Watching jackals in the wild evokes unexpected feelings. They are an underdog in an environment full of larger, more ferocious animals; they are energetic; they are cute. But above all, they remind me of man’s best friend- the domesticated canine. I think it’s because of this that when I see jackals onscreen they seem out of place.
This is also undoubtedly the reason why it felt so wrong when the jackal attempted to take down a little gazelle. In the blink of an eye, the animal reminiscent of so many of our childhood pets metamorphized into an unrecognizable creature capable of suffocating a helpless antelope. It’s never pleasant to watch one animal attack another, but it is somehow worse when the predator doesn’t look like a predator.
In this situation, as the jackal had the young gazelle’s neck solidly in its mouth, when the gazelle’s life was surely flashing before its eyes, I abandoned my affinity for the imposter pet. Who couldn’t but cheer when the gazelle’s mother made her eleventh-hour appearance, saving her young fawn from the clutches of death.
While the adult gazelle chased the jackal with a fierceness one would expect of an angry mother, I was strangely relieved. It wasn’t that I didn’t want the little gazelle to die, for I’ve seen equally as innocent looking antelope fall victim to feline predators without batting an eye – I just didn’t want to see a jackal play the bad guy.
And so continues my personal journey to properly grasp the nature of wild animals. Perhaps it is because our first interactions with animals are so close and personal. Perhaps it is because we form strong bonds that can last a lifetime. Perhaps it is because our brains have been trained to include animals in our inner circle of intimate relationships. It is impossible to say. Regardless of how trying it is to accurately process the realities of animals in the wild, (for what they must endure and what they must do to survive is beyond us), I for one feel that we must strive to see them for what they are and not what we want them to be. “The wild” is a strange place for humans, we are not at the center of it as is usually the case of our environments. But by moving beyond our human-centered perceptions and expectations, we just might come a more complete understanding of not only the animals on our screens, but ourselves as well.