Nestled below the Lesoto highlands lies the beautiful Matuse Valley valley in the Free State province of South Africa. The valley is known for its spectacular beauty, ancestral African spirits, rock paintings, sheep farmers and jackals.
The jackal is the black-backed cape jackal, canis mesomelas, a very territorial animal and every evening the valley resounds with the calls of the male jackals echoing out over the valley. “We are the Hare Ambushers…This is our territory…stay away from here.” – jackals mate in monogamous pairs . One starts and then the others reply in a chorus “We hear you! We are the Sheep Stalkers. And this here is our territory…stay away from here”.
It is an idyllic and wonderful place however the jackals and the sheep farmers have a relationship that is to put it mildly…a little strained. Jackals will eat lambs and even older sheep. The typical response of the local farmers to losing a couple of sheep is to head out into the hills with a .303 rifle spend a couple of nights out in the cold and eventually ambush the ‘Ambushers’. This normally solves his problem for a couple of months until another pair of Jackals sets up house in the newly vacated territory and also decides that sheep seem like a remarkably tasty if rather unchallenging meal.
Due to livestock losses to jackals, many hunting clubs were opened in South Africa in the 1850s. Black-backed jackals have never been successfully eradicated in hunting areas, despite strenuous attempts to do so with dogs, poison and gas. - Wikipedia
That’s 160 years of pursuing an unsuccessful strategy. When hunting proved ineffective farmers tried traps and strychnine.
Although poisoning had been effective in the late 19th century, its success rate in eliminating jackals waned in the 20th century, as jackals seemed to be learning to distinguish poisoned foods. - Wikipedia
What happened was a domain problem, the farmers were considering which tactics (poison, guns, traps) they should be using against the jackals but kept failing because the far more significant domains are geographic (how to stop more jackals coming into the territory once you have neutralised the present jackals) , logistical – how to reduce the time and energy required to neutralise the Jackal and morale (how to make jackals not want to eat sheep).
Shocking new approach
One farmer must have heard the saying about the definition of stupidity being doing the same thing but expecting a different result and decided to try something a little different. Taking a sheep carcass which jackals had killed but gotten interrupted before they could eat he wired it up to a bank of batteries and returned it to the field. The returning jackals suddenly found themselves getting a nasty shock every time they tried to take a mouthful of sheep. Jackals are extremely intelligent canids – far more so than even the smartest dogs and they quickly absorbed the lesson that the sheep in this area were inedible – they would just have to go back to their traditional if slightly more challenging diet of beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, rodents, hares and young antelopes.
Not only had the farmer solved the problem of the Jackals and his sheep but he also no longer needed to worry about a repeat of the problem as the local pair would keep any ‘untrained’ jackals from entering the areas. Just what we like to see a solution encompassing logistics, geography and morale with tactical delivery via a car battery. Now it may turn out that the training does not last long or the car battery is inefficient – however this is still a far more considered and humane approach to the issue. I mean after all it is hard to fault the jackals when their intention is the same as that of humans - to eat the sheep.