I remember clearly our first night in the house on the Springbok Vlakte. Unlike the city, we saw few lights in any direction. And the world was silent. Or so it seemed to ears that were used to the incessant humming and occasional hooters of traffic.
I stood outside in the cool night in the place where our garden would in time develop. At that stage it was a jumble of rocks and tough little bushveld thorn trees. Standing there in the dark, I heard the sound for the first time. It was a thin, lovely and wild, but plaintive cry that has stayed with me ever since.
The next night I listened for it again and this time I was sure I heard a second animal. The moon was up, but I cannot say that inspired them. Perhaps they would have sung anyway. Miriam was at my side. “Jackals,” she said. “We had them on the farm when I was growing up.”
A few days later I saw one of the family of black-backed jackals. He was trotting along the track on the adjoining cattle farm, running in the lovely loose-limbed way of all jackals. I watched until he rounded a corner and disappeared from sight.
A few nights later, this time on a moonless night we were entertained by a chorus of the jackal family. It was their best performance and the only time that we heard so many voices at one time. After that we sometimes heard two, but later there only seemed to be one. We were not sure if that one had a mate, but hoped it was so.
It was about that time that Shadrack who handles our garden on once-weekly visits came to us, dragging a construction of wood and wire he had found in the bush. “You chop it up,” I told him, “and burn the wood. I don’t want to see anything like that around here, not ever again.”
Shadrack did what I asked him to do and at night we still heard the cry of our last jackal, calling perhaps for a mate that would now never come. Some months later his cries too stopped. What had happened to him was a mystery until Shadrack found another trap, the same kind of wood and wire affair. When baited with meat, the jackal would enter for the meat, but not be able to get out again. He was still in the trap, but no longer alive. He seemed to have died of dehydration after some days in the trap. Whoever had set it had not returned to see if anything had been caught.
We do not hear the jackals any more. We listen for the possibility of perhaps more distant cries, but there are none. We have asked other plot owners, but they too never hear them now. The nights are truly silent, and the worse for it.