As one enters Tel Aviv’s Yarkon Park, a haven for nature lovers in the heart of a bustling city, flocks of parrots swarm into the sky. Ducks and other aquatic birds swim in a pond across the viewing platform. During a recent visit by JNS, however, another animal also put in an appearance.
Suddenly, a jackal appeared out of the bushes, plunged into the cold water and scooped up a fish.
“They are opportunistic feeders—they can eat anything,” according to Yaron Dekel, scientific director of the Shamir Research Institute. “This is why they do so well.”
The golden jackal (canis aureus) is a very widespread animal, with a range spanning across much of the Middle East, South Asia and parts of southern Europe, including the Balkans.
Local wildlife enthusiast Dorcas Aharon told JNS that she has seen jackals not only hunting fish but also chasing water birds in the park. She also noted that they chew on the bamboo that grows in the pond’s vicinity.
Other packs in the same park, which survive more off of garbage, “look less healthy,” she said.
Jackals are highly territorial, said Dekel. “One pack has the area with the water and the other doesn’t approach it.” He noted that the swimming behavior was probably “handed down from experience.” Jackal pups learn from adults, he said, adding, “If they succeeded in getting food by doing this, it [the learned behavior] stays in the family.”
Dekel pointed out that the artificial Yarkon pond may be more feasible as a fishing site than a natural pond, as its fish have been “introduced” in high numbers and the water is relatively shallow compared to a more natural setting.
However, he noted that jackals have also been seen catching fish and other aquatic prey in the Golan Heights in northern Israel. The jackal diet comprises a myriad of prey animals, including frogs, rodents, freshwater crabs and birds. They also consume fruit, berries and vegetable matter.
Dekel suggested that the jackal’s ability to live off garbage has worked in its favour. “The jackal population is exploding because they are not afraid to stay near human settlement,” he said.
A similar “rapid habitat expansion” phenomenon is also currently occurring in Europe, he said.
Israel once had brown bears, lions, leopards and wolves—all of which are mentioned in the Bible. Of these apex predators, only the wolf still exists in the wild, but its range is greatly reduced nowadays.
The jackal, too, is mentioned in the Bible. In Jeremiah 9:11, God says, “I will make Jerusalem a heap of ruins, a haunt of jackals; and I will lay waste the towns of Judah so no one can live there.” In this verse, they are associated with death and calamity.
In some European translations, the Hebrew word for “jackal” was translated as “fox”—a more familiar canine to some Europeans. Outside of Jewish lore, the jackal is renowned as a trickster figure across many cultures, including in the Jataka Tales of India. In North America, the coyote fills a similar niche—both as a garbage scavenger and the trickster in Native American mythology.
In 2015 a DNA study concluded that the African golden jackal subspecies was actually a wolf. It was subsequently reclassified. Eli Geffen, an Israeli behavioral ecologist at Tel Aviv University, was involved in the research.
The jackal’s incredible adaptability has been well documented throughout history, from ancient texts to modern science.
There are signs dotting the Yarkon park warning visitors of the wily predator’s presence.
Dekel believes that jackals are now adapting to life in close proximity to humans. “We are witnessing a process of self-domestication,” he said.