Tag Archives: jackal

Beware the Playful Jackal..

“You learn a lot by watching animals,” Vetfaan says, “especially the clever ones, like a jackal. They are so clever, they can be con-artists or politicians.”

“If you insist on making comparisons, try to use things that aren’t the same. It’s more convincing that way. Effective communication is a skill, you know?”  Gertriuda looks up from her knitting with a irritated frown. She gets like this every time she reads a newspaper. Boggel tried to hide the latest edition of the Upington Post – the one with the president on the front page – but she ferreted it out from under the counter.

“I watched one the other day. Just as the sun set, I was on my way to my house, when I spotted a movement in the veld.” Vetfaan ignores Gertruida completely. “I stopped the bakkie and tried to see what it was with my binoculars. He was so well camouflaged that it took ages to spot him, but he was stalking a rabbit and I eventually got them both in sight. First, he crawled nearer, like a dog does when it wants to impress you. On his belly, crawl, crawl.” Vetfaan tries to imitate the animal, but his paunch is too big; and he has to stop when everybody laughs. “The rabbit knew he was there, I’m sure. It was watching the jackal very carefully, lifting his front paw as if he was uncertain what to make of the situation. Now, I don’t care how stupid you are: when you’re a rabbit and a jackal comes crawling along, you have a pretty good idea what’s on the jackal’s menu for tonight. That rabbit just sat there, staring at the crawling beast.

“And you know what he did then? He started fooling around – playing the clown. The jackal rolled over, played dead, jumped up and ran a little circle before going down on his stomach once more. The rabbit looked at him, went hop-hop, and looked again. All the time, the jackal moved closer. And closer.” Vetfaan signals for another beer as he remembers the little game the two furry animals played. “All friendly-like; two old pals having a romp in the sand for the fun of it.”

“Tell me he didn’t kill the rabbit!” Precilla’s hands are over her mouth, her pretty eyes wide in horror.

“That jackal sneaked ever closer, and then started to make little fun-bites. You know? Teeny little snaps of the teeth, showing the rabbit he was just putting on a show. Nothing to be afraid of.”

“Come on, Vetfaan! Tell me he didn’t do it!” Her voice is strained. “That poor rabbit shouldn’t play  with…”

“You’re right. The last fun-bite was the killer. Chomp! Exit rabbit, stage left. Hero on stage, enjoying supper at his leisure. And he did take his time, too – as if the foreplay made him appreciate his meal even more. No running and skidding around rocks; just a meal delivered, easy as you please, right there where he wanted to enjoy it.”

“Ag no, Vetfaan! That’s a stupid story! How can you expect us to believe you?” Precilla desperately wants to believe it’s all a lie.

Ten minutes later, amid the hush on the stoep after Precilla’s angry departure, Gertruida gets up to fetch the newspaper.

“It’s true, isn’t it? The jackal and the rabbit and the game? I see it’s all over the front page as well. Zuma wants to speed up land reform – and abolish the principle of willing buyer, willing seller. He says the ANC will fix the economy. That; in the same week our credit rating has gone down again. And, he says here, businesses that backed the ANC, will prosper. What does that mean? It’s the most subtle, civilised form of bribery…

“No, that jackal played it perfectly. He got the rabbit.  If we don’t wake up, the same is going to happen with us. It is, my friends, inevitable…”

Vetfaan agrees. He says he knows Nature must take its course, and that certain events are predictable in the maintenance of the food-chain. The ecosystem is the ecosystem, nobody should tamper with it. But he drives around with his rifle on the passenger seat these days. Just in case. At the very least, he can scare the jackal off to go and do some proper hunting.

Illusive Simplicity

Vrede ambles through Rolbos, which is strangely quiet since Oudoom’s sermon. He stops at Gertruida’s house, cocks an ear, and thinks up a disgruntled growl. No, this isn’t right! Nobody’s talking any more. He used to love the hushed conversations people have about the other townsfolk; it was here that he found out who was planning a braai or what they were going to cook the next day. It created anticipation, you see? A dog can spend an entire day dreaming about the bone in a leg of lamb…

Then, out of the blue, he becomes aware of a strange scent. It is faint, it is distant, but it is distinctly…jackal! He forgets about the intricacies of human nature in a flash; if there is a jackal nearby, he – the ex-police dog – must rise to the challenge. It’s him or the jackal: this town is too small for both of them. Panting happily, he sniffs the air, finds the direction, and sets off at a comfortable pace. He has to conserve his energy. The chase may be long and hard…

The jackal, meanwhile, has other things on his mind. He’s watching the stray lamb at the foot of Bokkop, where the flock grazed about an hour ago. The sun is warm on this wind-still day, and the lamb sought shelter under the big thorn tree. Having fed well that morning, the lamb surrendered to the drowsiness such a day brings. Soon he drifted into a deep sleep, dreaming of a lush, green pasture with a silent river meandering through the veld.

The jackal can’t believe his luck. The lamb will not be able to put up a fight: it’s far too small for that. And to have a sleeping victim awaiting his attentions is a huge bonus. Still, being a jackal means that he has the natural cunning to be careful. Slinking down to a crouch, he glances around to see whether it is safe to proceed.

Vrede follows the scent as it wafts through the warm air. The absence of a breeze makes it a bit more difficult to determine exactly where the jackal is hiding, but his training has sharpened his instincts to such a degree that he is able to gauge the direction reasonably accurately.  He wishes sheep had a greater sense of personal hygiene. Dogs are very aware of body odour and cleanliness. They love running in the rain, swimming in the river (if there is one) and licking their various bits of anatomy to ensure everything is spotless. Sheep, on the other hand, don’t do licking of swimming. They stand in the sun all day; sweating into the already-greasy wool; not caring what other animals think about their BO. While that may be the way they like it, it sure does contaminate the air with their aroma – making it even more difficult to track down the jackal.

The scent of the jackal is getting stronger now. Vrede knows there is only one tree on Bokkop, and he wonders whether the jackal might have gone there to rest in the shade. With the smell getting stronger by the minute, he jogs towards the tree.

Vrede will tell you (if he could) that even well-trained police dogs lose the plot sometimes. Like good politicians and commissioners of police, the lure of an easy victory or ample rewards tends to cloud their sense of duty and judgement. Vrede is so intent on reaching the inviting shade of the tree that he almost stumbles over the jackal, who was also concentrating on the shady spot – albeit for a different reason.

If Precilla had a camera nearby, she would have made the front page of National Geographic. Vrede freezes the moment he realises his left front paw is resting on the jackal’s bushy tail. The jackal, completely surprised by the sudden appearance of the big dog with a foot on his tail, discovers that his legs won’t work in this moment of panic and lets out a high-pitched yelp. And the lamb, roused from his happy slumber, sits up, dog-like, with confused and sleepy eyes, trying to make sense of his circumstances.

There are people who say animals don’t really follow logical processes when – even if – they think. That’s why sheep don’t build cathedrals and still haven’t invented the wheel, they say. They say jackals are cunning, but that they rely on instinct and not logical thought. And they say dogs are conditioned, not taught.

These people should visit Rolbos the next time a lamb falls asleep under the big thorn tree at the foot of Bokkop.

Vrede looks down at the jackal. Not wanting a full-blown fight, he lifts his lip a little to show his teeth while emitting a warning-growl. The jackal lets his head hang, pulls his tail from under Vrede’s foot, and crawls away on his belly. Meanwhile, the sheep runs baa-baa-ing off in the distance, suddenly aware that his milk-supply seems to have disappeared.

Finding the flock is easy. Vrede simply tries to avoid breathing as he nears the group of sheep in the veld. By this time the lamb kicks up such a racket that even his mother has to interrupt her grazing to see where the noise is coming from.

***

Back n Boggel’s Place, Vetfaan announces that he is through with this looking and starting business.

“No man. This can’t go on. If we have to be kind to one another, we’ll have nothing to say. We’re disrupting the natural order of things, guys. A few days ago we were sitting around this same counter, talking our heads off. Now, after Oudoom’s sermon, we slink around all the time, thinking guilty thoughts. I cannot say this or that, it’s unkind. I’ll hurt somebody if I gave my opinion. So-and-so will be offended if I told him what I think. We have to stop this.”

Vrede jogs in to plop down of Boggel’s cushion beneath the counter.

“Now look at that dog. He is the most lovable creature you’ve ever seen – and he doesn’t have to make difficult decisions like us. He can follow his natural instincts and be as rude as he wants to. Why, only the other day I was sitting at my kitchen table and he sat there, licking his…”

“Now, don’t you go there, Vetfaan.  Vrede is a dog, a pet. He doesn’t know about chivalry or the rules of kindness. He does what dogs do, without even considering you might find his actions offensive.” Precilla bites her lip. “I…I don’t mean to be unkind, but you cannot expect us to live like dogs. We have morals, they don’t.”

Vrede lets out a huge sigh as he lowers his head onto his paws. He wonders if humans will ever get to the point where they understand Life. Sure, they’re very clever. They have vehicles and radios and they can make water run from a piece of iron above the sink. But, unlike dogs, they need a whole set of rules to live amongst their own kind. It would have been so much easier, Vrede thinks, if humans could sniff at each other, decide whether to be pals or not, and get on with life. They talk about their fancy gadgets and wheels and tinned dog food – and then they call it civilisation.  Vrede, like all good dogs, knows civilisation is a word used to describe the unsavoury condition the world is in.  It’s a set of do’s and don’ts that allow people to interact with one another without killing everything in sight.

Boggels feet appear next to his head, followed by a hand holding a piece of biltong.  His tail goes thump-thump on the floor as he takes the meat between his front teeth. Ah, that’s more like it! One day people will let jackals escape and lambs return to their mothers. They have made a little progress already, Vrede realises, and that’s why he gets the odd bone ad bit of biltong. But oh, they have such a long way to go! They’ll have to stop making rules they don’t follow. Or maybe scrap the rules and start living.

The drone of conversation in the bar is slowly picking up. Vrede gives a contented groan as he stretches his legs to make the cushion comfortable for an afternoon nap. He can hear Gertruida arguing with Kleinpiet over the merits of kindness. Precilla’s voice picks up volume as she tells Judge he shouldn’t interfere with sermons, while Boggel tells Vetfaan he really has to go slow with the Cactus.

Way out in the veld, the jackal stalks a rabbit.

Some things will never change.

A Lion’s Share (of love, amongst other things…)

Kalahari Lion

When Lucinda asked about the history of Rolbos, everybody chipped in with snippets of information. That’s why the story of Jantjie Lourens came up. Gertruida – who knows everything – says she knew someone who knew Jantjie;  and Servaas says yes, his name appears in the  church register, in the fifties… he got married to Katryn Klopper. She moved to a congregation in Cape Town a few months after the wedding.

It started (so they tell Lucinda) when Jantjie Lourens was out in the veld, looking for a lost sheep. Now we all know how sheep get lost. They’re not very clever. Sometimes they wander off into the bush and they never seem worried about finding their way back. Gertruida says you get people like that, too. Occasionally – not all that often – a lost sheep finds a lost sheep. And sometimes they stick together. That one sheep you don’t find today, might very well start a rogue flock somewhere – and if you happen on it a few years later, you suddenly own a whole bunch of vagabond sheep that hates being kraaled.

Servaas says this happened to him once. He found twelve ragged and woolly sheep in the kloof on the other side of Bokkop a few years back. And yes, he says with bristling indignation, of course they were his sheep.  He personally snipped his mark into the ram’s ear when he was a lamb – and lo! all the new sheep in that kloof had the same snips. They had to be the offspring of his sheep – and therefore they were his. Gertruida remarks that  it doesn’t work like that. Servaas tells her Darwin was a heretic and the church rejected his so-called theories. That’s when Gertruida asks Judge to hold her, for she feels a sudden urge to strangle somebody. They laugh at that and Servaas, despite his age, blushes to a crimson red. Gertruida always says you don’t have to convince the other guy he’s wrong, you only have to make him doubt his argument. That’s where you leave the discussion, she says.

Anyway, Jantjie scouted high and low for his sheep. He waited at waterholes. He climbed the little hills. He looked under the thorn trees. That’s when he found the cub.

People say that Jantjie had a a sort of an epiphany, right there. His sheep was resting under a bush with a baby lion at its side. You know – the picture of the lion and the lamb? Well, that’s what Jantjie saw. The cub was a sign. He wasn’t sure what it meant, but he was sure there was a message in that picture, especially when he bent to pick up the lamb and the little lion growled at him.

“What happened to the lioness – the mother of the cub?” Pretty Lucinda is puzzled.

They speculate about that. Vetfaan reckons she might have gone hunting, and got gored by a gemsbok. And, Kleinpiet adds, the farmers in those days put out poisoned meat for the jackals. Jantjie apparently also looked for the lioness, but not half as hard as he searched for his sheep. “I mean: what do you do if you find a lost lioness? Ask her to be a better mother?”

The cub must have been about a month or two old and Jantjie couldn’t get it over his heart to kill the kitten-like creature – so he took the sheep and the cub home. Now, Jantjie’s father – Grootjantjie – was an avid hunter of all vermin that have developed a taste for sheep meat. He took it personally if something started chewing on the odd hind leg pf one of his flock. Servaas says yes, he was in that house after the funeral, and the entire living room floor was covered in a carpet  made from jackal tails.

So Jantjie had to hide the cub in an unused shed near the wind pump, where he spent considerable periods of time with the growing lion. Soon after that, Grootjantjie got sick – Tuberculosis was still common in those days – and had to spend his last few months in bed. Jantjie could then take the lion out for walks, during which he tried to teach the animal to hunt for his own meals.

Gertruida says lions are cleverer than sheep. You can hand-rear a lamb and leave him in the veld; he’ll start feeding himself soon. Lions, according to her, are like cats. Once they know how to manipulate you, they don’t have to slink around the veld looking for prey. Cats own you – they’re never pets. They will sulk until you feed them; then they reward you with some purring and then you feel good about yourself. She calls it Feline Logic. Or human stupidity. It’s the same thing.

After Grootjantjie died, Jantjie and the lion inherited the farm. And the lion, knowing his next meal would be served up in the big bowl in the kitchen, never even glanced sideways at the sheep following him. The two of them, you see, had become attached to each other in a strange way. Even when the cub was kept in the shed, the sheep would hang around in the vicinity, grazing quietly and baa-ing his reassurance every now and then to let the cub know his best friend wasn’t far away. The two of them followed Jantjie everywhere, and he simply had to make peace with the fact that he had an unusual entourage wherever he went on his farm.

Lions, Gertruida knows, grow to be big animals. In the Kalahari they can weigh about 200 kilograms. Jantjie’s lion (according to local lore) was much bigger than that. Of course, it is rather difficult to convince the average lion to get on a scale and remain there until the needle stops quivering, so one must assume that this one was a fully mature and healthy animal when Jantjie disappeared.

It happened soon after his wedding, Kleinpiet remarks. The next day, in fact. Jantjie had fallen in love with a secretary he met at the auctioneers in Upington. The entire distric watched in awe as the two young people fell madly in love and eventually got engaged. Jantjie couldn’t do enough for her – it was an endless stream of flowers, chocolates, little love letters, messages and even a bottle pf perfume from Omar’s Emporium.

People say the ceremony was a quiet affair; with the pastor, Jantjie, Katryn and the few guests who took their chances with the lion. Everybody knew about the lion, of course. The animal – unlike the sheep who seemed quite happy to be left at home – developed the habit of driving everywhere with Jantjie.  People also knew you can’t shake Jantjie’s hand – the lion wouldn’t allow anybody near. It took, for instance, a lot of patience to make the lion understand that Katryn  was acceptable company – and even then she had to walk two steps behind her husband-to-be and the lion. Gertruida says that is how the pecking-order in the feline world works.They also say the lion kept poking his head between the bride and groom during the service. When Jantjie put the ring on her finger, the lion let out an almighty roar that filled the church. A single second later Jantjie and the lion stood abandoned in front of the pulpit – everybody else had fled to the vestry and locked the door. Jantjie had a stern chat with the lion, and it took a lot of talking through the locked door to convince the others to come out again.

Their wedding night was – again according to local gossip – a much disturbed night. Jantjie had locked the bedroom door, leaving the lion ititchen. All through the night the lion kicked up a fuss, roaring and growling and later even making mewing sounds. Apparently Katryn woke up the next morning to find Jantjie crying in the kitchen. The lion had eaten his sheep-companion during the night.

She told her parents the lion then came in and gave her a knowing look. Now, Gertruida has her doubts about that bit. The only look a lion can give you is a hungry look. Or maybe an angry look. They’re not much different, anyway: both are up-and-down scans before the yellow eyes settle on the little pulse in your neck area.

The lion padded over to Jantjie and lay down at his feet, emitting the growl-grumble-purr big cats do when they’re satisfied you understand them and their needs perfectly. Boggel remembers the cat they had in the orphanage: it did the same (only softer) if you rubbed the spot behind its ears.

That lion doesn’t like me, Katryn said, pointing at the lion with a trembling finger; and Jantjie, who knew the big cat well by that time, had to agree. He had to do something. Precilla also had a cat, a long time ago. She understands a bit about the cat-mind. Cats don’t share, she says. Either they get your full attention, or they start scratching at your furniture. A real upset cat will hiss displeasure or even bare it’s fangs to scare you back into behaving yourself.

Jantjie took a long look at his bride, nodded sadly and took the lion for a walk.

He never returned.

“This is such a stupid story, Vetfaan.” Lucinda shakes her head. “I’ve heard many stories in Africa, but nothing like this one. Do you really want me to believe this man had a grown lion as a pet, and the lion didn’t like sharing this Jantjie’s attention with his new bride? So he ate him?”

“Oh Lord no, Lucinda,” Kleinpiet parries, “the lion simply took back what he claimed to be his. Look, he ate the sheep to show he would sacrifice anything to be Jantjie’s only friend. The lion set the example, you see? If the lion wasn’t prepared to share Jantjie with the sheep, then Jantjie had to do the same in return.”

“True.” Precilla leans forwards to emphasis her point. “Remember, cats aren’t pets: they own you. With dogs it’s different – they submit to your authority. Cats however, are much more intelligent and much more emotional. They can love, hate, share joy, be mischievous … and unforgiving. You do something bad to a cat, and it’ll avoid you forever.  Cats feel love. They sense loyalty. They detest being ignored when they want attention. But…,” she pauses a dramatic second, “he didn’t eat Jantjie.”

Lucinda shakes her head. “So what happened?”

“No, Katryn stayed on the farm for a while. She waited and waited, hoping Jantjie would come back somehow. Search party after search party went out, looking for Jantjie or whatever remained of him. Eventually a Bushman found the tracks leading off into the desert. One lion; walking beside one person wearing a number nine boot; the same size as Jantjie.” Servaas takes a long sip of his Cactus and smacks his lips in appreciation. “The Bushman refused to follow the spoor. He said Jantjie was a tokoloshi, that he was under a spell. They believe in witchcraft, those guys.”

“Weeks passed. She eventually moved back to her folks in Cape Town. A year or so later the farm was sold on an auction.  The marriage was annulled, of course; and she married a much respected surgeon a few years later. She became one of the first women in South Africa to fight for animal rights, and was also involved in the establishment of transfrontier parks. There were several articles in the newspaper about her – Gertruida kept a few – where she said that humans shouldn’t prevent animals from roaming in their original territories.” Kleinpiet gives a wry smile. “I think she simply wanted that lion to be happy. As long as that lion was content, Jantjie was safe.”

Old Marco doesn’t buy it. “No. I may be Italian, but I no believe this story. You joking, si?”

“Nope.”Vetfaan is suddenly serious. “I bought that farm. I just arrived in the district when the auction took place and couldn’t believe nobody else was bidding on the property. Anyway, I was happy with the price and moved in as soon as I could. That’s when I first noticed the scratch marks on the bedroom door. Huge marks. Deep into the wood. Only later, when I heard the story, did it make sense. That cat wanted to share Jantjie bed on the night of the wedding…and when the door remained locked, he tried to show Jantjie the sheep wasn’t his companion. Jantjie was. And Jantjie knew that Katryn would be next unless he and the lion reconfirmed their friendship. That’s when he took the lion for a walk. A long walk. Because he was the lion’s pet, you see, and the lion wasn’t about to give him up. If you think about it, Jantjie must have loved that woman a lot, to leave her like that. He saved her life, if you ask me.”

“So this is love sory?”Marco guffaws his sarcasm. “We Italians like love story. Only ours end better.”

“No, Papa,” Lucinda says gently, “love stories tend to have tragic ends. Look at our operas. This one, I think, has best ending.”

On cue, Boggel puts on the CD. He loves Sonja Herold, and especially this song. Turning to serve another round, he watches the crowd at the counter with a sardonic smile hovering around his lips. These Rolbossers! They can cook up the most fantastic stories ever! Get them started, and the one ofter the other will add another bit, another twist, to create a convoluted narrative of note. No, it’s not lying, he decides. It’s how our forefathers sat around campfires at night, entertaining each other. It used to be the way families played with ideas before television took the fun out of evening-talk. It’s a gift…

“Lucinda?” He calls her to the back. “Now let me tell you what really happened.”

“Oooh! You crazy man! I think you were all fibbing back there!”

“Yes, my dear, I’m sorry.” He hangs his head in shame. “But let me fix it now…”

Head thrown back, Lucinda folds her arms while she taps out a staccato rhythm with the toe of her boot. “Ye-e-e-es?”

“I’m really sorry. I am. There was no lion…”

“I knew it! I knew!” She hisses the words from between clenched teeth.

“It was a leopard,” Boggel says with a twinkle in his eye. “A leopard…”