Tag Archives: Canis mesomelas

Black-backed jackals

 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.

Black-backed jackal

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.

Near our 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.

Jackal thief!!

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.

Jackal - Skeleton Coast

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.

A nice place for a rest

It’s exciting to lie in your tent at night and listen to the eerie sound of Black-backed jackals calling to each other.




A visit to the Cape Cross Seal Colony

On our journey to the Skeleton Coast Park we stopped off at Cape Cross, 115km north of Swakopmund, to see a breeding colony of between 80 000 and 100 000 Cape fur seals (Arctocephalus pusillus pusillus). And what an amazing sight it was, with seals as far as the eye could see.  The Namibian Wildlife authorities have set up a boardwalk so that you can walk above and between the seals without disturbing them.  The area understandably smells dreadful, but it’s a small price to pay for such an amazing sight.
Part view of the colony

The fur seals (family Otariidae) are also known as ‘eared’  seals as they have external ears, which other true seals don’t have. There are three species of fur seals along the coast of Southern Africa.
This bed rocks!
These seals don’t migrate and are present at Cape Cross throughout the year.  The males spend very little time at the colony during the non-breeding season – they’re busy building up blubber and food reserves that sustain them for about six weeks while they establish a territory and gather up a harem of between 5 and 25 females when its time to mate.
Adult seals
Shortly after the male arrives, the females come ashore to give birth to a single pup, weighing about 5 – 7 kgs.   Within a week of the birth, the male mates with all the females in his harem and their fertilized ova remain dormant for about three months before the nine month gestation period begins.  The pups are born within a six week period between November and December and start to suckle during the first hour of birth.
We saw lots of babies suckling
After the mothers and babies have bonded, the mothers leave the pups to forage at sea, often for days at a time.  While the mothers are out gathering food, the pups congregate together.  Fortunately mothers recognize their baby’s cries otherwise they could never be reunited.
Babies sleep whiles Mums go fishing
The pups suckle for about a year, but start eating solids, like fish and crustaceans, when they’re four to five months old.  They are born with thick black coats, which moult to an olive-grey colour after a few months.
Group of seals
The pups face a number of dangers as they are growing up and their mortality rate is estimated to be about 27% of the total born.  Black-backed jackals (Canis mesomelas) and Brown hyaenas (Hyaena brunnea) are their main predators.  They can also be crushed during a stampede, drowned or abandoned.  Culling is also a contentious issue and we know that it does take place at Cape Cross.  It is euphemistically termed as a “management programme” in their brochure.
Two cute little ones
The cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean provide rich pickings for the Cape fur seals, with pilchards,  masbankers,  squid, octopuses and other crustaceans being readily available for them to eat.  They eat on average about 8% of their body weight per day, which is rather a lot considering that the males weigh in at between 180 kg and 360 kg and the females at approximately 75 kgs.

If you’ve had enough of seals and are driven away by the smell, you can go and have a look at a replica of the cross erected by Diego Cao, the first European to set foot on the Namibian coast in 1486.  It is located adjacent to the seal colony and was placed in honour of John I of Portugal.