This a video about an appeal to for a basenji that is suffering from both Fanconi syndrome and either an ulcer or a tumor. The dog’s owner is need of funds for a endoscopic exam to determine whether she has either a tumor or an ulcer.
Basenjis look like they could be the most healthy dogs ever. They are very close to the primitive “wolf-like” dogs. They are more closely related to Middle Eastern wolves, which have been posited as a possible source of ancestry for domestic dogs, than other breeds are. The rarely bark, which may have been adaptation to avoid leopard predation. Leopards love dog and jackal meat and a barking dog or jackal is likely to draw in a leopard.
Or the dogs may have never developed barking at all. However, wolves do bark, especially when they feel that there is a threat near their young, and I have personally heard a coyote bark, which sounds almost exactly like a dog of half its size.
Basenjis are also typically monestrous, which means they have only one heat cycle per year– usually in the autumn months. There are other breeds that have monestrous breeding cycles, certain laikas and primitive sighthounds, but the basenji is the most famous for having these traits. Basenjis are comparatively much more common in North America than any of those breeds.
Basenjis obviously have no extreme exaggerations in conformation. They are not pugs or bulldogs with flattened muzzles and distorted airways that make breathing and cooling themselves problematic. They are not German shepherds with sloping backs or dachshunds with legs too short and backs too long– both of which cause massive structural problems for the dogs.
No. The basenji’s problems are much harder to understand.
The basenji’s problems come from what I call the Tristan da Cunha problem. It’s a phenomenon better known as a founder effect.
The reason why I refer to Tristan da Cunha is that is good example of what happens when a relatively small population is reproductively isolated.
32 percent of all islanders on St. Tristan da Cunha have a history of asthma, yet they live on a very isolated island in the South Atlantic Ocean. The people who founded the island’s population were a mixture of the British garrison that guarded Napoleon on St. Helena and some Dutch, Italian and American settlers who came to the island. The entire population is derived from just 15 individuals, which is actually very similar to human population resembling a closed registry breed of dog.
Three of the original founders were asthma sufferers, which 1 out of 5, and is actually much higher than one would expect in a nineteenth century population living in a part of the world with no industry.
But because that population became isolated from the rest of humanity, those alleles for heightened tendency towards asthma became more and more common in the population. With no new blood coming into the population, the tendency for people to inherit these alleles simply became more likely.
Now, this is exactly what happened to the basenji in the West. The basenji is naturally occurring landrace that occurs in central Africa. It was never a breed in the sense that it had a closed registry and a breed standard. However, that all changed when Western dog fanciers became interested in them.
In the twentieth century, there were three major importations of basenjis into the West. The first of these came in the 1920’s, when Lady Helen Nutting brought six dogs to England from the Sudan. All of these dogs died of distemper, but in the 1940’s, the famous (or infamous) German-American animal importer Henry Trefflich imported some basenjis from the Congo Basin into the UK and the US. Trefflich was into importing exotic animals from Africa, South America, and Asia for circuses, zoos, and Hollywood movies. His normal imports included hippos and jaguars, but a barkless dog from deepest, darkest Africa certainly would have been an amazing item to offer for sale.
Until the 1990’s, all basenjis in the West were derived from Trefflich’s imports. They were bred as a closed registry population, just like the population of Tristan da Cunha. However, unlike the human population, where incest is a taboo, basenjis began to be bred for the dog shows, and line breeding became more and more common. Line breeding, which is a variant of inbreeding (regardless of what the so-called dog experts tell you), is a very good way to make the problems that come from founder effect much worse. Within these dogs were the genetic tendency towards Fanconi syndrome,
In the 1990’s, it was decided that the basenji needed some new blood, so 14 dogs were imported from Central Africa to increase genetic diversity. These imports also introduced brindle coloration into the breed, but because the breed is still managed in a closed registry system, the dogs still have problems. Fanconi syndrome, which the dog in the video suffers from, is the most infamous disease in the breed. It’s a disorder that prevents the kidneys from reabsorbing electrolytes and nutrients, and it can result in significant organ damage if not treated.
The reason why it’s so common in basenjis is that in that founding population that Trefflich imported, there were dogs with a genetic tendency towards the disorder in the population. When these dogs were bred in a closed off population, the alleles for the tendency toward the disorder wound up being expressed. The allele for Fanconi syndrome in basenjis is a simple recessive, meaning that it would only ever be express if a dog inherited two copies of the allele from both parents. In a genetically diverse population, these recessives would have less of a likelihood of being expressed, which is a good reason why we ought to scuttle the entire closed registry system for domestic dogs.
Fanconi syndrome is now very common in basenjis, and even though a genetic test is available for selecting away from the disorder, one has to wonder if trying to breed out this disease is the best way to manage it
The best way to manage it would be to have an open registry for basenjis. This is how it would have been managed naturally in the Central African population. Genetic diversity and constant gene flow would prevent this disorder from being
Yes, I’m aware that breeding them to Western dogs would meant that some of the super special basenji traits might be reduced– at least in F1 crosses. The famous Scott and Fuller experiments with dog breeds included crosses between basenjis and cocker spaniels to determine the inheritance of barking behavior in domestic dogs. The basenji-cockers barked more readily than any of the pure basenjis.
But I bet we could easily return to basenji characteristics by backcrossing any hybrids into the pure population. It’s been done with breed after breed.
However, as with most problems in dogs, human politics and human mores keep rational breeding schemes from being utilized.
In this breed, there are people who think they are exactly the same breed as the tesem dogs of Ancient Egypt. There are people who think they are derived from black-backed jackals or African wild dogs, neither of which can actually cross with basenjis or any other breed of domestic dog.
People are so worked up on preserving what they view as an ancient artifact that they forget that this is a living organism with feelings and emotions, as well as things like genetic drift and random mutation.
It’s really quite sad.
I only came across this video because I do watch Jaclyn Glenn’s videos on politics, skepticism, and religion, and I just happened to come across this one about a dog. You can donate to help Rauree here.