Resembles a medium-sized dog. The top of the back and neck are black and mottled with silver-white patches. The flanks, legs and head are reddish buff separated from the mottled back by a black line. The base of the tail is the same colour as the flanks but darkens towards the black tip. The tip of the tail of the side-striped jackal is nearly always white.
The ears are large, triangular with rounded tips, and reddish on the backs. The muzzle is narrow and pointed. There are five toes on the forefeet, four on the hind; four toes on each foot mark in the spoor. Average total length males 110cm, tail 33cm, shoulder height 38cm and weight 8,3kg. Average total length females 102cm, tail 32cm and weight 7,2kg
Occurs in almost any habitat except thick forest. Independent of water and more common towards the drier west.
Most active at dawn and dusk, but there is some activity throughout the day and night; becomes more nocturnal in farming areas where it is hunted. Shelters at night in holes in the ground and rests during the day in shade or sunbathes in cold weather. Carrion is detected by smell – carcasses can be found from at least 1 km downwind. The sound of large carnivores at a kill also attracts jackals, and they may follow large carnivores in anticipation of a kill.
Rodents are captured with a typically canine high-arching pounce, pinned down with the forefeet and bitten across the back and neck. Tougher prey is shaken vigorously. Killing behaviour on lambs and sheep not typical of canids: a throat bite causing death by suffocation. Carcasses are ripped open at the flank and usually the kidneys, liver, heart and tips of the ribs are eaten. When large carnivores are on a kill jackals may wait their turn or dash in and snatch scraps. They may pester hyenas to such an extent that they abandon part of a carcass. They are fast and agile enough to evade lions and hyenas, but are careful with cheetahs. Surplus food is hidden. Wild melons are eaten for their water content, and in the Namib they lick settled fog.
Black-backed jackals live in mated pairs but are nearly always seen alone. Family groups of up to six can sometimes be seen foraging together. Mating pairs form at about three years old, and stay together for life; if one partner dies the other finds a new mate. Pairs are territorial; males expel males and females expel females. Territories can cover 1 800 ha but size probably varies with habitat. Both sexes scent mark with urine.
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