Tokkolos: The Jack Who Loves Big Cats

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A tokkolos, according to the people of Namibia, where this famous Jack Russell lives, is a “mean little beast used to break into banks.” People also use the tokkolos to cast spells. It’s a frightening creature of legend — and the little dog that bears its name also looks frightening — at least to the ostriches he’s chasing in the Canadian documentary Dogs With Jobs.

But Tokkolos the Jack Russell Terrier has a soft side. In fact, he has proven himself a fantastic mom.

Tokkolos’s Story

Tokkolos’s life started out ordinarily enough. Marlice van der Merwe, whose family runs the Harnas Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Namibia (link:, purchased him as a pet. She took him to work with her, first introducing him to the animals in the enclosures, and then, to those that lived out on the savannah portions of the Center.

It was there, out on the savannah, that Tokkolos’s true gift — his parental instincts — began to show.

Tokkolos with Marlice van der Merwe. Image is a screen shot.

Tokkolos’s Job

In Namibia, in the southwestern part of Africa, many formerly wild places have given way to farmlands. Conflicts between farmers and predators are common, and, under the law, farmers have the right to shoot wild animals that threaten their farms.

This leaves behind a lot of orphans, particularly big cats.

Most big cats are nocturnal, but not cheetahs. And when Marlice van der Merwe started taking Tokkolas out onto the savannah, she noticed that orphaned cheetah kittens would follow Tokkolos as if he were their mother. They also imitated his behaviors, such as digging and grooming.

Tokkolos had no training. Being a surrogate mom came naturally to him.

Tokkolos on the job. Image is a screen shot.

Now Tokkolos is the official surrogate mother for orphaned big cats at the Center. His dominant Jack Russell personality allows him to keep them in line. But he also licks and cleans the babies, and teaches them manners and social skills. And when the time comes to line up baby animals for publicity photos, Tokkolos is on the job.

Tokkolos also acts as an ambassador for Harnas, going out with staff members to speak at schools and events, and spread the word about the center’s work.

About the Center

The Harnas Wildlife Rehabilitation Center is located in Namibia. It started, many years ago, with the rescue of a vervet monkey from an abusive owner. Then a nearby zoo shut down, and the van der Merwe family took in the former zoo’s lions. The center grew quickly after that, and today it’s a sanctuary, conservation center, and place of rehabilitation for all kinds of animals in need.

And Tokkolos is a vital part of those services.

Image: Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

How You Can Help

And if you just want to learn more about Tokkolos, you can do that, too! Have a look at his episode in the series Dogs With Jobs.

You can, of course, donate at the Center’s website (link: You can sponsor an animal, “adopt” an animal, or volunteer. And if you’re ever in the area, you can even do a stint on the savannah on one of their volunteer tour packages.

It’s amazing the big difference a little dog can make!

Featured Image is a screenshot from the featured video.

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