This paper discusses the historical roots of, and scientific evidence for, rival ‘jackal narratives’ about the problems posed by black-backed jackals for South African sheep farmers and conservation policy more broadly. The jackal has recently decolonised many South African sheep farms as agriculture became less economically and politically important, as land use patterns changed and as government stopped subsidising predator control. The influential ‘environmental jackal narrative’ shaping conservation policy, that lethal control is undesirable and ineffective, is rooted in the science of predator ecology but the linked recommendation that farmers learn to ‘live with the jackal’ is on less solid ground. The rival ‘farmer jackal narrative’, that jackal populations need to be suppressed on agricultural lands, in fact resonates with conservation theories justifying the culling of jackals in national parks. Contestation over values is important in shaping attitudes, but these competing plausible hypotheses about jackal control suggest that further scientific studies may be helpful in the construction of policies that are acceptable to both sides.