There are two types of jackal found at Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve, the Black-backed Jackal (Canis mesomelas) and the Side-striped Jackal (Canis adustus). As its name suggests, the Black-backed jackal has a black saddle on its back running from the neck and narrowing to the tail. The Side-striped jackal has faint white stripes running from elbow to hip on both sides of its body. The Side-striped and Black-backed jackals can also be differentiated by the colour at the tip of their tails. The Black-backed jackal has a black tip in comparison with the white tip tail of the Side-striped jackal. The Side-striped jackal is also slightly larger than the other species.
The Side-striped jackal is found in West, Central and Southern Africa, except for the most southern part of the continent, and has a wider distribution than its Black-backed cousin. It is found in many different habitats, from game reserve areas, to towns and cultivated farms, in woodland savannah, marshlands and bushveld. It tends to avoid very open savannah, dense forest or very arid areas.
The Side-striped jackals are omnivorous, and are both predators and scavengers. They are nocturnal mammals, and are most active in the early evening, or around dawn. They will kill small vertebrates such as hares, and will also eat invertebrates, fruit, eggs, birds and even seeds. Although able to source their own food they are known to scavenge carrion using their acute eyesight, hearing and well developed sense of smell. Males and females of this doglike species are similar in size, with the average weight being between 7 – 12kgs, and their shoulder height being roughly 40cms.
Although timid, these jackals are strictly territorial, having very small territories of up to 2.5 sq. kms which will generally be held by a solitary jackal, a monogamous pair or even a loose family group. These territories, which are aggressively guarded, are actively marked with urine and dung. Only if it is necessary for them to find water will jackals leave their territory. They are quite noisy animals, with a call which is either a significant howl or a sharp, yapping alarm call if predators approach the area.
In Southern Africa the Side-striped jackals breed from June to November. After a 60 – 65 day gestation period the female will give birth to 3 – 6 blind pups in what is called a breeding chamber inside their den. The dens are either self-dug, or are abandoned aardvark burrows or termite mounds. The pups, whose eyes open after 10 days, may be moved to a new site every few weeks particularly if the female perceives danger. Both the female and male, sometimes assisted by the occasional young jackal from the previous year’s litter will take part in caring for the pups, returning to the den and regurgitating food for the newborns for a period of two months. At the vulnerable age of just 3 months old the pups will join their parents scavenging or foraging for food.
The jackals are preyed upon by lions, leopards and hyenas, and are sometimes poisoned and killed by farmers protecting their livestock. They are also persecuted as being transmitters of rabies. Fortunately, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, the population of Side-striped jackals appears to be stable. At Sabi Sabi we have a higher success rate in spotting Side-striped jackals while on safari than Black-backed jackals. We recently filmed a Side-striped jackal in action scavenging from a buffalo carcass close to Little Bush Camp.