Day of the Jackal
Words & pics Albie Venter
I always find it amazing how lions tolerate black-backed jackals within close proximity, yet treat spotted hyenas with utter scorn. Black-backed jackals are the most abundant of carnivores in Africa, the reason being their incredible adaptability. They are catholic in their choice of food and will take anything from antelope to insects. Jackals mate for life but ,while they live in pairs, their true social unit may be a much larger “cryptic pack” where individuals are ready to co-operate when necessary. When jackals congregate they display a wide array of social behaviours, such as dominant and submissive posturing normally associated with more social animals. The melancholic call of black-backed jackals is as captivating as the cry of the fish eagle and the roar of a lion. It has been suggested that they call to others of their ‘pack’ to join up when conditions are favourable, such as at the site of a lion kill.
Did you know? The black-backed jackal has more slender, fox-like facial features than their side-striped cousin, whose face is broader and more wolf-like.
Where to see them: Absent from dense forests, but are otherwise very common in most parks. Try Kruger National Park and Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, as well as Addo, West Coast, Bontebok and Mountain Zebra.
Whenever I see a side-striped jackal I get very excited. Sightings are few and far between, mostly nocturnal and often fleeting. These are the rarest and least-observed jackal species in the subregion. Compared to other jackal species, little is known about side-striped jackals. They avoid open savannah and densely wooded areas, preferring moist, well-watered, broad-leaved woodlands. They are the most vegetarian of all jackals and, although they prefer rodents to vegetable matter, will eat fruit such as waterberries almost exclusively when in season. Most jackals are tarred with the same brush as stock killers, yet side-striped jackals seldom kill anything larger than a baby antelope. Although they scavenge opportunistically, they are much less predatory than their black-backed cousins. Pairs are monogamous, highly territorial and rarely come into contact with another pair.
Where to see them: Restricted to the moist eastern parts of Southern Africa. Look for side-striped jackals in the Kruger National Park and Swaziland’s Big Game Parks.
Africa’s only true fox, the Cape fox is arguably the most delicate and attractive member of the extended dog family. One of its distinctive features is its big bushy tail. Not only is this an attractive decoration, it also acts as a counterbalance when hunting and as a decoy when this dainty fox is being hunted. Leopard, caracal and even brown hyena and honey badger have been observed hunting Cape foxes. The Afrikaans common name, draaijakkals, aptly describes its dodging and swerving manoeuvres using its tail to distract and outsmart pursuing predators. Although Cape foxes form monogamous pairs, they are the least social of all canids and largely hunt alone. Preferred prey are rodents, lizards and invertebrates, occasionally even hares.
Where to see them: Most abundant in dry, open veld in the western regions of the country. Try Tankwa Karoo National Park and Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.
Did you know? Cape foxes are mainly nocturnal, but you may see pups during the denning season in early summer, around November.
Bat-eared foxes are some of the most frequently encountered foxes, especially in the drier western parts of South Africa. The arid semi-deserts they occupy have severe seasonal and daily climatic fluctuations, so the foxes adjust their activities to escape bitterly cold or scorching conditions. They can be surprisingly diurnal during the cold winter months, with more nocturnal activity during the summer months. Their diagnostic feature is, of course, their ears. Working like parabolic dishes, bat-eared foxes point their ears to the ground to pick up the slightest sound of subterranean insects. Interestingly, prey items can be deduced from the distance between foxes while foraging. When feeding on harvester termites for instance, foxes feed relatively close to one another at the site of the nest. Beetle larvae, on the other hand, are more spread-out and the foxes will disperse accordingly while foraging for this commodity.
Where to see them: Tankwa Karoo National Park, Karoo National Park and Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Bat-eared foxes are also seen in the east of the Kruger National Park.
Source: Wild Magazine
Kruger National Park (North and Far North)
Kruger National Park (South and Central)
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
Addo Elephant National Park
West Coast National Park
Bontebok National Park
Mountain Zebra National Park
Tankwa Karoo National Park