Posts Tagged ‘Cape Fur seal’

This is from a documentary about brown hyenas on the Skeleton Coast of Namibia, but the black-backed jackals stole the scene here!

They are like piranhas in canid form!

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Black-backed jackals are hunters as well as scavengers.  On Namibia’s Skeleton Coast, they hunt Cape fur seal pups:


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Black-backed jackals do hunt Cape fur seals.

They probably got started doing this when the seals would leave behind large amounts of afterbirth during their pupping season.

It’s just a short step from eating the culls and then moving onto hunting the pups themselves.

Because this is southern Africa, these are the “Cape” subspecies of the black-backed jackal. It’s the only jackal found in southern Africa. The one with the faded markings is probably just a color variant.

I don’t know this species well enough, but maybe they are like black wolves in that they fade a bit as they age.

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The brown hyenas of Namibia’s Skeleton Coast are known to hunt Cape fur seals in this manner.

In two of Namibia’s official languages (German and Afrikaans), the name for this animal is Strandwolf.  It literally means “beach wolf.”

Sir David Attenborough also makes a mistake in this piece.

Did you catch it?

It’s the first time I ever caught in saying something wrong about an animal.

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Yes, jackals do hunt!

Here’s a pack of them fighting over a fur seal pup:


Kipling wrote about the related golden jackal in The Jungle Book:

“It was the jackal — Tabaqui, the Dish-licker — and the wolves of India despise Tabaqui because he runs about making mischief, and telling tales, and eating rags and pieces of leather from the village rubbish-heaps. But they are afraid of him too, because Tabaqui, more than any one else in the Jungle, is apt to go mad, and then he forgets that he was ever afraid of any one, and runs through the forest biting everything in his way.”

And this is largely how we think of jackals. (I don’t think Kipling understood rabies or was deliberately using the term “madness” to demonize the jackal.)

The truth of the matter is jackals hunt and scavenge. They live in family groups, where offspring from the previous litter help rear their parents’ younger offspring.  They later disperse to form their own territories. This is very similar to the way that wolf packs operate. However, wolves tend to stay with their natal pack longer, and because wolves operate in a different ecological niche than jackals, their pack hunting behavior allows for more group cohesion in their hunting behavior.

In the West, we have had a cultural shift in how we view the wolf. We see wolves as noble hunters that keep the large prey species in check. We still see jackals as Kipling did. It doesn’t matter that wolves sometimes scavenge kills. They sometimes surplus kill, and there are situations in which controlling their numbers make sense in terms of wildlife management (There aren’t that many situations in which this is the case, I should add.)

Konrad Lorenz, one of the founders of ethology and winner of the Nobel Prize, wrote a book on dogs called Man Meets Dog. He postulated that some dogs were derived from golden jackals and others were derived from wolves. The ones derived from jackals were called “aureus dogs” (from the golden jackal’s scientific name– Canis aureus). These dogs were the wimpy ones that were easily scolded and always demanding human attention, never bonding closely with anyone. Those derived from wolves, however, were something else. These dogs demanded human respect before they would ever show affection. These dogs bonded much more closely to those humans they chose to accept.

It was obvious Lorenz, who loved chow chows, preferred the wolf-like dogs.  Of course, he was merely projecting onto these dogs our cultural perceptions of jackals and wolves.

Today, we know that the so-called “aureus dogs” are actually dogs with higher levels of neoteny or pedomorphosis. Neoteny or pedomorphosis (there’s  a debate on which one it is) prevents domestic dogs from developing the full wolf behavior. One study of body canine body language found that golden retrievers retained an unusually high number of wolf body signals. The only dog breed in the study that had a higher number of the signals was the Siberian husky.

Konrad Lorenz probably would’ve put the golden in with the aureus group.

So our cultural perceptions of the jackal have distorted with our understanding of canine ethology. Dogs are derived from wolves or, to be more accurate, the ancestors of wolves. They are not derived from jackals.

But even at that, why is it that even educated people like Lorenz would see the jackal as the desireable species?

Jackals are far easier to observe than wolves. I have seen lots of footage of jackals hunting seals and other animals. I’ve seen very little footage of wolves hunting.

Jackals make do with their situations, which is what all wild beasts must do if they are to survive. For us to project these images onto any wild beast is to do them a great disservice, for it keeps us from truly understanding them as they are.

So if there is the David Mech of the jackals, you have as my respect.

Update: I’ve found a source that argues that Lorenz’s theory about aureus and lupus dogs partially came from the anti-Semitic pseudo-scientific culture that existed in the German-speaking world. Here is the source. Lorenz was a Nazi scientist, who was captured by the Red Army. It was during his captivity that he began to realize the error of his thinking, and he recanted. He later would be one of the early supporters of the Austrian Green Party, which is a social democratic environmental party.

He also wrote an interesting and quite controversial book called On Aggression.

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