By Manas Pal




It was evidently the night of the jackals.

Four years ago for the first time I was in Shalbagan army officers’ complex to attend a family programme at Major Abhijit’s residence. It was 7.30 pm and I knew not where exactly the Major’s quarters was. I drove past the officer’s residential area and soon found myself lost in the maze of deserted roads that criss-crossed through undulating uplands and dense foliage that stretched beyond, God knows where, piercing through the darkness.

The moon was shining bright in the clear sky and everything looked slightly silvery and mesmerizing. 
Yet, in my loneliness inside the huge and uninhabited complex there was something diabolic, something creepy.

The eerie silence was all pervasive, but I believe, once or twice I heard some unseen creature slinked away from the roadside bushes. It was an uncanny feeling. The only thing reassuring around me was the tall street lights which were all faithfully bright in the army complex.

I was trying to call Abhijit over mobile but the service was not available.

I was truly lost to myself and was driving absentmindedly, taking turn from one way to other.

And, then it happened.

All of a sudden -just following a hairpin bend- I landed in the midst of a pack of big brown jackals.

They- about 10 or 12- were sitting cool right on the middle of the road, their fur reflected strangely in the moonlight.

I woke up with start from my loneliness and brought my car to a screeching halt only about four or five feet away from the pack. But surprisingly the jackal family did not scoot away. They did not seem much alarmed but they were clearly disturbed. The bigger ones looked up at the car headlights with a face which, I felt, looked like a clear indication of collective annoyance. The smaller babies were bewildered and they swiftly crawled to and then slipped under their vermin mothers.
It was their night and it was their domain where they could roam free, hunt free and live free.
It was I who was an intruder in their world.

During my childhood in a small subdivision town Kamalpur I had jackals in my neighborhood too- but whenever I saw them I saw them only for a few seconds. Most of the time I sighted only one or two of them extremely wary and restless and, as they would always flee fast I could remember only their bushy brownie tails.

But this was for the first time in Shalbagan that I could see so many jackals at one pack who were not afraid and preferred to stick to their ground. Evidently they were readying for their famous collective howls. I just foxed them with my intrusion.

But for me it was a great experience. I think jackals are the only wild life that is still available down your lonely forested lanes.

And on that night in the wilderness of Shalbagan in a true sense it was my real encounter with wild life. It took place only, say, about four kilometers from the humdrums of city life.

Later, Major Abhijit came to my rescue and told me I had almost gone near Adarini tea estate bordering the Shalbagan complex.

He told me there were hundreds of such packs in the complex and they moved free in large tracts in this region- from Gurkhabasti to Lichubagan to Shalbagan to Lembucherra or beyond.


Last week I just happened to be in the upcoming Capital Complex at the out skirt of Agartala. As I looked around I wondered -where have they gone, those brownie big jackals?

The verdant shrubs, thick undergrowth and bushy trees had disappeared fast and for ever from the vast land as the massive Capital complex using too many noisy humans and dreadful machines took shape. The huge concrete buildings that would house Assembly, Civil secretariat and all important offices had already ravaged the vast foliage-full of upland stretch from Lichubagan to Shalbagan.
Obviously, those jackals had lost their rodent (if not rabbit) filled lush green lands, their peaceful days and crying nights too.

Frightened and confused at the commotion all around they must have already moved out farther afield in search of quiet.

The jackals, I believe, were the biggest casualty of the fast track development and expanding horizon of Agartala city. It is, perhaps, also a classic case of man-animal conflicts in the ever growing city life.
Forest department quite evidently did not attach much importance to those foxy animals. The jackals are protected under lower category schedule and wild life activists seemed not really bothered to consider jackals as wild life at all. And humans never found those stealthy creatures all very interesting.

But, believe me, jackals are interesting.

Have you ever noticed jackals happen to be the only canine which is known for his undying fascination for jackfruits? (Seems the fruit derived name from the animal only).
Shakespeare knew tricks and cunningness actually ran in their blood when he said, (treason) " trusted like the fox, who, never so tame, so cherished and locked up, will have a wild trick of his ancestors."
Upendra Kishore Roychoudhury was, however, a little more considerate at the wily animal. He told us stories about jackals who were actually the 'maternal uncle' of the tigers, or a 'teacher' whom the fatherly crocodile entrusted with the delicious task of making his seven baby crocs 'intelligent'. The father crocodile came to know how stupid he was when he lost his children to the teacher. (Consult Tuntunir golpo -Stories of Tuntuni, the bird).

If you ever notice a jackal catching a crab, you know how right they were. The jackal would find a crab hole and put his bushy tail inside the hole. The crab would inevitably find the peeping tail interesting and hold it tight. The jackal would then pick up both his tail and the crab for his dinner.
What you would call it? A trick? Or a very intelligent and ingenious method for catching his prey? Do not you see it is almost like angling that the humans love in their lazy hours? There is, indeed, a very thin line between tricks and intelligent way of living a life.

But now as Agartala would be stretching out farther keeping pace with the time as well to accommodate the ever increasing population soon jackals in our vicinity would also be leaving us. It is, of course, not only the question of losing the scavengers near the human habitats but also an issue of impending ecological imbalance and rise of rodents at certain level. May be one day we would have to have some sort of 'Project Jackal' like that of 'Project Vulture' for saving these crafty animals.
We have already got a generation who had never seen a jackal. They have not heard how a band of jackal could cry in unison- how one jackal or a vermin in a distant place would start howling (a la their canine brother wolves) looking up at the moon -and then immediately others- not necessarily belonging to the same pack or family- would join him or her for the chorus. The chorus might be as brief as for a minute or, depending upon their mood, even last for more than half an hour. The hot summer night or the rain splashed evening would then resonate with that unearthly yowl coming out from the uninhabited or less frequented shrubby lands not in a very distant place filling the atmosphere with a strange and creepy feeling.

The children would certainly miss it. And for the grownups-as the jackals in Lichubagan and its adjoining areas are preparing for their last chorus together we, would never again get some chance encounters with our ever elusive neighbors in our expanding city- called Agartala.
Remember what the ‘Jackal’, an independent, lonely and extremely dangerous assassin in Fredrick Forsyth’s thriller ‘The Day of the Jackal’ had said?

“There is no escape from a determined killer”. And the jackals in Lichubagan region know it better.

Foot note.

  1. In India we do not find ‘Fox’, there are only Jackals.
  2. The Ancient Egyptians had a Jackal God ‘Anubis’ for their mummies.