Volunteers are sought for participating in work with jackals (Canis aureus) at a location on the Bulgarian bank of the Lower Danube (Danube Km 727). In 2019, the field season is planned for 15 May - 10 September. Volunteers are expected to participate in jackal-monitoring activities and share in daily work for the maintenance of an off-grid camp. For introductory details see attached excerpt from the description of research activities in 2018, below. Preference will be given to applicants who can supply their own hunting cameras and are prepared to check them on a daily basis. All publications that are based on research activities in 2019 will acknowledge input of volunteers, or include them in the list of authors.
Part 1. Introductory: the setting and dramatis personnae
The main objective of the field study described below was to study human-jackal (Canis aureus) interaction by adapting classical social anthropological methods. I attempted a variant of participant observation by living for a sufficiently long time, mostly on my own, in an area in which jackal packs were active. Interaction was stimulated by establishing a bait site in close proximity to my tent. It helped me get an idea about jackal movements and feeding habits, the inner social organization of the pack, relations with adjacent packs, roles that various members of the pack assumed. Importantly, I could learn about the tensed relationships with humans from a jackals’ point of view. All responses to the food I offered – and how I offered it (see dish experiments, below) I treated as interviews with the jackals – hence the title of this Protocol. A more detailed presentation of this approach, as well as a discussion of the findings will be presented in a forthcoming article with the same general title.
For an idea about the field-study of Summer 2019 (15 May - 15 Sept.), please see part of the Written Protocol for last summer, below. The field-study this summer will be carried out in a similar way.
Time scheme This field study was carried out from 27 May until 11 September 2018. During this period, I had two breaks of ten and seven days, respectively, when I went back to Sofia, but had a crew around my younger son Bogdan to mind the camp, place food for the jackals, etc. The first break was on 27 June-7 July, the second on 29 July-5 August. During the first break, the camera remained strapped in place and recording. Due to some misunderstanding, it was not activated during the second break.
In the final account, a camera covered the principal site of observation for 100 days.
During the overall period, there were 282 jackal visits to the bait site, distributed in the following way:
Late May-late June (29.05-29.06), 32 days, 60 visits
Late June-late July (30.06-28.07), 31 days, 31 visits
Late July-end of August (5-31.08), 26 days, 135 visits
First eleven days of September (01-11.09), 11 days, 56 visits
Survey site The survey site was on the Bulgarian part of the Lower Danube with a base camp at River Km 727. The Google map below gives an idea where the camp stood on a general map of SE Europe:
On a close up of the immediate area around the camp, again from Google, there is the nearest village of Stanevo, 3 km to E-SE, and the larger Kovachevitsa, 6 km to W-SW. The nearest bigger towns are the port city of Lom, 16 km upriver, and Kozlodui, 30km downriver.
The above map provides an idea about the general lay of the land. Looking south from the river, there is first a pebbly beach, and then morfa bushes and trees, stretching for several kilometres on either side. A series of undulations follow, now thickly overgrown with tall grass, brambles, bigger bushes and trees, making the terrain almost impenetrable. From this area, which provided day cover for the jackals, there follows to the south a steep elevation of some fifty metres until one reached cultivated fields above.
The broad band of bushes and trees between the river on the Northern side, and the plateau with cultivated fields on the Southern, is the habitat area of ‘my’ pack, as well as possibly two neighbouring packs on the western and eastern sides, respectively. Save for anglers’ tent camps along the river, which appeared briefly from time to time, and my own camp, human presence in the area was minimal even during the summer months. During the rest of the year, the place sees some human presence only by hunters during the hunting season (1 Oct.- 31 Jan.), or occasional local fishermen.
The Camp at BG Km 727, 1.09.2018
As it can be seen in the photo above, between the river and the thickly overgrown area to the south (locally referred to as ‘the jungle’) there is a pebbly beach. The jackals’ nightly routine was to come from the eastern side of the beach, just behind the first rows of trees and morfa bushes. Afterwards, they would often cross over to the river’s edge. This was an activity, which left many very clear tracks on soft muddy strips along the water. Apart from drinking water, my suspicion was that the jackals were after frogs of which there was great abundance. My attempts to catch them at it by placing a camera facing the beach did not bring any results, however.
The width of the beach contracted and expanded with the rise and fall of the level of the river. The highest level was reached on 21 of June (423 cm), and the lowest on 28 Aug. (96 cm). At high levels, the width of the beach would be about 10 m, at lowest – nearly 80 m. When levels fell below 250 cm, a rough car road would be improvised, with occasional cars passing up and down the beach.
The bait site The survey was self-funded and thus its technical possibilities were limited. The main tools were two hunting cameras, but due to difficulties with supply of batteries, during most of time, only one was actually used: an Apeman H 68 (the other one was Victure Trail Game Camera 1080P 12MP). One of the cameras was permanently standing on a tree and set to take one picture, and then a clip of 20 to 30 sec. Once batteries weakened though, the clip time quickly fell to 10, then to 5 sec.
The camera stood sixteen metres away from the tent. It was fixed 1.5 m from the ground on the tree in the middle of the picture below, trained on the opening to the left. In the centre of that opening, and at a distance of three metres from the tree, food was placed every evening at about 18:00 hrs. With time and the jackals digging for leftovers, the place where I placed the food began to resemble a shallow bowl, henceforth referred to as ‘the bowl’. All around it were bushes except where the opening faced the beach and the river.
From left to right: opening with the ‘bowl’, camera tree, main tent of the camp
This description reflects two choices deliberately made: proximity to human dwelling (my tent), and baiting (du Preez et al. 2014; Thorn et al. 2009). Both of them follow from the objective stated at the beginning: how to study human/jackal interaction by adapting social anthropological methods.
View of bait site from the camera tree in early morning. The ‘bowl’ is seen in the centre with the morfa bushes on the eastern, southern, and western sides
Visits A visit was considered to be the appearance of a jackal/jackals in the range of the camera, their following activities, and a concluding exit, before another jackal or jackals appeared.
A visit would begin either with a still photo of a jackal looking at the camera, or with a temporary exit movement, henceforth referred to as ‘retreat’. This last will be discussed in some detail further down.
Before that, it is to be stressed that, as it became evident from the very start, the animals saw the camera, and registered the moment when it was being activated (cf. Meek et al. 2012:44; Meek et al. 2014).
Beginning of a visit: eyes fixed on the camera
Due to the interval between the activation of the camera by movement and taking the actual shot, very often the beginning of a visiting session would be marked by the back of a retreating jackal (‘retreat’).
Retreat would then follow each separate instance of eating from the ‘bowl’. The entire visiting session would often be punctuated by such retreat shots. So, usually the first still shot is of retreat, meaning that the camera could not catch the movement to the bowl before that – the ‘coming in’. For some reason, a second coming in would be registered, as well as the movements which follow that.
The visit would end by either a calm movement away, or running away as if from approaching danger. Overwhelmingly, danger was sensed to come from the western side of the bank, some 10-15 metres in front of my tent. Escape was to the eastern side of the bushy strip, usually along the rough road that occasional passing cars formed with the advance of summer.
Time, duration, and frequency of visits During the night, there could be no visit (‘empty night’), only 1 visit, or as many as 11 or even 12 visits (like on 22-23 Aug.). The earliest visit was at 20:58 DST (9 June). A late visit was registered on 17 July at 05.08, and the latest at 06:23 (24 Aug.).
The overwhelming majority of visits happened between 23:30 and 04:30 DST. Thus, they roughly corresponded to the time after I went to bed, and before I was up.
Visit duration would be from a minute to as much as 8 minutes, (e.g. 5th visit, 10-11 Sept.). On the average, the duration would be 1-3 minutes.
Bait and Baking Dish Experiments The bait used was innards and other remains from fish I caught (which was my main diet). Other than that, there were vegetable peelings (potato) and leftovers from my meals. As this was not very much, the bait was augmented by pieces of bread I could spare, but mainly by oat-flakes with an expired date that friends who had a small muesli business had given me as feed for attracting fish. This proved to be a great success with the jackals, which was lucky, as I did not have too much food myself. The oat-flakes I would soak in water during the day and in the evening pour the mush into the ‘bowl’.
This mush prompted me to start what I call here ‘(baking) dish experiments’ (DEs). This was simply not dumping the mush on the ground – into the ‘bowl’ – but serving it in an aluminium baking dish. As this triggered a rich array of responses, which were informative for my main theme of human-animal interaction, the rest of my presentation of data is organized into two parts. The first one describes in necessarily abridged form jackal visits before the dish experiments began on 30 June. The second part describes the dish experiments in some detail, as well as what happened in the nights between them. This material will be sent to interested volunteers upon request.
Cuisine/repas pour la famille
Aide à la maison
Volunteers will benefit from a close communion with non-human persons (jackals): their social organisation and inner hierarchy, coping in a heavily anthropomorphised environment, surviving under considerable extermination pressure. This is the closest to a maeso-predator most people can get. The experience might change their outlook on human/non-human relationships.
Volunteers will be expected to help in the following research and camp maintenance activities:
1. Research activities: (i) Check on a daily basis visual material as recorded by hunting cameras of jackal visits; (ii) Weed out uninformative recordings and enter the remaining data in observation protocols; (iii) leave food at bait stations on a daily basis; 2. Camp maintenance activities: (iv) help with fishing activities for subsistence needs (net fishing); (v) help with vegetable gardening activities for subsistence; (vi) help in cooking and other kitchen activities; (vii) help in wood gathering (fire wood), cleaning the camp area.
Off-grid tent camp in an isolated locality. Electric power is supplied by solar panels and, in an emergency, by electric generator. Food (fish) is caught in the Danube, supplemented by vegetables grown on the spot (tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers). Other food products are bought at the village of Kovachevitsa, 6 km. away. Bottled mineral water is bought from the same village.
Accommodation is in tents. There are camp-beds in the tents, mattresses, pillows, two blankets per bed for three people max. Workaways are expected to have their own sleeping bags.
In their free time, participants are encouraged to visit the nearest port-city of Lom (16 km. upriver by boat). From the bigger port city of Vidin (approx. 60 km upriver), there is an opportunity of crossing over to the Romanian bank of the Danube (Danube Bridge II). Or simply enjoy a quiet day by the river, or visiting the nearby villages (the open air vegetable market at Kovatchitsa recommended on Sundays). A two-seat canoe and an outboard powered inflatable dinghy will be available.
Important! This is a self-funded field-research trip. Participants are expected to pay their own travel expenses to Lom and back, as also to contribute for daily subsistence needs and petrol (outboard engine, chain-saw, electric generator). Note: this is a rugged life-style, often in daily temperatures above 30 degrees Centigrade during the summer season. Strong winds and lightning storms are not uncommon. Volunteers should be sure they are not alergic to blood-sucking insects or other insect bites (bees, wasps).
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Maximum 4-5 hours a day, 5 days a week