SPONSORED CONTENT by Michael Duncan, safari guide at Toro Yaka Bush Lodge
The black-backed jackal is an animal that I have an inexplicable love for. From growing up surrounded by dogs, to working in nature as a guide, my love encompasses all canids – especially jackals!
Black-backed jackals are among the few mammalian species in which the male and female mate for life, only finding another mate if their partner dies. Both male and female jackals actively defend and mark their territory and on occasion can be seen to stray from these territories. Within these territories they will have a few preferred den sites and burrows in which to rest and raise their young in.
Black-backed jackals only breed between June and August, giving birth up to six pups after a very short two-month gestation period. Pups are born with their eyes closed and open them after around ten days. The pups are suckled and fed regurgitated food until they are about two months old. By six months, they are hunting on their own.
Over the last six seasons working in Olifants West Nature Reserve – which forms part of the Balule Nature Reserve – I have been lucky enough to watch a few litters of pups grow up. From watching the pups cornering and ‘playing’ with a young scrub hair, to witnessing a lioness and leopard take out a number of pups on separate occasions, this truly is observing nature in its rawest form.
However, last year we were unable to find any jackal pups. We believe that this could be due to the fact that we have had an incredibly large amount of lions in the western sector on an almost permanent basis over the last 18 months. Having the largest apex predator around in such abundance has put a lot of pressure on our smaller predators, with sightings of hyena, leopard, cheetah, painted wolf (African wild dog) and black-backed jackal dropping in number.
However, there is always a silver lining and recently we spotted jackal pups on an evening game drive!
While we were passing by a known den sight, we got a very quick glimpse of at least two little pups before they disappeared into an abandoned termite mound. Finally! With confirmation that we have jackal pups around, I was filled with joy and happiness as my mind started working overtime with questions: “How many are there?”, “When were they born?”, “How many will survive the next few months?”, “When will we see them again?”, and the list went on…
Now that we knew where they were, we returned to the area early the next morning only to find one of the adults lying nearby with no sign of the pups. It was rather overcast and chilly and this was what was probably keeping them inside the warm burrow. The next day, after another cool night, we left camp at sunrise and headed to the den in the hopes the little pups would come out to sun themselves and warm up a bit. Upon arrival the male jackal was moving around the area. Soon he was joined by the female and after a brief greeting she moved towards the den. In anticipation and sheer optimism this is when the video camera was turned on (see video below).
What was to follow was one of my best sightings of jackal pups! Out in the open, no more than 30 feet from the vehicle, five pups came out to suckle from the female. After suckling for a few minutes the pups moved towards her mouth and by mouthing and pawing her managed to get her to regurgitate some meat for them. After a brief feeding frenzy they all settled down and started to make their way back to the den.
You cannot help but feel fulfilled and content to the core after experiencing an interaction such as this between a mother and her young. It was an incredibly special few minutes for us and something that will be an everlasting memory.
Watch as the black-backed jackal mother feeds her pups. Filmed in Balule Private Nature Reserve, Greater Kruger, South Africa by Toro Yaka Bush Lodge.