Total length 96 - 110 cm; tail 28 - 37 cm; shoulder height 38 cm; mass 6 - 10 kg
Medium-sized, dog-like carnivore with characteristic black saddle, which is broad at neck and shoulders, narrowing to base of the tail. Saddle liberally sprinkled with white hair. Face, flanks and legs reddish-brown; underparts usually paler. Lips, throat and chest are white. Fairly large pointed ears reddish on back surface and lined with white hair on inside. Black, bushy tail.
Wide habitat tolerance, however, it prefers drier areas.
Mainly nocturnal when in conflict with man, but in protected reserves it is frequently seen during the day. Normally solitairy or in pairs but also occurs in family parties. Pairs form long-term pair-bonds, with both the male and the female marking and defending a territory, which varies considerably is size, depending on the availability of food and competition with other jackals. It is well-known for its wariness and cunning and is generally able to avoid all but the most sophisticated of traps. When resting, it may lie up in a burrow dug by other species, or under a bush or other vegetation. Its call is characteristic and has been described as a screaming yell, finished off with 3 or 4 short yaps. Calling is more frequent during the winter months when mating takes place.
It takes an extremely wide range of food items, from young antilope, rodents, hares, birds, reptiles and insects to wild fruits and berries. It also feeds on carrion and in fact there is little that it has not been recorded eating. Unfortunately, it has proved to be a problem in sheep- and goat-farming areas, but only certain individuals take to stock-killing - not all.
Black-backed jackals are very opportunistic scavengers, staying around the kills of other hunters.