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Wild Dog Introduction Report

wilddog report pup jogi face closeupintroducing two groups wilddog

An attempt of social integration of two unrelated wild dog packs and re-introduction in the Okonjima Nature Reserve

With an estimated 6 000 - 7 000 (Creel & Creel, 2015) individuals left in the wild, the African wild dog (Lycaon pictus) is classified as "Endangered" according to the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species (IUCN, 2015.2). Habitat degradation and fragmentation, relentless anthropogenic persecution, prey depletion as well as the exposure to infectious diseases such as rabies and canine distemper, are contributing to a continuing decreasing population trend. Once distributed throughout most of sub-Saharan Africa, at present, wild dog distribution is restricted to areas with low human population densities in East and southern Africa. Conservation efforts are diverse and include intensive population monitoring programmes, human-wildlife mitigation, habitat restoration and rabies vaccination campaigns for domestic dogs. A new management approach in South Africa involves the re-introduction of wild dogs into suitable conservation areas (Mills et al. 1998) whereby geographically isolated sub-populations are managed as a single meta-population. In order to preserve and enhance gene flow translocations and introductions among packs are implemented. Even though the artificial augmentation of packs was successfully recorded in a few cases where wild dog packs adopted unrelated pups (McNutt et al. 2008), little is known about the process of pack formation of unrelated adult individuals. Therefore more data is required in order to understand the underlying factors that are influencing the outcomes and to establish artificial pack augmentation as an integral part in the conservation of African wild dogs.

Even though wild dogs have been successfully re-introduced to several fenced nature reserves in South Africa - due to a high failure rate and the majority of conservation efforts generally targeting existing populations (Potgieter et al. 2012), the re-introduction of wild dogs has yet no high priority in the field of wild dog conservation in countries outside South Africa.

Rehabilitation and re-introductions of wild dogs are often unsuccessful due to the lack of survival skills and their complex social and foraging behaviour (Woodroffe & Ginsberg1999). Wild dog packs, exclusively consisting of captive-reared individuals, were released into the Etosha National Park in 1978, 1989 and 1990; all experienced problems in the co-ordination of their hunting behaviour (Scheepers & Venzke, 1995) and suffered from the predation by higher-order carnivores such as lions (Panthera leo) (Scheepers & Venzke, 1995). However, studies showed that captive-bred animals - when released together with wild caught-individuals - obtained hunting skills more rapidly (Maddock, 1992; Mills et al. 1998) than groups that solely consisted of captive-raised individuals.


Study Animals

On the 14th of July 2014, the AfriCat Foundation was requested by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) to collect three orphaned wild dog pups (two males - Jogi and Messi, and one female, Robin) from the Okakarara area, Otjozonjupa Region, after they had been handed over by community members; six additional pups were found dead by the time they were rescued.

Initially housed in a semi-open holding facility at the AfriCat headquarters, the pups recovered, from malnourishment, episodic fever and deep skin wounds around their necks, under the care of the AfriCat team. All dogs were vaccinated against rabies and canine distemper before they were moved into a larger, more open camp in September 2014. In August, one of the two male pups (Jogi) suffered from an initially undetected tibial green stick fracture of his right hind leg. X-rays were taken approximately eight weeks later, but revealed a full recovery and healing of the tibia. The two males were vasectomized in June 2015.

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The orphaned wild dog trio Yogi, Messi and Robin. From left to right: Robin, Messi, Jogi.
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Messi, Robin, Jogi.
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Messi, Robin, Jogi.
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Messi (front), Jogi (back)
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Messi (front), Jogi (back)


After spending eight months in close proximity to the AfriCat Carnivore Care Centre, as part of their rehabilitation programme the three young dogs were relocated into a 5 ha soft release camp situated within the 20 000 ha Okonjima Nature Reserve. A fence dividing the camp into two sections (2 x 2.5 ha), was erected in preparation for the introduction of the three young wild dog to the two ten-year old wild dog females, Ricky and Raine.

Just like the youngsters, Ricky and Raine arrived together with their five siblings, as orphans at the AfriCat Carnivore Care Centre in 2005. Together with Ruby and Rex, Ricky and Raine were successfully released and rehabilitated into the Okonjima Nature Reserve in 2010. At a mature age of 10 years, during the last few months Ricky and Raine were struggling more and more to take down large enough prey to fully sustain themselves. Thus, we had hoped that by increasing the size of the pack by introducing the three young wild dogs (i) Ricky and Raine could gain direct benefits from an increased and stronger pack, and (ii) the three youngsters would acquire the needed hunting skills from the experienced females, in order to survive in the wild.

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Ricky (front) and Raine (back)
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Ricky (front) and Raine (back right) together with their brother Rex (left).


Table 1. Steps of rehabilitation programme of orphaned wild dog trio Ypgi, Messi and Robin, July 2014 - July 2015

Time Frame Steps of Rehabilitation Programme
13 July 2014 - 14 Sept 2014 Semi-open holding facility at AfriCat Carnivore Care Centre.
15 Sept 2014 - 01 Dec 2014 Translocation to 200m2 holding camp at AfriCat Carnivore Care Centre.
02 Dec 2014 - 27 May 2015 Move into 3 ha camp displaying natural vegetation and surrounded by electrical fencing.
28 May 2015 - 12 July 2015 Translocation to 5 ha soft release camp, located within 20 000 ha Okonjima Nature Reserve (known as Alcatraz).
31 May - 12 July 2015 Social acclimatization phase: 5ha camp divided in half, Ricky and Raine housed adjacent to the trio, in the other side of the soft release camp (31 May 2015).
09 July 2015 Opening of dividing fence; and first physical introduction of the two wild dog packs.
13 July 2015 Release into 20 000 ha Okonjima Nature Reserve.
13 July 2015 - 26 July 2015 Initial excursions and explorations in close proximity to the release site and regular returns to release site.
27 July 2015 Second physical introduction to Ricky and Raine outside of soft release camp (Alcatraz).
28 July 2015 Raine sustained fatal head and body injuries after repeated attacks from the young dogs.
30 July 2015 (Temporal) integration of Ricky into pack.


Bonding Attempt 1

Curiosity was displayed by both groups upon initial contact and was accompanied by a constant running up and down the dividing fence. No aggression was displayed. From the offset, both groups remained close to the fence and were observed resting alongside the fence line. Wild dogs commonly rest in close proximity to their pack members; hence, the strength of social bonding is often reflected in the resting pattern of the packs (McCreery, 1999). The two older females uttered continuous 'whining' calls, showing submissive behaviour from the start. Contact through the fence was initiated by both groups and involved sniffing as well as licking; developing social bonds is a prerequisite for successful pack formation (Potgieter, 2009). Scat of both groups were collected and respectively scattered in the camp of the opposite group.

Therefore, social acclimatization, where animals are kept in adjacent camps allowing olfactory, auditory and visual contact and then remain as a newly formed pack within a soft release camp for a certain period of time before release into the wild, seems to promote social bonds and integration (Woodroffe & Ginsberg, 1997; Graf et al. 2006; Gusset, Slotow & Somers, 2006,).

After a soft acclimatization period of 39 days, the gate of the dividing fence was opened and the dogs experienced their first direct physical contact.

The first few hours were dominated by excited chasing, where the three youngsters actively chased the older females; while Ricky sought direct physical contact with the young dogs and was showing submissive behaviour in response to aggression, Raine generally avoided confrontations through physical withdrawal. Submissive behaviour was tested by the younger dogs through continuous nipping at hind legs and ears which caused multiple, superficial bite wounds to the two older females. Escalated fighting was observed, usually occurring after a period of rest and was mainly initiated by the young female (Robin).

Both older females suffered from bite wounds on hind legs, necks and head. Ricky required medical attention and needed to be immobilized to determine the extent of her injuries; her wounds - mainly superficial cuts on the hind legs - were cleaned and disinfected and she was treated with a long-acting antibiotic. Based on the high degree of aggression towards the two older females and perceived reluctance by the three to incorporate Ricky and Raine into their pack, we decided once again, to temporarily separate both groups again.

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First physical introduction of Ricky and Raine to the wild dog youngsters Jogi, Messi and Robin. The first hours were dominated by excited chasing, where the three young dogs actively chased the older females. While Ricky sought direct physical contact with the young dogs and was showing submissive behaviour in response to aggression, Raine generally avoided confrontations through physical withdrawal. Submissive behaviour was tested through continuous nipping at hind legs, neck and ears which caused multiple, superficial bite wounds to the two older females. Escalated fighting was observed on a few occasions and was interrupted by the use of pressurized water hosed from firefighting machines.


4 days later - on the morning of 13 July 2015 - the three yearlings were released into the 20 000 ha Okonjima Nature Reserve without the two females. Initial excursions and explorations in close proximity to the release site (max. distance covered: 3.5 kilometres) resulted in regular returns to Alcatraz; the trio generally rested close to the fence line or close to the camp. Uncoordinated attempts at chasing game which included oryx, giraffe and blue wildebeest, were observed, but remained unsuccessful; thus supplementary meat was provided every 2 - 3 days. The closest water points are located 1.6 km and 1.9 km from the release site and were frequently visited by the young dogs.

The two older females - which still remained within Alcatraz - constantly uttered whining 'calls' when the yearlings where close by and so called "hoo-calls" (a long distance communication call that commonly signals distress and is used when individuals get separated from the pack), when the dogs were out of sight.


Bonding Attempt 2

Two weeks later, the gates of Alcatraz opened for Ricky and Raine. In preparation, the youngsters were encouraged away from Alcatraz (approx. 2 kilometres) using pieces of meat; after approximately 45 minutes, the trio ran back to Alcatraz to meet up with Ricky and Raine. During this encounter there was less excitement and less aggression was directed towards the two older females, the contact was rather accompanied by curious sniffing and nibbling. While Raine kept her distance, Ricky initiated contact by constantly approaching the three young dogs constantly, but was usually chased away by Robin, the young female. By that afternoon, all five dogs were found resting at Alcatraz - the two groups lying approximately 30 metres apart.

The next morning the dogs were found about 3 kilometres away from their release site (so far unknown territory for the three youngsters), with the two older females leading the pack. Four hours later, Team AfriCat was informed that Ricky and Raine had once again been attacked by the three young dogs. Raine was found separated from the group while Ricky, who only displayed minor bite wounds, remained with Jogi, Messi and Robin. Raine on the other hand, had suffered severe injuries to the head and hind legs. After a temporary re-union with the other four dogs, Raine left the pack in the afternoon.

Raine’s condition deteriorated rapidly within the next two days and we immobilized her to clean up her wounds and treat her with antibiotics and painkillers. Subsequently, Raine was placed into Alcatraz to recover from her injuries. However, Raine didn’t show any signs of improvement; she appeared weak and exhausted and refused food intake. Three days later Raine was euthanized to prevent unnecessary suffering. Post mortem analyses revealed multiple puncture wounds around the abdomen, sternum and head which eventually caused a septic peritonitis due to a bacterial contamination.

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The second bonding attempt was accompanied by less aggression and excitement and resulted in the temporary integration of Ricky into the pack.
Raine sustained fatal injuries after repeated attacks from the youngsters.


The artificial bonding of unrelated wild dog packs.

The success of artificially bonding two unrelated packs depends on several factors such as group size, sex ratio, relatedness within and between packs as well as the total time spent together in adjacent enclosures (Potgieter et al. 2012). According to the theory of group augmentation, individuals are more willing to except unrelated individuals when group size is below a critical threshold and members of the group could benefit directly from the recruitment of additional helpers (Graf et al. 2006). A larger group size is beneficiary in terms of improved foraging efficiency, breeding success and individual survival. Hence, the artificial integration of two packs consisting of a minimal number of pack members - in theory - would favor a successful pack formation.

The biggest risk is rejection and the occurrence of fatal aggression between the two groups. To reduce aggression and to make pack members more familiar to one another, the use of scat or saliva is recommended. In this way individuals will be become more familiar with each others’ scent.

The formation of a new pack gives each member the opportunity to adjust existing relationships to other pack members as well as their own position in the hierarchy and therefore is commonly accompanied by excitement and aggression. Wild dogs emigrate from their natal pack on average at 22 months (females) and 28 months (males) of age, respectively (McNutt, 1996) in same-sexed groups. The dispersed group will eventually join an opposite-sexed group which may or may not lead to the establishment of a stable reproduction unit. Separated hierarchies exist in males and females and are therefore maintained within each sex (Frame et al. 1979). The integration of same-sexed individuals is rare and has only been observed in packs smaller than the average (≤6) (McNutt, 1996). For this reason, artificial integration of opposite-sexed groups is favourable (Potgieter, 2009) mimicking a natural situation where a dispersing male group is joining a dispersing female sibling group from another pack where hierarchies are already established upon formation process. The fact that both our groups included females represented a difficulty from the starting point and implied a tendency for aggression between the females of both packs (Graf et al. 2006). Personal communication with wild dog specialists in South Africa established that the bonding of different sexed groups poses challenges and the success rate was found to be extremely low. Same sexed individuals will compete directly with each other for rank and hierarchy. Consequential fights may result in injuries and even fatalities, with smaller and weaker packs usually losing during these encounters (Graf et al. 2006).

The majority of the agonistic behaviour originated from the young female and was directed towards the two older females, while the two young males only followed their sisters’ lead. Ricky, who was the subordinate female in her previous pack, remained submissive and didn’t challenge Robin’s alpha-position during the encounter, but rather showed submissive behaviour and didn’t retaliate during aggressive meetings. Raine, who was dominant over Ricky, generally avoided physical encounters with the young dogs and didn’t show submission towards Robin.

To date, it seems that the young dogs have accepted Ricky into their pack. She still seems to be very careful and restrained, but amiable and gentle behaviour has been observed between the dogs; furthermore, no aggression is involved during feeding. However, due to her mature age and a severe limp of her right fore leg caused by a previous fracture, we are not sure for how long Ricky will be able to keep up with the 1- year old trio.

Almost two months after release Jogi, Messi, Robin and Ricky are covering large areas of the 20 000 ha Okonjima Nature Reserve with occasional returns to their release site. Contrary to all expectations the pack claimed their first successful hunt just four weeks after release; with Messi and Ricky in the lead, the dogs managed to dig their first warthog out of its hole. Obviously establishing a routine, the dogs added four more successful warthog hunts during the last few weeks. Ricky remains the lowest ranking member of the pack, but is regularly found lying close to the three youngsters. Constant monitoring of movement and pack dynamics will tell if Ricky is accepted into the pack as a full member and if this attempt at introduction will ultimately be a success.

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Ricky remains the lowest ranking member of the pack, but amiable and gentle behaviour is regularly observed between the dogs. Constant monitoring of movement and pack dynamics will tell if Ricky is accepted into the pack as a full member and if this attempt at introduction will ultimately be a success.



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