The Black Backed Jackal and Me
So, I’m a romantic. I’m talking a hard-core romantic here. I’m talking visualizing my very own music videos to Taylor Swift’s “Love Story” where Prince Charming enfolds me in his arms and kisses me, passionately, in the forest, under the moonlight, on a unicorn.
But, here’s the thing— I’m a secret romantic. When it comes to the unicorn-less world of Manhattan, I’m a bit at a loss. All is confusion. I look out at those handholding, sunglass-wearing New York couples with raw, rough jealousy. How did they get to this moment of handholding bliss? How did they find one another in a city where the hookup is a gift? In a city where everyone’s looking for someone but not willing to look at anyone?
But, here I am away from the light-polluted city, surrounded by the star-polluted sky of the bush. All is simple. And, for the black-backed jackal, all is simply love.
“Do you see this animal here? Looks a bit like a small dog? It’s a jackal, a black-backed jackal. And you see the other one behind her? That’s her guy. They mate for life these guys.” –JP, head ranger & my friend
I was taken. I was taken with these small dark saddled and tawny canines. I had found my animal soul mate, my fellow romantics of the African bush. They are not husband and wife, but perhaps something more because they don’t have a need to define it. They are partners. If the male catches a bush baby, then he will share it with the female. If the female uncovers a lion kill, she’ll alert her hubby and together they’ll wait until the lionesses have had their fill. Their behaviors are synchronized. They mark their territory together. They groom each other with “no signs of dominance within pairs,” according to Richard Despard Estes’s The Behavior Guide to African Mammals. They’ll stick together till the end. Yes, occasional, they’ll convince one of their female pups to stick around and help them raise their next litter. But for the vast majority, it’s just the two of them. Bonnie & Clyde. Lancelot & Gwen. Angie & Brad.
So, maybe, if canis mesomelas can find love, maybe homo sapiens can too? Maybe I can? Why not? These miniature wheat-colored critters set a natural precedent— partnerships between dudes and chicks can keep us alive yo. Look, nature is full of instances of true love. From the dung beetle and the rhino to fungi and plant roots, it only gets tricky when you consider dear ol’ humankind. We think too much. We’ve taught ourselves to be weary of our instincts and control our desires. “Think before you speak,” our mothers tell us. But, maybe we need that instinct? Those moments of desire? That gut feeling? Maybe that will guide us? Maybe, like the black-backed jackal, we can follow that feeling to love?
– Sarah Doody