Down in Jungleland: Many Relatives of Man’s Best Friend

I have always wondered how the relationship between us and the family of foxes, wild dogs, jackals, wolves, wolves, etc. began. Back when we were hunters and gatherers, they say the first bond may have been forged. The family’s ancestors must have followed human gangs, perhaps digging from the remnants of our hunting operations, then gradually assimilated into our lives, until at least one branch of the family turned into what we long considered our “best friends”: dogs.

They are a diverse family, which has used brain, muscle cooperation, and isolation to spread across the globe – with the exception of Antarctica. Some, like the dingoes in Australia, helped us cross. Each group practically chose its own niche, so that there was no ruthless competition between them.

In general, they all share the same basic design: long muzzles, deep chests, powerful legs, a long bushy tail, and a wit that conveys the outspoken dexterity rather than the blond cunning of their big rivals: cats.

Foxes, notorious for their cunning and cunning, were among the smallest, specializing in hunting insects, birds, and small rodents. They are perhaps the most isolated members of the clan, pairs who raise the young in underground dens. While some are specialists, most deal with just about anything, and in Europe, they used to live in big cosmopolitan cities like London. They, alas, have been gruesomely persecuted not only because they tend to go into the hens’ rounds – but also because of their adorable “bush” or tails: the hounds of England are just a horrific example of the sheer cruelty of a self-admitted animal that is a loving nation. Foxes also come in a variety, from the tiny, butterfly-eared fox, to the smooth, slippery arctic fox that changes its coat according to the season—and follows polar bears around. The standard fox image is, of course, the aforementioned red fox, which was nearly hunted to oblivion but is now taking us into our urban habitats.

Jackals, too, have gained notoriety—perhaps only because they are largely scavengers—running behind large predators like big cats, looking for scraps. Some (like the golden jackal) are handsome: they are playful, smart and know how to take full advantage of any opportunity. Alas, they have been cursed for their alleged cowardice – although they actively hunt rodents, birds and insects when needed. In countries like India, they serve a great purpose of “cleaning up”, by eliminating carrion before they can spread the infection.

Wild dogs—whether the formidable or huge “red hound”, or the African “dyed” hound—are among the most feared of dogs. They are fierce hunters of the plains, using advanced communication skills to keep in touch with each other and strategize during the hunt. They will select a victim, and chase it to exhaustion, before attacking it or simply disemboweling it while running. These are family-minded animals and often the whole group returns to the den of the cubs carrying gifts for Papa’s log. Unlike its African cousin, the Indian ghoul hunts in the forests, probably because there are no wild open plains in India as there are in Africa.

Wolves have to be the largest and most feared member of dogs. The European gray wolf, reaching a length of 2 meters and weighing almost 80 kg, is a truly formidable animal, capable of taking down a large deer singly. With their shaggy coat and amazing commando skills, bite force, and sheer stamina, there seems to be nothing stopping them from getting what they want. They’re also the ancestors of our best friend: the dog.

It is the strength of the pack that has made the dogs such a success: only the alpha male and female of the herd’s breed – and the rest of the members, usually from offspring from previous generations, all cooperate to take care of the young. They communicate by smell, touch, gestures (tail wagging), and calls. We are fortunate in India to have representatives from almost all the clan members. Our dogs, whether foxes, jackals or wolves, are usually smaller and more spacious than their northern and foreign cousins, and some, such as the wolf, are becoming so rare on Earth that their habitats are being destroyed.

The only member of the clan who might do better than he needs to is the Pie Dog – and his success is due to his ingenuity, masterful technique, group mentality, and general toughness. Strays serve a useful purpose as scavengers and street rangers, although bands that have begun roaming national parks and reserves have proven to be a problem because they wipe out rare animals and birds and can spread disease.

As for the rest of the “Gang of Brothers”, we, unfortunately, run them relentlessly, and the day won’t be far away when they can’t run any further.

This article appeared in print with the title: Down in Jungleland: Pack Power

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: