Monday, June 30, 2014

Jackals: Small but feisty

This morning we came across a nice tasty wildebeest carcass with some subadult (ie. teenage) hyenas feeding on it. As far as carcass feeding goes, this was a pretty calm morning for the hyenas (No one got bullied over food TOO much). Really, the drama surrounding the carcass was ALL jackal drama, which inspired me to write a something about these gutsy little dudes.

If we find lions or hyenas feeding on a carcass in the Mara, we are very likely to find some diminutive jackals running around in the background. While the larger predators are often busy fighting with each other, the jackals can often fly under their radar, darting in and out of the group feeding on the carcass and grabbing small scraps.

These jackals were agile enough to grab some scraps despite the annoyance of the hyenas.

They are surprisingly gutsy with larger predators. (Keep in mind, jackals are the size of a small fox (~ 13-33 lbs), as opposed to lions (~ 240-400 lbs) and spotted hyenas (~ 100-180 lbs). Recently, I saw an injured lioness guarding a carcass from a couple hyenas. She lunged at the hyenas, who promptly ran away, giggling frantically. After that, a lone jackal jauntily ran up to her and stared from a few yards away. After a few minutes of a stare down between the two, the jackal finally thought better of it. Still, he/she made a better show of it than the hyenas.

The lioness is hiding in the bushes on the left:

Some extra reasons jackals are excellent:

They’re survivors – Jackals basically eat whatever whenever, which makes them successful in areas where other carnivores may suffer.  While they’re definitely game for carrion, it only makes up 3-18% of their diet in the Serengeti. They also eat insects, rodents, snakes, baby antelope, and will start adding more fruit to their diet when vulnerable prey are hard to find. They can even do very well in areas with lots of humans, because they will happily eat our trash, scraps, and (sadly for the farmers) small domestic animals. 

They’re wily- The will follow hunting lions and wait for them to make a kill, then dart in and grab some food. In the Kalahari Desert, they will also follow brown hyenas, who are extremely good at finding carrion, and try to pilfer off them.

They’re always game for a fight – At our carcass this morning, the jackals spent a good portion of their time attacking the vultures and marabou storks, large scavenging birds who were also trying to nab some food. We even saw some of the jackals jumping in the air after the birds when they tried to get away.

In the Kalahari, jackals have been known to play “tug-of-war” with brown hyenas, with several jackals pulling at one end of the carcass while a hyena pulls at the other. They’ve even been known to nip hyenas on the bum and dash in to grab a scrap when the hyena whirls around to attack. I myself would think twice before nipping a hyena on the butt, but not jackals...

We had a little bit of tug-of-war going on this morning:

The jackals that fight together stay together: Jackals are generally monogamous – staying with the same partner for years. Together, they will defend their babies from hyenas by nipping their haunches, defend their territory from other jackals, and hunt together.
If two jackals hunt together, they can take down a baby antelope 67% of the time, even if mom is defending it.

And, of course, they are adorable:

If you're interested, I got my information from these sources: 

Estes, R.D. 1991. The Behavior Guide to African Mammals. University of California Press. Berkeley, CA.

Kaunda, S.K.K., and J.D. Skinner. 2003. Black backed jackal diet at Mokolodi Nature Reserve, Botswana. Afr. J. Ecol. 41: 39-46.

Mills, M.G.L. 1990. Kalahari hyaenas: the comparative behavioural ecology of two species. London: Unwin Hyman.

Owens, M. J., and D. Owens. 1978. Feeding ecology and its influence on social organization in brown hyaenas (Hyaena brunnea, Thunberg) of the Central Kalahari Desert.  E. Afr. Wildl. J. 16: 113–135.

 Pereira, L.M., Owen-Smith, N., and M. Moleόn.  2014. Facultative predation and scavenging by mammalian carnivores: seasonal, regional and intra-guild comparison.  Mammal Rev. 44(1): 44-55.

Wyman, J. 1967. The Jackals of the Serengeti. Animals 10:79-83.

Michigan State University | College of Natural Science