Black-backed Jackal

  • SCIENTIFIC NAME: Canis mesomelas

  • SWAHILI NAME: Mbweha

With large, pointed ears that swivel like satellite dishes to listen for predators and prey, black-backed jackals are opportunistic carnivores that thrive in a wide array of habitats. Fox-like canids, black-backed jackals are commonly seen at dusk and dawn with their mates.

Black-backed Jackal

Black-backed Jackal



Daily Rhythm




Life span

In the wild: 7 years
In captivity: 14 years

Conservation Status

Lower risk


Male: 13 to 26 lb (5.9 to 12.0 kg)
Female: 12 to 22 lb (5.5 to 10.0 kg)


Male: 27 to 35 in (68 to 90 cm) long, excluding tail
Female: 25 to 34 in (64 to 85 cm) long, excluding tail

Black-backed Jackal

Listen to the sounds of the Black-backed Jackal

Tracks and Scat

Tracks: Small, very clear, dog-like tracks
Scat: Similar to a domestic dog's

Black-backed Jackal tracks

Trivia Question

Who raises jackal pups?


Although both parents raise the pups, they are often helped by “alloparents”— typically older siblings, non-breeding females, or older males who bring mother and pups food and guard the den.

Social Structure

Black-backed jackals mate for life. When one mate dies, the other will most likely lose its territory. Juveniles remain with their parents until they are one year old, and may stay longer to help their parents raise the next litter of pups.


Black-backed jackals communicate to mark their territories for neighboring pairs and to warn group members of an intruder. A mated pair outlines its territory with urine and fecal marks and reinforces its boundaries with vocalizations. A “high-pitched, whining howl” calls group members together, while more frantic yelps signal an intruder.


​Black-backed jackals are thought to be more aggressive than other jackal species. This trait allows them to “steal” prize habitat and food sources from other jackals.


Black-backed jackal populations thrive in protected areas throughout their distribution. Their numbers suffer in areas where humans target them as livestock killers and rabies carriers, but black-backed jackal populations rebound rapidly in response to significant decreases.

Range & Habitat

Black-backed jackals live across East Africa and southern Africa. The species varies only slightly in size between the two regions.

Although they prefer woodlands and long grassland, black-backed jackals can live anywhere, from the extremes of the Namibian coastal desert to the alpine slopes of Mount Kenya.


Black-backed jackals are opportunists and generalists when it comes to eating, which means they will eat pretty much anything they can get, including small- to medium-size mammals, reptiles, birds, human refuse, invertebrates, and plants. Mated pairs hunt together, listening for prey with their large, mobile ears. Occasionally, black-backed jackals follow lions, spotted hyenas, and cheetahs to scavenge from their kills.


The monogamous pair mates between May and August, and litters of one to nine pups are born after a 60-day gestation period. Mothers give birth in dens dug by both parents or dens that formerly belonged to aardvarks. Pairs tend to use the same den every year. The mother is very dedicated to her pups during the first three weeks after birth; she spends up to 90 percent of her time in the den! Helpers aid the mother by guarding the pups when she forages or by regurgitating food for her and the pups at the den site.

Friends & Foes

In southern Africa, black-backed jackals are major carriers of rabies. This deadly disease peaks during the jackals’ mating season, killing adults and offspring.This threat to jackal numbers is increased by wildlife culls, which target jackals because they transmit rabies to domestic stock.

Population in Kenya & Beyond

Black-backed jackals are common in protected areas and where their preferred habitats remains intact.

Black-backed Jackal

Did you know?

Jackals’ kidneys are structured to survive water deprivation, which allows black-backed jackals to thrive in very dry areas.