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The Misunderstood Jackal

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The Misunderstood Jackal

One of the critters we see quite often on the Nkorho cam is the jackal. Recently we’ve seen them try to nab the Egyptian geese goslings, lose a fight with the ground hornbills, and strip a few tidbits off the impala carcass that the cheetah left behind. 


In South Africa we see two of the species on a regular basis.The black backed jackal, seen more often, and the side striped who tends to be more shy. They resemble each other quite a bit, with the patterns of their colors being the most obvious difference. Looking similar to dogs in appearance, they have a bushy tail and very large ears.  The side striped looks like someone took a paint brush full of white paint and slid it along the length of the jackal on each side, with the end of his tail being white as well. As for the black backed, just replace the white stripe with black, remove the white tip on the tail and you’ve pretty much got him described.

The jackals pair for life and will defend their territory against intruders if need be. The size of the territory depends on the available food and how many other jackals are in the area.  If one of the pair dies, another pair usually takes over that territory, as the single jackal is not strong enough to defend it on his own. Jackals live by themselves or as a pair, and on occasion will live as a pack of related individuals. As the pups grow, they may stay with their parents to help raise their younger siblings. The death of pups usually happens during the first 14 weeks of life, so having the older cubs around can increase the survival rate.

Jackals feed on a wide variety of food, as our recent visits by the local jackals can verify. They will eat small mammals, young antelopes, reptiles, fruit and birds. In fact the African Ebony Tree is nicknamed the Jackal Tree because the jackals eat the fruit. They’ve even been known to steal kills from a cheetah or leopard. When a kill is made, a jackal chorus may be heard as their howls announce their success. Much like a dog, the jackal has different voices, single barking sounds, high screaming, and howling. The sounds all have different meanings that the jackals understand, using them to converse with each other to share information.
The black backed jackal has been wiped out in some areas of South Africa because of its killing of goats and young sheep, something the local farmers don’t tolerate. The average person thinks of a jackal as a scavenger, giving him a negative label. In reality, while he is not afraid to grab a free meal from the remains of a kill, he is a very skilled hunter.
There are times that the jackal bites off a bit more than he can chew.  The jackal in this video miscalculated how he grabbed the ground hornbill, and paid the price. As the captured bird flailed, hollered and beat the jackal on the head with his wings, other hornbills came to the rescue...eventually freeing the poorly held bird...leaving the hungry jackal to hunt for a more suitable delicacy for his meal. http://www.africam.com/wildlife/groundhornbillsattackjackal31stdec09