Jackals in Jerusalem
by Petra van der Zande
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What do the jackal, wormwood, laughing dove and almond tree have in common?
For one thing, they are mentioned in the Bible.
Secondly, they are an integrated part of our Jerusalem neighborhood.
This article describes the Jackal.
Dawn is peeking around the corner of the high-rise buildings.
Time for Coyote’s-look-alike, the Golden Jackal, to return home.
A long howl, ending with a series of yelping notes, wakes me from my slumber. Recognizing the sound, I smile, turn on my back and snuggling deeper under the comforter, I picture the jackal’s slouching gait as he moves between the wormwood towards his den.
A few years ago, a jackal pair used the same bushes for hiding while a few meters away, Jerusalemites enjoyed a rare snowfall. I spotted my furry neighbors from our window that evening.
The first time I heard a pack of jackals was during a holiday in northern Israel. Beneath a canopy of stars fringed by twinkling lights in the distance, the fields surrounding the kibbutz were clothed in darkness.
The enjoyable peace and quiet was abruptly broken by the sound of maniacal cackling and howling.
I was thankful for the high fence. It was a frightening sound for a born-and-bred-city girl.
“Our” Jackal howls again – I confess it does sound eerie.
I imagine the male carefully crossing the grassy field bordering his domain.
Do I hear an echo, or is his one-and-only, life-long mate answering?
Before crawling through the broken fence, he marks his territory with urine and feces.
Barking excitedly, the female welcomes her mate.
Since she became pregnant - in Israel between October and February - she stays put, totally dependent on him for food.
He regurgitates whatever was available - insects, snails, chickens, small mammals, birds, possibly watermelons, and corn.
Two months later, between three to six pups are born, weighing around 250 grams. Blind at birth, their eyes open after ten days. Although the den is safely hidden, the mother moves them several times for safety’s sakes. Sacrificially she stays with her offspring for three whole weeks. Suckling them 5 times a day for a period of six weeks, she herself is being fed by her faithful mate.
When the growing pups annoy their parents, the adults growl at them.
Inquisitive youngsters that wander off, are called back by the mother’s “chack, chack”, uttered with a closed mouth.
Raising the litter is a two-animal job. When one of the parents dies, it’s possible the rest of the family won’t survive, unless there are “helpers” around.
These helpers are sexually mature animals who “stay-home” to help care for the next litter. Sometimes they keep food in their stomachs to regurgitate for the waiting pups or the lactating mother.
Completely weaned at four months, family-pack-hunting-time begins with the parents providing food and protection.
After they’ve eaten their fill, the left-overs are buried to prevent others from stealing.
Because of their blunt feet and fused leg bones, jackals can run 16 km/h (10mph) for a long period of time.
Their hearing, scent and eyesight are highly developed.
The animals are very sociable and friendly towards group members.
But when they meet a strange jackal, their behavior is similar to that of dogs - showing either submission, superiority or aggression.
The jackal belongs to the aureus species – Latin for golden. It’s smaller than the wolf but larger than the fox - its ears smaller, the tail shorter, weighing between 10 and 15 kg. Research has shown that foxes are afraid of jackals.
A wild Golden Jackal can live between 10 and 13 years.
In Bible times, shepherds had to guard their flocks against all kind of wild animals, amongst them jackals.
Vineyards were often raided by thieves, foxes or jackals. The moment fruit began to form, the families of vineyard owners took turns guarding their crops from a shelter of branches or a stone watchtower.
Tannim is the Hebrew word for jackal. The root means to “howl”, “to stretch out”, and “to run swiftly” (with outstretched neck and extended limb.)
Most Bibles translate tannim as “fox”. Samson catching 300 “foxes” raises some doubt, because these are solitary animals - it would have been difficult to catch 300. Several packs of jackals seem more feasible.
After Divine judgment, jackals were known to populate desolated areas and abandoned houses. The prophet Micah was “wailing and howling like a jackal”.
But God uses even unpopular animals as an example.
We read in Isaiah 43:20 that “The beast of the field will honor Me, the jackals and the ostriches, because I give waters in the wilderness and rivers in the desert, to give drink to My people, My chosen.”
8 p.m. I take the dogs for their evening walk.
The abandoned municipal area - used to store trees for planting - is wrapped in silence and darkness. The dogs sniff intently at different bushes, and then carefully examine the tunnel-like undergrowth, leading to a hole in the fence.
Their senses alert, they stop, listen, and nervously sniff the air. Registering this is jackal territory, they yank on their leashes, pulling me from the area as quickly as possible.
Home again, I’m treated to another repertoire of the jackal howl-inventory - the high-pitched, long-drawn-out cry, repeated two or three times, each time in a higher key. Locating a family member?
But this time, the short, loud, yelping barks are multiplied - other jackals join the chorus, showing the bond between each other, and claiming their territory.
Even the howling jackal is part of our rich Biblical heritage.
I'm privileged to experience them so close to home.
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