Friday May 19, 2017

How a push to revive an ancient dog helps Mongolian farmers

The Mongolian Bankhar dog originated 15,000 years ago in Central Asia.

The Mongolian Bankhar dog originated 15,000 years ago in Central Asia. (The Mongolian Bankhar Dog Project)

Listen 21:27

Around the world, there's a movement to save rare local dog breeds from disappearing.

It's an effort Bruce Elfström is committed to when it comes to the Mongolian Bankhar dog — a  dog he says has the potential to change human lives and help local ecosystems in the process.

The origins of the Mongolian Bankhar dog go back 15,000 years ago in Central Asia.

"Basically the dogs that used to be on the Asian steppes and along the trade routes — they were dogs that had evolved with people to take care of their possessions — especially their livestock," Elfström tells The Current's Friday host Duncan McCue. 

Boris the dog

Boris is a Polish Lowland sheepdog, a breed that previously almost disappeared (Marina Haufschild)

As a biologist and knowing that the Mongolian Bankhar dog was disappearing, Elfström created a project to reintroduce the breed back with local herders to help with wolves, and other predators, killing their livestock.

"Mongolia nomads rely 100 per cent on livestock and currently on the cashmere trade,"  Elfström explains.

The Bankhar dog was raised by sheep from the beginning, says Elfström.

"This dog excludes all other predators from the area … they bark in the area and mark their territory. As the herd or flock moves, that is their radius of territory. So it's a nomadic type of existence just like the nomadic lifestyle of the people." 

Canadians dog breeds in danger of extinction too: breeder

Canada has five indigenous breed of dogs: the Newfoundlander, Labarador retriever, the Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever, the Eskimo dog and the Tahltan Bear dog. 

Dr. Richard Meen, the only Canadian breeder for the Skye terrier from Scotland, tells McCue that the Tahltan bear dog is already extinct and the Eskimo dog almost had a similar fate.

"The Canadian Kennel club supported … the preservation of that breed, and so over the last few decades, people have been becoming involved and are preserving that breed," Meen says, adding that the Eskimo dog is not a preferred term anymore and is often called Inuit dog or Qimmiq.

When reviving ancient dogs, Meen says it's important to start with a large enough gene pool so the animal hasn't been truncated with genetic information in order to prevent health issues down the line.

"When you have pugs and bulldogs and things like that, they've gone through a series of humans deciding what that animal should look like. When a human decides what something should look like, there are many, many traits that are lost in the process to get to that final goal," he says.

Mongolian Bankhar

Although the Mongolian Bankhar dog is a large dog, they are very fast runners to keep up with predator wolves. (The Mongolian Bankhar Dog Project)

"So the answer is start with something that has a high genetic diversity and the Bankhar actually turns out — through a study we helped with Cornell University — to have one of the highest genetic diversities in the world," Meen tells McCue.

A dog like the Mongolian Bankhar dog, Meen points out, exists because the environment has created this breed — a large dog that is a fast runner to chase wolves, has a low metabolism and has long hair to protect itself: all traits for the conditions it works in.

"All of that you can't really create by selective modern forms of breeding. This took tens of thousands of years to create."

Listen to the full segment at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Shannon Higgins and Sujata Berry.