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Israel: Snacks for stray cats may be feeding a rash of jackal attacks – Jackals and people in Corona days

A spate of jackals attacking humans in northern Israel is being partially blamed on humans’ love of cats.

According to a leading Israeli ecologist, jackals are being brought into increased contact with humans due to increased amounts of garbage for them to feed on, especially food left out for street cats.

Jackals bit nine people last week in and around the northern coastal city of Nahariya, raising alarms over the attacks by animals that normally harbor a healthy fear of humans.

One man told Channel 12 news that he had been sitting in his office when a jackal jumped on him, bit him and ran away. Another was shown in a widely shared video clip walking around an outdoor storage depot when a jackal came in and bit him on the leg.

As the animals were not caught, it remains unclear whether just one jackal was at work or more, or whether the animal or animals were rabid.

All the victims were taken in good condition to the city’s Western Galilee Hospital, where they were vaccinated against rabies as a precaution.

There are estimated to be tens of thousands of jackals in Israel, their loud nighttime yipping a common feature of suburban and rural soundscapes.

Recently the animals, which are the size of small dogs, have been making increasing forays into areas near human settlement, along with other wild animals. During the first coronavirus lockdown, jackals began to be spotted in Tel Aviv’s normally busy Yarkon Park, seemingly lured by easy access to scraps and a dearth of human activity.

Habitat loss is one factor bringing wild animals closer to human settlement. One Facebook user linked Nahariya’s jackal invasion with the destruction of local woodlands and their conversion into new residential neighborhoods.

Amit Dolev, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority’s northern district ecologist, told The Times of Israel that with no natural predators in Israel, the size of the local jackal population is determined by sources of food.

With food in the wild limited, the animals have learned to scavenge scraps left by humans, either deliberately put out by people wanting to help street cats, or available in open trash cans, municipal waste dumps and landfill sites.

“Picking up a sandwich or a cookie or a nectarine is easier than having to chase a mouse,” said Dolev, who has a doctorate in ecology.

While jackals usually leave people alone, even non-rabid ones can attack humans, including to grab for food from a child. They can also attack and transfer rabies to domestic cats and dogs.

Rabies is currently sweeping through Lebanon. In recent years, there have been waves in Jordan too. Animals such as jackals and wolves crisscross the boundaries with Israel with no thought for international border controls.

Israel’s travails with jackals are not new. In 1964, the government initiated a poisoning campaign and nearly eradicated the golden jackal as part of an anti-rabies program. In the intervening years, the population has bounced back and then some, and today culling is only allowed within nature reserves.

A 1995 Tel Aviv University study of jackal populations in the Golan Heights concluded that “it is clear that man-made food is a primary source of energy for jackals and supports their dense population in the Golan.”

The authors estimated that garbage dumps in the Golan Heights alone at the time could support a population of around 4,000 jackals.

However, a 2011 study published by the Finnish Zoological and Botanical Publishing Board that examined jackal droppings at Park Britannia in central Israel found that garbage was only a small part of their diet. “Results suggest that the high availability of domestic animal carcasses due to the local carrion disposal system may be responsible for the present jackal density in Israel,” the authors wrote.

According to Dolev, it is garbage that has allowed jackals to expand southward to Eilat, jumping from human settlement to human settlement for food scraps, despite being unable to survive desert conditions in the wild.

On the way, they also harm the environment by helping themselves to livestock and wild creatures, such as foxes, which are smaller and, unlike jackals, live solitary lives.

“They get used to us, and that’s the danger,” Dolev said. “Often, people don’t realize that by leaving food out for cats, they’re causing more reproduction and bringing more homeless cats into the world. The food that the cats don’t eat attracts the jackals.”

“We all love animals,” he added. “Take responsibility for the animal you love and stop leaving food outside. It harms the street animals and the domestic ones and, in the end, can harm us as well.”

Source: Sue Surkess – TOI