10 cool things about the Cape black-backed jackal

The Cape black-backed jackal most probably doesn’t know what it is to sit or stand still for a while, except when he sleeps. Let’s find out what else is cool about this sly animal.

  1. Night call

Sitting around the campfire at night somewhere in the bushveld, listening to the night sounds, can be very relaxing. One sound that is unmistakably part of the bush, is the howling of the black-backed jackal, which can be a bit eerie. They use it to communicate with other family members – who usually answer almost straight away with an equally eerie call – early in the mornings and early in the evenings.

2. Time to eat

This jackal is not very fussy when it comes to mealtimes. His favourite is of course meat, but he often snacks on berries and fruit that have fallen from trees. He walks around scavenging for food and hunts small animals, like rodents, rabbits and birds, and – much to many farmers’ aggravation – he catches chickens, too. He will even kill small antelope, especially the sick and weak. The saying ‘as sly as a fox’ comes to mind, because the jackal has no qualms about stealing food from predators much bigger than himself – anything to keep his and his family’s tummies full.

3. Enemies

There is great rivalry among larger predators – like lions, leopards, hyenas and cheetahs – mainly due to the availability (or lack thereof) of food and territories. They compete for food, and it doesn’t help that the black-backed jackal follows them when they’ve made a kill, in the hopes of stealing some of their food. Even though he’s much smaller, the jackal will try his luck for a bite or two.

4. Biggest threat

As a result of the jackal’s sly endeavours to steal their food, the larger predators often get back at him by killing his young. But the jackal’s worst enemy is humans. For many centuries, most farmers have regarded jackals as a pest and have attempted to get rid of them by killing or poisoning them. Maybe that is another reason why the jackal is such a sly creature – he has to be to survive.

5. Home is where the den is

Keeping his family, and especially his young, safe from all his enemies is very important to the jackal. He uses old burrows of aardvark and other animals as dens, and usually has more than one exit to a den.

6. We are family

Once the jackal finds his mate, the pair stays together for life. On average, up to six pups are born, and the older pups stick around to help raise the younger pups. By being around the family for longer, the pups have a greater chance of survival. The mother and father take turns getting food, which is regurgitated (thrown up) for the pups. When the pups are older, the food is carried to the den in the parent’s mouth.

7. Family tree

It seems that the black-backed jackal has been living in eastern and southern Africa for between two and three million years. His ancestor (maybe his great-great-grandfather) was the grey wolf. Today, the black-backed jackal is much smaller than the wolf, and his teeth and jaw have developed over the years to be different to the wolf’s mouth.

8. Catch me if you can

If you are lucky enough to see the jackal, who is both shy and sly, you’ll notice that it seems as if he is always on the run, trotting around in the bush. He is quite adaptable, and you will mostly find him in drier, more open areas if there are bigger predators in his territory. But, when he is the main predator, you may find him in dense, bushy areas as well. You might even find him in urban areas, where there are open areas of grass and small agricultural holdings.

9. Night-time

The black-backed jackal mainly roams about from late afternoon to early mornings looking for food, and is mainly active at dusk and dawn. During the day, he will be much closer to the den to protect his young, but it is not uncommon to see them during the day as well.

10. Legendary

Having been around for so many years, and being so resilient and sly, there are a few African legends involving the jackal. One of the folklores has it that the black-backed jackal got his black ‘saddle’ when he offered to carry the sun on his back. There are also various stories about the jackal being a highly intelligent animal, who outsmarts both humans and larger predators.