There were ten of them, or maybe eleven – some trotting lightly in the rut of the road, and others bouncing on waves of long wavy grass. Incredible really. To me it appeared as if they were behaving like a pack of wild dogs. Normally we see jackal in pairs, or maybe with their young pups – usually two or three pups. But never have I see seen such interaction and such large numbers of jackal.
Being our first morning at Kalahari Plains, we interpreted it as a gang war between different groups. As the jackal chased one another hectically from one side of the road to the other side, not giving any care whatsoever to our vehicle, they literally bounced, darted and weaved between tall grasses trying to throw off their pursuers. It was quite frenetic.
But this morning was unique, as the ten or eleven or maybe even twelve jackals interacted as one big happy community – I even noticed two who appeared to be grooming one another. Of course I am not a specialist in jackal behaviour, I can only defer to what I have previously witnessed to be what I know, so this exchange was intriguing.
Annoyingly, from time to time, we would come across a lone jackal either in the left or right rut of the road, trotting continuously in the direction in which we were headed. The grass on either side of the road was still quite thick and long so a quick side-step on the jackal’s part had to be quite carefully calculated into a gap between long tufts. We became ‘experts’ at estimating their ages, because the younger pups would mock-dart and then hop from left to right, then appear to stubbornly stay on the track of the rut, whereas the adults would respond to our stopping and holding back and would take the opportunity to find a suitable spot into which they could escape in a more dignified way.
A sundowner stop on the plains of the Central Kalahari in front of Kalahari Plains Camp is totally magical. But this particular night came alive in a way that had to be felt to be believed – but I will try my best. We were hanging in the shadows of the sunken sun, the sky was a mature burnt orange against which we were silhouetted. Our conversations were getting deeper, mirroring the reflection of our shadows when one of the Owens Boys, the resident big black-maned Kalahari males, roared intensely, throatily and impressively. As the sound vibrated on his deep exhalation, in unison, and from all corners of the vast open wide plain the jackals responded with a crescendo howl that repeated itself as an echo until a massed-voice choir ensued with lion call as the bass and jackal as the soprano. All of us breathed in the moment as the micro-hairs on our skin stood up in goose bumps – it was pure magic.
Written by Marian Myers and Photographed by Mike Myers