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Johan Gallant on Basenjis
Not sure where else to put this, so I'll put it here…
I was wondering if anyone else had read Johan Gallant's Story of the African Dog (Pietermaritzburg: University of Natal Press, 2002). I whipped through it a while back and found much to think about, though he doesn't speak specifically on Basenjis. I thought I would quote a bit from the book here for the purposes of education and inviting commentary, because I'm curious how serious Basenji folks would respond.
Under the section "Thoroughbreds with African Roots,? and speaking specifically of the Basenji, he writes:
My own experience with traditional Congolese dogs goes back to my 1957 travels in the country. My observation was that the dogs of the southern savannah were taller than those of the equatorial forest but were largely of the same type. Pricked ears and tightly curled tails were not a standard feature among either the savannah or the forest dogs. These details only became 'fixed' when the modern Basenji was selectively bred.
My more recent field work in southern Africa has confirmed for me that virtually all traditional African dogs carry an ancestral graioid streak. They inherited it from their forefathers who arrived on the African continent 7000 years ago and brought these genes from the protodogs from which they had evolved. It seems misplaced, therefore, when the canine-fancying world promotes the show Basenji as the prototype of the African dog. To the contrary, this pure-bred Basenji is a typical example of modern cynotechnical interference with the gene pool of a naturally evolving land race.
When, during the 1930s, Mpoa specimens were collected from the 'natural' dog populations endemic to the Congo forest, this chosen dozen formed the foundation stock for a new breed. Planned inbreeding within this isolated group ensured artificial selection towards set goals, defined (as is all too often the case) not by concern for the well being of the breed itself, but by fashionable standards of what is perceived to be attractive. The inevitable cost to the Basenji of such inbreeding within a small foundation stock has been the development of a host of hereditary defects associated with the breed. These have persisted despite the most dedicated efforts to eradicate them, for example, through the periodic introduction of new equatorial stock as recently as 1987. The American Kennel Club unfortunately since banned this practice.* The case of the Basenji is a sad illustration of the results that ill-considered genetic tampering can have. It seems that modern dogdom has simply accepted that this is the toll that modern breeds have to pay for their privilege of pleasing their eyes (p. 85, 87, emphasis mine).
- Okay, I know this isn't true since the books were since reopened, but this was published in 2002.
So while his words are harsh, I think I understand where he's coming from, and don't dismiss it out of hand. But I don't feel like his criticisms are all fair in light of how I complex I find "modern dogdom" to be. I was wondering if anyone here might care to respond?
The old pictures I have seen have the dogs with curly tails-perhaps some are not tightly curled but the tails are curled and over the back. Some of these pictures are before 1930-Major George Richards, a breeder in Southern Sudan in the 1920s.
When I think of the African Dog, I think of the African Wild Dog.
Professor Galalant is extremely knowledgeable. I've had this book since it first came out and it is so interesting and well worth reading..
Patty, I definitely found it an informative read from someone who obviously has lived with dogs from all walks of life. The pictures, of course, are gorgeous. And while he's talking more specifically about Africanis, venturing further south from where I understand Basenjis originate, he mentions characteristics that I could not help identifying with. The segment on "Comfort-seeking and relaxation," for example, had me chuckling:
When the weather is cold and windy, the Africanis will seek out a protected spot and curl up in its tail. It might even seek the comfort of body contact and go and lie down close to a partner.
I write this with Bowpi's muzzle snugly pressed up against my leg, as we're both sitting on the futon underneath some cozy blankets. It's not an earth-shattering observation to make, but it's an important one.
I am not much for scientific debates; I follow what I can. On a very practical and intimate level, it's striking to me how the reasons why humans love dogs are quite universal and timeless. Warmth, companionship, a partner in survival – whether they're bringing home meat that we can all share, or they enhance the domestic habitability of a home. I think this book straddles both the science and the culture of native African dogs quite nicely, which is why I like it. But at the same time, it's a reminder that there's something called the Basenji (with a capital B), or the Rhodesian Ridgeback, or the Salu(q/k)i, the Boerboel, etc., circulating outside of the whole continent of origin, and seldom the 'twain shall meet.
Jennifer, I really did not know anything about "African dogs" before Bowpi. This mural at a local pet store basically sums it up for me:
I'm kind of surprised that Ridgebacks don't even place on their mural, given how popular they are around here. What initially piqued my interest about Basenjis was less their place of origin, but their breed characteristics – cleanliness, elegance, personality, etc. But it does stir the imagination to think about where they fit alongside others like the "painted" African wild dog, whom I guess commanded more attention from Jane Gooddall and the like.