Why is the Jackal called a trickster?

Like the fox in European folklore, the jackal is often represented in African folk tales as a trickster. Its ability to adapt to changing circumstances and its legendary stealth and cunning have inspired stories about the wily creature that dodges traps and avoids hunters year in year out. The jackal is reputed to be able to obliterate its tracks, feign death and rid itself of fleas by immersing itself in water, only exposing a tuft of sheep’s wool which it holds in its snout.

– The jackal kills larger prey with a bite to the throat.  Photo: Johan Scholtz

– The jackal kills larger prey with a bite to the throat. Photo: Johan Scholtz

The notorious Broken Toe, a jackal with a distinctive spoor that continually evaded capture, was enscribed into folklore by the well-known writer Lawrence Green, who recorded its escapades in his book “Karoo”. Khoikhoi fables include stories of jackal outwitting lion and also tell how it acquired its black saddle by offering to carry the sun on its back.

The black-backed jackal is also known as the silver-backed jackal for its silver-flecked black saddle. Fossil records reveal that it is the oldest existing member of the genus Canis. He inhabits the northern stretches of East Africa and southern Africa, from the Skeleton Coast and Etosha National Park to the Drakensberg grasslands.

Surprisingly, the handsome jackal, with its unfortunate reputation as a small stock predator, is monogamous and forms a lifelong bond that lasts for its approximately thirteen-year lifespan or until the death of its mate. It has a protracted courtship period and the pair is a cooperative and synchronised team, caring for their young, marking and defending territory and hunting. They will call and answer when separated. They are also good parents, regurgitating food for their pups that hide in dens or the abandoned burrows of other species, usually aardvark.

Jackal. Credit : Judy and Scott Hurd

Jackal. Credit : Judy and Scott Hurd

Equivalent to the wolf’s call in the northern hemisphere, the jackal’s call can be heard echoing through the savannah or desert, especially during the mating season when it becomes increasingly vocal, epitomising the African night.

Referred to as a nimble opportunist, the small (40 cm, 7-10 kg), black-backed jackal lives by its wits. Although it has been ruthlessly persecuted as animal and human habitat infringe upon each other, its resourcefulness and adaptability have ensured its profusion. In addition to outwitting the king of the beasts in folklore, it has also been referred to by farmers as a robber and pirate. In nature, however, its tricks and tactics are not motivated by malice or treachery; they are merely strategies for survival.

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Namibia down under

When planning a trip to one of Namibia’s attractions, which animals do you wish to encounter on your adventure? Perhaps the wise and mighty elephant, or the voracious lion – King of the Jungle. The big 5 is a great addition to your photography collection.

But have you ever wondered about the smaller animals? The ones you normally don’t see if not pointed out to you, or the ones in hiding. I’m going down under to dig beneath the soil, flat on my tummy and crawling into all kinds of holes to see what lurks in the dark corners: Namibia down under.

Our navigation system points towards the rich Namib Desert. There are a few great animals living beneath the orange carpet. Let me introduce you to a cunning but oh so cute little fellow called the Namib Dune Gecko. During the day you will see it wandering around but if the sun reaches scorching temperatures, he will hide underneath the sand. He reaches a length of 13 cm with a tail of approximately 6 cm. What is very interesting is that this little Gecko is almost translucent, so much so that you can actually see some of its organs. It feeds on grasshoppers, spiders and other arthropods, with its main source of water from the dew drops. They have webbed feet, to help them stay on top of the sand but also help them to escape quickly.

Namib Dune Gecko

Namib Dune Gecko

While we are in the Namib, let’s look at an animal that tries very hard to be …. ahemmm….. cute. It does cartwheels so it must be, right? Let me be very honest first. I have arachnophobia and as I am sitting here, typing about this creature I am actually getting the chills and checking my feet every minute. I’m talking about the Carparachne aureoflava ; the golden wheel spider or better known as the Dancing White Lady spider. They are quite tiny, being only 20mm in size. What makes them stand out from other spiders, apart from their gymnastics skills, they don’t build webs, but rather silk lined burrows in the sand that reaches a depth of about 50 cm.

Dancing White Lady spider.

Dancing White Lady spider.

Have you ever experienced the exhilarating feeling of dune boarding? I think these spiders can teach us a thing or two. When attempting to escape from their main arch nemesis, the parasitic Pompilid wasp, they cartwheel down the dune at a speed of 44 turns per second. That kind of skill would make Aliya Mustafina from Russia green with envy.

We are moving on to something much cuter. No matter from what angle you are looking at them, they are just as sweet as marshmallows on a warm winter night around a campfire. I am talking about the suricate – Suricata suricatta. These mammals belong to the mongoose family and in groups they are called a mob or a gang. Not the biggest in the wild, they are approximately 30 cm tall and weigh less than 1kg. They have short legs and a long tail with a black tip. This black tip helps them identify each other when foraging. They are the socialites of the wild and I want to go as far and compare them to royalty. I mean, they have sentries standing guard while the others forage and play, warning the group when a predator is close. They live in an underground castle, and the group is reined by the alpha pair. They love sunbathing, have an extensive vocabulary which is used as alarming calls but also to greet each other and they have the ability to stand so straight it almost looks uncomfortable. Although they have all the characteristics of royal family, they have a flaw. Their ability to see things up close isn’t very good. They cannot focus within 6 meters of themselves and thus the reason you will see them bopping their heads up and down to get perspective.

 

Meerkat or Suricate

Meerkat or Suricate

Last but not least, the sociable weaver. They build permanent nests in trees which usually houses more than 100 bird pairs and is the biggest nests of all bird species. They are about 14 cm in size and can weigh up to 32 g. Even though in nature the male and female usually have distinctive differences, the sociable weavers’ sexes are indistinguishable.

Philetairus socius - sociable weaver

Philetairus socius – sociable weaver

Sociable weaver nest taken at Kalahari Anib Lodge

Sociable weaver nest

From the bottom of the sand and high up in a tree, that is all from me for now. I will continue my journey next week to bring you more about the unseen within Namibia.

Jessica SchoombeeJessica Thomas is a local freelance writer. She is an eccentric young lady who has a love affair with writing. Get on board her journey of discovery.

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Lappet Faced Vultures at Dassiepoort waterhole in the Gondwana Canyon Park

This is their story, says Sue Huck manger at the Gondwana Canyon Park in Namibia.

“We have seen many around recently and we have found the first ever nests (2 of them) in the park in the last few weeks. We have had up to 30 Lappet Faced Vultures (LFV) drinking from the waterhole at the same time during the hot weather of the last couple of months. The Presence of Vultures is very encouraging for an eco-system, as they are ‘Natures refuse collectors’ cleaning up all the carcasses of dead animals. Unfortunately they are often poisoned by farmers and so having them here in such healthy numbers also indicates that poisons are not being used in the vicinity.

lappet faced vultures close up

The vulture with the tag on, L144 was ringed on 14th October 2010 by Holger Kolberg at Mirabib in the Namib- Naukluft Park. We have also seen another vulture with a tag on this week but haven’t managed to get close enough to read the tag yet.

Photos By Trail Camera

We have also observed African White Backed Vultures in the last week, 6 of them among the LFV’s.”

The Gondwana Canyon Park with an area of 1,260 km² and the first piece of land acquired in 1995, this park is the largest and oldest nature reserve of the Gondwana Collection.

By now it is seen as ‘Little Etosha’: nowhere else in southern Namibia are animals found in similar numbers and diversity: species which once used to roam the area are finally back again – like springbok, Oryx antelope, hartebeest, blue wildebeest, ostrich, plains and mountain zebra, kudu and klipspringer.

Explore Gondwana Canyon Park on a hiking trip or a scenic drive. And visit our Canyon Information Centre at the Canyon Roadhouse.

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