Scottish Maria and the golden jackal

Vietnam Heritage, October-November 2011 -- In 2007, Maria (I don’t remember her first name), a Scot, came to Vietnam to study the habits of golden jackals (Canis aureus) for her doctoral thesis in zoology. She went to Chu Yang Sin, a nature reserve in Dak Lak Province, in the Central Highlands, where Vietnamese zoologists had found golden jackals.
Golden jackals are smart. They hardly let anyone approach them. They are very good at sniffing and recognizing strange smells. I and Maria spent days and months in forests, placing food and camera traps, but didn’t get pictures or find out anything about how these red-listed animals hunted.
After many days struggling in forests, all we had were footprints, some blurry pictures and broken footages. However, through counting and measuring footsteps and the amount of food the jackals had eaten, we did have some results about their habits. They often live deep in forests with many other animals. Sometimes they even live near fields, farms or residential areas in forests. They live singly or in pairs during the mating season, hunt at night and are bold. Sometimes they go to edges of forests where people live to capture poultry or piglets.
After three years, Maria's search seemed to be hopeless. With the study time just about over, one day I joined her in going to market to buy some souvenirs. As soon as we were in the market, Maria suddenly stopped. A man was carrying two dead golden jackals for sale.

Maria became incredibly emotional. It was the first time she had seen and touched the animal she had been researching for the previous three years. The man said that the two golden jackals had killed about ten of his piglets, which he had planned to raise and sell to build a house for his kids. He had been angry and trapped the the jackals.
Maria left, not forgetting to remind us to look for a way to help poor people who lived near forest, so that they wouldn’t kill wild animals, including golden jackals, which are now threatened with existinction. I regarded her words as expressing a debt to the nature. A golden jackal weighs five to eight kilograms, is 60 to 75 centimeters long, not counting the tail, which is 20 to 25 centimeters long. It is of medium size in the genus Canis. It is distinguished by its basic, golden coat colour, which varies from pale, creamy yellow to tawny according to the season, and a mixture of black, brown and white hairs for the pelage on the back. The tail is bushy, with a tan to black tip. The legs are relatively long and the feet slender, with small pads.

Text and picture by Phung My Trung
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