The Jackal in our Midst…

KAROO.jpg“I’ve read another one of Lawrence Green’s books last week,” Servaas says slowly as he puts down the paper. “Titled ‘Karoo’, it tells the story of the region in the fifties. What I found most intriguing,, was the tale of a Mr J.S. van Pletsen, a farmer in the area. He raised a jackal and kept him like one would keep a dog. Highly intelligent, the creature was. But, as he grew older, he started biting the other dogs on the farm. He would not, for instance, let them near his food bowl. And he’d eat the other dog’s food – as if he never had enough. Eat as he might, he just couldn’t satisfy his hunger. He’d steal mice from the farmer’s cat, raid the pantry and kill chickens at random.

“Now this jackal, you must realise, grew up with a litter of pups from the farmer’s dog. He acted like a dog, looked a bit like a dog and learnt tricks like a dog. In fact, when he was younger, he could pass as a dog. But then he grew up and he became what he was designed to be – a marauding scavenger. He simply could not deny his heritage or the message conveyed by his instincts and genes. They say a leopard can’t change his spots, but neither can a jackal.”

“Yes, I read that book – fascinating stuff, like all of Green’s books.” Gertruida – who knows everything, isn’t about to be outdone. “In it he tells another story; this one about Broken Toe, the cleverest jackal of them all.

“His tracks were first noticed on a farm in the Riversdale district, in 1924 if I remember correctly. Characteristic, they were, with one toe obviously crooked. Man, that jackal was a killer! He wasn’t satisfied with killing enough to eat – oh no! He would wade into a flock of sheep and kill at random, just for the sake of killing. His range included a large tract of land and he terrorised the farmers until they put a handsome reward on his head. It didn’t help, of course. Broken Toe was far too clever. They organised dogs, hunting expeditions and hired professional hunters – and still Broken Toe eluded them all. For eleven years that jackal had the farmers at his mercy; he struck when and where his fancy took him. Poison and traps were useless.

“Only a lucky shot by a hunter from Darling, a certain Mr Fick, ended Broken Toe’s reign in 1935. By that time the tally of his victims stood at 4000 sheep and an untold number of chickens. His identity was confirmed by the broken toe he had sustained as a pup – in a trap – and Fick claimed the reward.”

“A remarkable story, indeed, Gertruida. I also enjoyed his telling about the one jackal hunt where all the farmers got together to get rid of the jackal threat. Six hundred men on horseback, armed with rifles, shotguns and even dynamite, were accompanied by what Green describes as an army of dogs. At the end of the hunt, only nine jackals had been killed and one farmer was wounded by a charge of buckshot in the butt.”

Vetfaan has been listening with a smile hovering on his lips. “Jackal? Yes, they’ve been around forever. They steal, kill, maim, raid and cause mayhem. Devious critters, hard to catch, even harder to get rid of.  And it’s not just the animal jackals I’m talking about. We have several in our own species, as well. In fact, we’ve got a whole party full of them.”

“Ye-e-e-s.” Servaas nods slowly, following Vetfaan’s drift. “Our Broken Toe is the one with the shower, isn’t he?”

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