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The AfriCat Wild Dogs - Messi, Jogi and Robin

2016 wild dog story2016 wild dog story

A successful integration

After the successful integration of our 10-year old wild female dog, Ricky, into the pack FIFA, which consists of the three orphaned pups Jogi, Messi and Robin, the newly established pack are finally roaming every corner of the 20 000 ha Okonjima Nature Reserve!

See: An attempt of social integration of two unrelated wild dog packs and re-introduction in the Okonjima Nature Reserve
and The Wild Dogs - Part 2: Team FIFA and The Wild Dog Management Plan 2014 / 2015

With Ricky being an experienced and skillful hunter, Team FIFA quickly learned and adapted to the rules of the wild, and started hunting regularly after only four weeks following their release in July 2015. The rehabilitation of wild dogs often fails due to lack of hunting abilities and survival skills. However, research has shown that animals raised in captivity obtain hunting skills more rapidly when they are released with those which have also been caught in the wild, compared to a rehabilitated group which solely consists of animals reared in captivity. Ricky, by definition, not exactly a 'wild caught' individual, but rather had been raised in captivity, and subsequently rehabilitated into the wild together with her siblings Rex, Ruby and Raine  played a crucial role in teaching the young, wild and inexperienced dogs lessons of the bush, and had a strong impact in making them the successful hunters they are today.


The dogs quickly developed a preference for warthogs, but were just as successful when it came to subduing larger prey such as kudu, oryx or juvenile eland. Despite her importance in the pack, Ricky remained the lowest ranking member and was often deprived of food if there was not enough available. As she was older, and looked almost skinny, we provided her with occasional supplemental food. A deformation of her left front foot - a remnant from a fractured ankle in her early years - and its’ associated pain predicts that, in the long-term, Ricky will struggle to keep up with her young and energetic companions - who effortlessly cover distances of up to 10 kilometers per day. However, to all our surprise during all these months, Ricky wasn’t once found lost or looking for her mates, instead Jogi, Messi and Robin were the ones waiting for her, in case she fell behind!

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Family interrupted

At the beginning of the year Messi was found more and more frequently cuddled up with Ricky, while, on the other hand, Jogi and Robin formed another inseparable duo. Simultaneously Ricky’s condition noticeably deteriorated, and her body looked emaciated. Additionally Ricky seemed to be on heat causing quite some trouble within the family unit. On the 26th of February 2016, Team FIFA were found to be split for the first time since their release in July 2015. Jogi and Robin were moving together southwards, while Ricky and Messi remained in the central part of the reserve. When the two groups encountered each other again two days later, it resulted in a severe fight that escalated between the two 2-year old brothers, Jogi and Messi. The wild dog breeding season usually takes place between February and May, and during that time an increased intrapack aggression can be observed in packs. This results from subordinate animals trying to improve their ranking within the hierarchy of the pack, and can lead to severe attacks on individuals which may even result in mortalities. It has been found that intrapack attack is the most common cause of death in captive wild dogs, but is less common in free-ranging dogs due to less restriction on space and thus, the ability to avoid confrontations.

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Even though Jogi and Messi suffered bite wounds around the head and neck during their fight, leaving Messi with a floppy ear, Messi successfully defended his dominant position in the pack. Both males are vasectomized, which means that they are sterile and cannot father any pups, however, they continue to show normal male behaviour (such as marking territories or mating with females in estrus); this is because the testicles are not removed during the vasectomy, and they still produce testosterone, which promotes this natural male behavior.

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Following this severe clash between the two brothers, the atmosphere between them calmed down again. Messi continued to stay with Ricky however, and fiercely tried to keep Jogi away from her. Meanwhile, Jogi continued to show clear signs of submission towards his brother, and so at least the pack was able to move together, and didn’t split again.

2016 wild dog story2016 wild dog story

On the 6th of March we found Ricky once more guarded by Messi, but she seemed to have serious problems and struggled to walk without falling down. It appeared as though she developed a serious hip injury, and possibly Messi had somehow hurt her aging body while attempting to mate with her. Over the following two days, we observed and hoped her condition would only be temporary and improve again. However, it became clear that her state was getting worse rather than better, and so we decided that it was most humane to euthanize her, considering her age and current situation, in order to prevent more unnecessary suffering.

Ricky was euthanized on the 8th of March 2016 with the age of 11 years. Ricky was the smallest pup of her litter, but she proved that this doesn’t necessarily mean the weakest. She was determined to survive, outlived all her siblings, and was to a large extent responsible for the success story of Team FIFA. Rest in Peace, brave Ricky.

After Ricky’s death, Messi started to project onto his sister Robin the exact same behavior he had showed with Ricky . Messi didn’t leave the side of his sister and tried to keep Jogi at a distance, even inflicting some minor bite wounds on his back-side. Such behavior is not dramatic in a 'normal' sized pack of 5 - 15 adults and yearlings (Creel and Creel, 2002) since, usually, a pack consists of one alpha male and several subordinate males of different ranks. However, in an artificial pack situation like ours where the pack consists of only three dogs, Jogi found himself as the only subordinate dog left alone by his pack mates. The disrupted pack dynamics were also mirrored in the dogs hunting behaviour  . . .  not working as a team anymore, the dogs struggled to take down prey.

Fortunately, a week later, things returned to normal. Messi stopped guarding Robin, and no more rivalry or fighting was observed between the two brothers. The sibling trio started to return to their old routine of moving over large distances, and were observed on several hunting expeditions.

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On the 6th of April, Jogi and Robin were spotted close to a dry riverbank together, but without their brother Messi. The previous night all three dogs had been seen together close to a dam side where they were feeding on a warthog. So, where was Messi?! As Jogi is the only collared dog of the pack, tracking Messi down turned out to be harder than initially assumed . . . .

A few weeks ago Robin had also become separated from the rest of the pack. While Messi, Jogi and Ricky were found resting underneath a tree in the eastern part of the reserve, Robin was located a few hours later five kilometers west. Eventually the team was able to lure both groups closer together, and Robin’s constant calling for her pack mates helped to do the rest, and the dogs were soon united again.

This time, we thought Messi had probably got lost, in the heat of the moment, during a hunt or chase and would soon be re-united with his siblings. Nevertheless, Team AfriCat and Okonjima guides and trackers started searching the surrounding area on foot, including nearby water points - but no sign of Messi. Robin and Jogi continue to return to the spot where we think that they may have lost their brother, and are only moving in close proximity to that place.

Past experiences have taught us that a pack will usually stay with an injured or dead companion for at least a couple of days before they move on. The basic fact that we haven’t found any hints of an injured or dead Messi leaves us with some hope that he will appear somewhere, sometime. But, as time and days go by we are preparing for the worst. With constant surveillance of the reserve by the team, guides and park staff, and no single sign of life - no tracks, no calling – we believe Messi will not be returning to his siblings. This will leave the pack as 2 dog strong only, meaning that hunting will be difficult, and we will therefore be monitoring the 2 last remaining wild dogs very carefully . . .

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