Namibia is purported to have some of the most beautiful postage stamps in the world. But what’s more fascinating are the stories behind the artful images they depict—plant and animal life, traditional cultures, history and landmark events. Many people are unfamiliar with Namibia—until they visit on our motorcycle safaris and fall in love with her.
Meet the black-backed jackal, also known as a trickster!
The resilient and wily jackal offers a offers a window into the power of nature, and what happens over time when the delicate balance is upset.
Often represented in African lore as a trickster, the black-backed jackal has a reputation for its uncanny ability to adapt to change, and to elude traps and hunters. It’s reputed 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.”
Three species of Jackal – common (also called golden), side-striped, and black-backed (also called silver-backed) exist. The oldest member of the canine family, the handsome and elegant black-backed jackal is also known as a red jackal because of the colour of its fur. Legend has it that it acquired its black saddle by offering to carry the sun on its back.
In general, black-backed jackals show a preference for open habitats tending to avoid dense vegetation and are found in the grasslands, scrublands, and open woodlands of east and southern Africa. They live in pairs or small families and occupy a home turf of approximately 2.6 km2. Jackals mate for life, and pups are independent at 6 months of age.
The omnivorous black-backed jackal is an opportunistic eater, enjoying fruits, berries, rodents, hares, lizards, and snakes. It will bring down larger prey with a bite to the throat, often targeting the weak and sick. When meat is plentiful, it takes small chunks and buries them for later use.
Although most hunting is done individually, the jackal has been seen to cooperate in larger groups to subdue difficult prey, as large as an impala. The jackal is prey for leopards and must guard its young against eagles.
Long the bane of farmers because of their predilection for sheep and other small stock, extensive measures have been taken to eradicate these animals, often referred to by farmers as robbers or pirates.
Extremely cunning and highly adaptable, the jackal survived the best attempts of earlier settlers to kill it, while numbers of hyena, leopard, and wild dog numbers were decimated. Attempts to eradicate the canine are barbaric from today’s perspective—sprung traps with metal jaws, strychnine, and snaring adults and pups in their dens. Poisoning clubs even sprang up in the 1880’s to go after the predator.
Over time, jackal-proof fences proved effective both in protecting livestock and corralling jackals for mass eradication, often by packs of dogs.
Eventually, alarmed conservationists noted the increase in rodents and spread of disease. As well, other animals were inadvertently caught up in the poisoning and fences interfered with natural game migration routes.
The battle between farmers and predators continues although innovative control measures have been introduced as an alternative to extermination.
- Stamps and Stories, Vol. 1, 50 Stories on Namibia’s Postal Stamps, Gondwana Collection Namibia, & NamPost, 2012.