147: 979-992.
  7. Coetzee, P. and Nel, L.H. (2007) Emerging dog rabies in coastal South Africa: A molecular epidemiological analysis. Virus Research, 126: 186-195.