A small mammal that we come across often on our travels is the Black-backed jackal (Canis mesomelas). This fox-like animal is fairly common in most habitats, but especially in the game reserves in southern Africa where prey is plentiful. We have even seen one walking the streets of Windhoek late at night. Although they look rather like a harmless variety of dog, looks can be deceiving because Black-backed jackals are quite aggressive especially in their quest for food. They are a nuisance to farmers as they prey on livestock and spread rabies.
During a visit to the Etosha National Park this last weekend, we were visited by a jackal whilst having a barbeque outside our chalet. Visitors to the park are urged not to feed these scavengers as it encourages their presence in the camp, but I suspect that foreigners who don’t see them too often must get quite a thrill being so close to a wild animal out in the open. We had to chase this fellow away before he stole our meat. On a previous visit to the same park we actually saw a jackal steal meat off a barbeque.
On a trip to the Central Kalahari in Botswana we came across a lion kill (see our post The Lions of Passarge Valley) and there were no less than six jackals waiting in the wings for a go at the carcass. The lioness in charge of guarding the carcass was not interested in sharing her spoils with them and dragged it under a bush where she kept a beady eye on the hungry Black-backed jackals. This lucky fellow managed to scrounge a tasty morsel for himself.
It is also exciting to see them on the bleak desert landscape of the Skeleton Coast. Even though the area looks barren and arid, the jackals have no reason to starve with the Cape Cross seal colony spread out before them like a buffet in the desert. They also eat fish and mussels washed up onto the beach.
Black-backed jackals have reddish-brown bodies with a black ‘saddle’ over their backs. They like to move at a fast pace, almost a trot. They usually hunt alone, but live in pairs and are territorial. Their diet consists of small mammals, birds, insects and carrion. Mating takes place from May onwards, with young being born between July and October. Litters consist of between one and six pups that are born after a gestation period of about two months.
It’s exciting to lie in your tent at night and listen to the eerie sound of Black-backed jackals calling to each other.