In our study area in Zimbabwe, half of the fresh-weight biomass of the diet of side-striped jackals Canis adustus comprised small and medium-sized mammals, and a further third consisted of fruit. Three types of mammal (multimammate mice Mastomys spp., bushveldt gerbil Tatera leucogaster and scrub hare Lepus saxatilus) and four species of fruit (mobola plum Parinari curatellifolia, chocolate berry Vitex payos, wild fig Ficus natalensis and waterberry Syzigium guineense) dominated these categories. Captive jackals significantly preferred animal prey items to fruits, and these were also the items that contained the highest levels of apparent available energy and organic matter. Wild jackals, however, did not spend more time in the habitats in which mammals were most abundant, nor did they eat more of them during a period of higher prey population density. We conclude that the feeding of jackals is largely geared by searches for fruit, and that mammals are taken opportunistically when they are encountered.