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Scavenger With A Killer Instinct

Scavenger With A Killer Instinct

In two separate yet strangely similar situations, a killer was caught red-handed with photographic evidence of the ‘crime’. Better known as a scavenger that performs a vital service in keeping India’s forests and towns free from rotting carcasses, the golden jackal Canis aureus is also quite an accomplished hunter. Most records speak of this solitary canid as a stalker of rodents or poultry. But Indraneel Dani from Nagpur and Jignesh Minaxi from Surat might beg to differ!

Indraneel Dani

“Ah, the joys of living in Nagpur! Having wound up work for the week, I decided to visit the Pench Tiger Reserve with friends Vinit Arora and Haseeb Badar. It was a Sunday and the park was overflowing with tourists, all clamouring for even the briefest glimpse of a tiger. To avoid this maddening rush, we chose instead to head for the backwaters of the Totladoh dam, which attracts Wooly Storks and River Terns that feed on the mud of the drying lake. Nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary as we scanned the lake shore. But then, suddenly, we heard a huge splash! It was a female jackal, which we presumed had decided to cool off on that warm May day. Not the best place to swim given that crocodiles patrol these shallow waters, we thought to ourselves. But there she was, swimming purposefully toward an island alive with River Tern chicks. Breakfast perhaps?

Curiously, she suddenly changed course, heading for deeper, and more perilous waters. This seemed like an irrational thing to do, but the sight that met our eyes astounded us. There was our jackal, with an impossibly large fish in her jaws. Could she have fished it right out of the depths? Did she kill it? Or was this scavenged from the shore, or shallows? Whatever! We fell into stunned silence as we had neither seen nor even heard of such a natural history happening before. As the female exited the reservoir, with her prize firmly clutched in her mouth, we saw her being greeted by a triplet of pups! Well that explains it right? Or does it…?”

Photo: Indraneel Dani.
Jignesh Minaxi

“Some sights leave you speechless! I found myself in Bandhavgarh National Park’s Tala zone in May 2014, hoping to catch sight of the tigress Kankatti’s cubs. Apparently, news of the cubs had spread far and fast and we could not even get admission into Tala and had to settle for safaris in the Maghdi zone. After a low-key initial morning drive on May 24, we hoped for better luck in the afternoon. No sooner did we enter the park than we spotted two sub-adult jackals. That was it. Two hours later… nothing close to a tiger sighting, though we had a wonderful time birding and just listening to the silence of the forest. At some point the patience of our guide gave way and we heard him mutter under his breath: “Sahab, kuch milne ki ummid nahi he” (Sir, let’s go, we have little hope of spotting anything). It was 5:30 p.m. Exit time. Suddenly, the alarm calls of grey langurs filled the air! Tiger?  Maybe a leopard suggested our guide? Minutes passed. The ruckus died out. Nothing.

Then, suddenly, less than 15 m. ahead of us, we spotted a jackal with, believe it or not, a baby langur in its mouth, tail still flailing. We were stunned and could hardly comprehend what we were witnessing. An accomplished scavenger had turned into a predator. Neither our guide, nor our driver had even seen anything like this before!

Photo: Jignesh Minaxi.


A study by Pooja Chourasia, Krishnendu Mondal, K. Sankar and Qamar Qureshi published in the World Journal of Zoology on the dietary habits of the golden jackal and striped hyena in Sariska, conducted between November 2010 and June 2011 (based on scat analyses) confirmed that there was a 67 per cent overlap in the diet of jackals and striped hyenas. Both predominantly scavengers, jackals primarily fed on forest fruit, berries and other vegetable matter, supplemented by other small creatures particularly rodents. However, the scat analysis also revealed chital, sambar, nilgai and domestic cattle remains. We know that jackals are adept at finding and killing the young of chital and other larger herbivores, but could it be that in some areas they are being forced to chance their luck on more adventurous hunts on account of competitive exclusion from carcasses thanks to the much more powerful hyenas, or even leopards?

Authors: Indraneel Dani and Jignesh Minaxi First appeared in: Sanctuary Asia, Vol. XXXIV No. 4, August 2014.


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