Is it true that jackals can be immune to anthrax?

Jackals have an unusual immunity to anthrax.

Tanzania, Ashura region, Ngorongoro Conservation Area, black-backed jackal (canis mesomelas)

Black-backed jackals in Etosha National Park occasionally feed on the carcasses of zebra, springbok and wildebeest that have been struck down by anthrax.

Advertisement

The herbivores pick up the disease as they munch on plants, by ingesting spores of anthrax bacteria lying dormant in soil where earlier anthrax victims fell. Casualties peak towards the end of the wet season, in March and April, and the jackals move in to scavenge on the bodies.

Surprisingly, these canids don’t tend to catch anthrax themselves – carnivores and omnivores are far less susceptible to the disease than herbivores. According to records, just one jackal, three lions and nine cheetahs have succumbed to anthrax in Etosha since 1975.

However, jackals are still at risk from other diseases. More than 20 individuals may congregate at a zebra carcass, increasing their chance of catching rabies or canine distemper from non-family members.


Do you have a wildlife question you’d like answered? Email your question to wildquestions@immediate.co.uk or post it to Q&A, BBC Wildlife Magazine, Immediate Media Company, Eagle House, Bristol, BS1 4ST.

Advertisement

Main image: Jackals are medium-sized omnivorous mammals of the genus Canis. © Eric Lafforgue/Art in All of Us/Getty