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Digital Subscriptions > Travel Africa > January-March 2019 (85) > Day of the jackal

Day of the jackal

Never again ignore this busy opportunist of the bush, for its presence usually reveals something intriguing going on. By Mike Unwin

Yip, yip, yip!

It was a jackal that announced my very first leopard sighting. Two jackals, to be precise. I was sitting in the darkness of Nyamandhlovu viewing platform in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, watching the moonlit waterhole, when a slinky, feline silhouette approached to drink. Two smaller, dog-like silhouettes trotted close behind, as though playing grandmother’s footsteps. They yipped insistently as they tailed the big cat.

I was reminded of this incident last year during a night-drive in Tanzania’s Ruaha National Park. Rounding a bend, we met a large male lion, lying down and roaring into the darkness. Behind him stood a black-backed jackal (the same species I’d seen in Hwange), so close that it had to dodge the swishing tail. The proximity seemed suicidal. Was this some kind of dare? What if the lion turned around?

Both these images seemed to come straight from the pages of The Jungle Book, in which Tabaqui the jackal trots along behind Sher Khan the tiger. “Out!” exclaims the indignant wolf, when Tabaqui approaches his den. “Out and hunt with thy master.” The implication is clear: the jackal is a parasite, a sycophant, a mischief-making “dishlicker”. And Kipling was not the first to depict India’s jackals in this way. “One day life of a lion is better than a hundred years life of a jackal”, proclaimed Tipu Sultan, the great Muslim ruler.

Today, this image still clings to jackals. As a safari sighting, they enjoy none of the kudos of big cats, wild dogs (their canine relatives) or even much-disparaged hyenas. I’ve even heard a guide report ‘nothing about’ over the radio, while staring right at one. But, as with most prejudices, our antipathy is born of ignorance. Learn more about these fascinating animals — and spend some time watching their fascinating antics — and they will soon command your attention.

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Africa's changing cultural landscape • Safaris for body and soul • Top spots for you to go this year • Nature's Best Photography • Likoma Island • Jackals • Travelling with teenagers • Skeleton Coast lions... and much more!