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Posts Tagged ‘basenji’

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.

Source.

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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

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I actually pulled two April Fools’ Day pranks on this blog.

One of them was obvious:

The Dalmatian from Ancient Egypt was certainly not a Dalmatian:

This is a reproduction of a depiction of an unusually colored Tesem dog that was found on some artifacts that date to ancient Egypt. It was reproduced by one of Napoleon’s archaeologists when his imperial ambitions brought him into Egypt. Yes. He wasn’t just into conquering countries. He was a despot of the Enlightenment!

Tesem dogs were of the basenji type, and basenji breed historians often call them basenjis.  I would be a little more careful in making such assertions, but it is clear that the basenji from sub-Saharan Africa is quite an ancient lineage of domestic dog.  The study that found that modern dogs were mostly derived from Middle Eastern wolves also found that the basenjis are very closely related to Middle Eastern wolves and were likely among the earliest dog lineages to radiate from these wolves.

Because this depiction is a reproduction of a very old image, it is impossible to know what the color was. It could be a heavily ticked dog, which we would roan. Or it could have been one of those weird white markings that sometimes appears on greyhounds from certain lines.

But it’s not a Dalmatian.

***

Now for the real deal.

I cheated.

At around 10:30 EDT on March 31,  I posted this piece about coyotes making it to Colombia.

I claimed that this image was of one of two coyotes that were photographed on Colombia’s Pacific Coast within ten miles of the Panamanian border.

This photo is actually of a Costa Rican coyote.

Coyotes now range over almost all of North America, including Alaska, Newfoundland, and Prince Edward Island. They are absent from the Canadian arctic, but they are now found in every state in the United States but Hawaii. If they were really, really good swimmers, they might make there.

They are also found throughout Mexico.  The word coyote is derived from the Nahuatl word “coyotl,” and pre-Columbian Mexican civilizations even kept coyotes in menageries, sometimes crossbreeding them with dogs and Mexican wolves.

And the coyote is also found throughout Central America. They are pretty well-known in Costa Rica, where they have been known to attack adult olive ridley sea turtles that come ashore to lay their eggs in massive waves called arribadas.  They also dig up sea turtle nests and hunt the hatchlings when they emerge from the sand.

The coyote is now found as far down into Panama as the Azuero Peninsula.  Because of Panama’s unusual geography, they will have to move north and east across the Isthmus of Panama to colonize the rest of the country.

They haven’t made it south of the Panama Canal, but I wouldn’t put it past them. Coyotes have proven more than capable of crossing bridges in densely inhabited areas, and they could make it across the canal.

Once they become established beyond the canal, they could eventually colonize Colombia, and then, they would become the first wild Canis species to colonize South America since the dire wolf.

Of course, if one knows the history of the region very well, Panama was once considered part of South America. Panama was actually a province of Colombia from 1821 until 1903, when the United States forced Colombia to give Panama its independence (and the US got the Canal Zone.)

When Panama was part of Colombia, it was considered part of South America, so by that old definition, coyotes have already colonized South America.

But they haven’t made it to Colombia yet.

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Remember when I threw a small fit when I came across this site that claimed all the genetic evidence pointed to the coyote as the ancestor of the domestic dog?  Actually, all the genetic evidence thus far has clearly pointed to the simple reality that not only are dogs descended from the wolf (Canis lupus) and has pointed to the Middle Eastern subspecies as the main genetic stock from which all dogs are derived. This evidence also suggests that domestic dogs are a form of Canis lupus, not a unique species or derived from some other canid– be it living, dead, or imagined.

Well, here’s another dubious and poorly thought out theory about the origins of a certain breed of dog. This site claims that the basenji, which is actually very closely related to these ancestral Middle Eastern wolves, is derived from the Ethiopian wolf.

Let me show you where that is wrong:

I know that the Ethiopian wolf was once claimed to have been an African offshoot of Canis lupus. Later genomic analysis found that the Ethiopian wolf is more distantly related to the dog and wolf species than the golden jackal and the coyote. Some golden jackals, it has more recently been revealed, are actually part of the wolf and dog species. These particular wolves have not been compared to the other wolf and dog subspecies using a genome-wide analysis, but my guess is that these “African wolves” (Canis lupus lupaster) are probably closely related to the Arabian wolves and domestic dogs. These wolves do have unique mitochondrial DNA sequences, as do some Indian pallipes and Himalayan chanco wolves, but these might all prove to be much more closely related to dogs and the other Middle Eastern and South Asian wolves than the the mitochondrial DNA analysis would suggest.

However, there is no evidence that any dog is derived from the Ethiopian wolf (Canis simensis). They do hybridize with dogs and produce fertile offspring, but all of the studies on hybridization have been on the dog contribution to Ethiopian wolves. It is possible that some dogs in the Ethiopian Highlands have some contribution from Ethiopian wolf, but it is a stretch to make the claim that the basenji of  rainforests of Central Africa has anything to do with the Ethiopian wolves living in the harsh alpine country of Ethiopia.

If you want to make things very confusing, some of the newly discovered African wolves are from Ethiopia, but it is not accurate to call them Ethiopian wolves.

Canis lupus lupaster ≠ Canis simensis

And neither have been found to be ancestral to Canis lupus familiaris, which is mostly derived from Canis lupus arabs and Canis lupus pallipes.

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This site also make a claim that black-backed jackals crossed with basenjis, too.

The only thing I need to do with that one is laugh.

Black backed jackals, let me repeat, cannot interbreed with domestic dogs.

Golden jackals, yes. Golden jackals are much more closely related to the wolf and dog species than they are to anything else that is commonly referred to as a jackal.

See where they are on the dog family phylogenetic tree pictured above? African wild dogs and dholes are actualy more closely related to wolves and dogs than black- backed jackals are.   And no hybrids between the dog and wolf species and these two canids has ever been produced, even though they should be placed in the genus Canis.  If black-backed and side-striped jackals belong in the genus Canis, then dholes and African wild dogs clearly do.

Black-backed jackals are actually the oldest extant species in the genus Canis. And no one has found that black-backed or side-striped jackals, which are found only in Sub-Saharan Africa have ever crossbred with dogs. Although many prick-eared dogs have been claimed to be part black-backed jackal, not a single hybrid has been produced so that a DNA sample could be taken.

My guess is that these hybrids simply don’t exist.

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I need a basenji. It would be the perfect excuse for me to leave my cell phone turned off at home!

Source.

If there is such a thing as antithesis to a golden retriever, the basenji would be it!

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If one looks at the basenji, one sees what should be a tough little dog, free of exaggeration in conformation or type. It looks like it had been entirely selected by the processes of natural selection.

Although capable of barking, it very rarely does so, and when it does, it is just a short little woof. In this regard, it is very much like the wolf or the dingo.  The bitches have one heat cycle per year.

It is almost like a wild animal, so one would think that there wouldn’t have been a healthier breed to own.

Unfortunately, all that you have just read is nothing more than an appeal to nature fallacy. All the natural appearances are superficial.

Basenjis in the West are just like any other breed of dog. They have a limited number of foundational sires, and when one gets involved in producing quality dogs for the show ring, the tendency is to use just a few members of the population to produce offspring. With a closed studbook, all sorts of new hereditary problems began to surface.

But unlike other breeds of dog, the basenji started out with a very small population in the West.  Just 18 or 19 dogs founded the original basenji population. That is a pathetically small number on which to found an entire breed.

By the late 1980’s, basenjis were in a lot of trouble. In 1989, Dr. Russell Brown of Virginia Commonwealth University sent a letter to the AKC Board explaining why the basenji needed to have its studbook reopened.

The AKC eventually opened the studbook to allow new blood to be imported from the Congo. This is actually where the brindle coloration that has popped up in the basenji came from.

It is often mentioned that basenjis are quite common in Africa. One must be careful with such assertions, because basenjis have peculiar traits that are actually not that common in the African pariah dog population. This needs to be repeated, for there are assumptions that just about African village dog with prick ears and a curled tail is a basenji.

It ain’t so.

This is not a contrived breed. It’s not like the West Highland white terrier, the golden retriever, and the Norfolk terrier, which have all been separated from their closest relatives on what amounts to little more than superficial reasons.

This is an actual landrace that is native to Central Africa. It may superficially resemble other pariah dogs that are found in other parts of Africa.

But those dogs bark a lot and the bitches have two heat cycles per year. From what I’ve seen, most of these dogs really don’t have the curled tails of the show basenji or even loosely curled tails that one sometimes sees on African basenjis.

Any population of dogs that rarely barks and has but one heat cycle per year is clearly different from other dogs, no matter how one looks at it. These dogs are physically and behaviorally unique.

To rejuvenate the bloodline, African dogs indeed were allowed in. These dogs had the same traits that we associate with dogs of this type, and some of the health problems are indeed being mitigated.

But what the basenji story actually tells us is what happens when we allow just a tiny population of dogs to found a breed and then close off the studbook.

Basenjis were nearly ruined through such an extreme genetic bottleneck. They may yet be redeemed through these African imports. I certainly hope so, for the basenji is such a unique dog that I think it is very much worth preserving.

Its unique characteristics give us insight into what the early dogs might have been like. The inheritance of its barklessness was actually tested by Fuller and Scott, when they crossed basenjis with cocker spaniels. It turned out that barking was a dominant trait, but the number of barks that a basenji/cocker will give is still somewhat lower than that of a pure cocker. That study suggested that the constant barking trait that so characterizes other dogs could have easily been transmitted through the populations of domestic dogs very early on.

And all of these genetic disorders certainly do give us something else to examine.

The African dogs lived very well for thousands of years. They evolved to fit a particular task and a particular climate. But when our dog culture picked them up, things just didn’t turn out that well.

Maybe the future will be better for these African “barkless dogs.” But we have to be very careful about these registries. We don’t need to ensure the genetic viability and general health of all of these dogs. We have to start thinking in such a way for all of these dog breeds.

If we don’t, the potential exists for even more problems like the basenji was facing in the 1980’s. In fact, this potential is almost a certainty if we don’t starting thinking differently.

Dogs are organisms, but our cultural backage winds up having major effects upon them, whether we like it or not. Our inability to understand them as organism with need for sustainable gene pools is a major problem for the long term viability of the domesticated form of C. lupus.

If we could just start thinking this way, maybe we could have a better future for dogs.

But we have to change our dog culture, and that is going to take time.

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Basenjis are hardly the most extreme case. The Norwegian lundehunds (the polydactyl puffin hunting dogs) are derived from just six dogs that survived a distemper outbreak that happened during the Second World War. All of these dogs have the genetics to develop an extremely debilitating set of digestive disorders called lundehund gastroenteropathy in which digestive bacteria grow out of control, preventing the dogs from deriving nutrients from food.  Some dogs never develop symptoms, but others eat and eat and never get enough nutrients.

Open registries are not the solution for all problems solving dogs. Lots of things have to be done to solve these problems. Opening registries alone will not save them in the end. However, if we don’t open them, we will be doing very little to solve the macro-level problems that are making breed after breed less healthy.

The registry issue is systemic, which means that it is sometimes harder for people to understand. It is also the biggest sacred cow in the fancy– purity for purity’s sake. To even suggest that this problem is the greater systemic problem in dogs is a great heresy.

But not everyone in the fancy is entirely in love with it. I think the number of people who love dogs as dogs in the fancy is much larger than you might assume from reading this blog or others.

Within the fancy itself, there are people who want something better and who are articulating it and pushing for it.

Bit by bit, change will come.

For those of you who want a better future for dogs, please know that you’re not alone. It’s starting to happen.

In the public consciousness, the AKC doesn’t mean what it once it did. When people think AKC, they think of unhealthy purebred dogs. It doesn’t mean golden. It means gilded.

That’s a major branding problem.

It’s one I’m sure the AKC doesn’t want to have.

It’s also why the AKC is losing out market share the paper mill registries. If the AKC is just a paper mill, then why can’t Jim Bob down the road start his own?

In the end, we have no quality control or consumer protection institution for dogs in the United States.

We are lost.

We have to do this research for ourselves, which, thanks to Google, means that it isn’t as hard as it once was.

But I still think we need some kind of body, even at the breed and function-based level, to have some sort of regulating or quality control influence over breeders. I’m not in favor of new laws. I’m in favor of a better system in which dog people regulate themselves.

We need an open registry system, but we don’t need one in which people are inclined to do crazy crosses just for the hell of it.

And that’s my dilemma.

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In case you were getting ready to dispute me on whether basenjis can bark:

Source.

I wonder whether living around “normal” dogs has any effect on that behavior. I remember reading about some wild-caught wolves that were kept in a kennel with lots of barking domestic dogs. The younger wolves in the pack started barking like dogs.

Barking does have a learned component to it. I knew a Dalmatian that joined a household that included a mongrel beagle. This beagle had a tendency to great everyone with a baying howl.

After about two weeks, the Dalmatian was trying to make that noise– very unsuccessfully.

Maybe some basenjis are learning let loose a few barks here and there  just to fit in.

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basenji

The Basenji comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is a “primitive” dog, meaning it has certain characteristics in common with wild canids that other breeds and strains of domestic dog lack. Among these are its single estrus cycle per year, erect ears, and yodeling howls.

However, one characteristic has long puzzled scientists. The basenji does not bark. It uses whines and yodels to communicate, and it can bark, usually in the form wild dog’s low, single woofs. However, most basenjis never bark.

Why it doesn’t bark has been subject to some speculation. It has been suggested that the Basenji is such a primitive dog that it was developed for barking. It is an ancient breed. And, lots of primitive dogs are not barkers, but the basenji is the only one from Africa. All other African dog populations bark, including those that really look like basenjis in other parts of Africa. The isolation of the basenji in the Congo allowed this barkless variety to exist for centuries.

Another theory is that the basenji’s barklessness is actually the result of leopard predation. Leopards really like dog meat. In this theory, the basenji’s ancestor was a barker, but the leopards began picking off the barking dogs until only the silent ones remained.

I think this theory has a bit of merit, but I’ll add a little of my own theory to it. Leopards eat lots of other dogs in Africa, but these dogs have the more typical twice a year estus cycle. They have the ability to repopulate much more quickly than the basenji does if the leopards kill too many of them. The basenji’s truncated breeding period puts much more emphasis on predator evasion rather than producing lots of puppies to maintain the population. Thus, it’s the single estrus cycle and predation by leopards that made the Basenji barkless.

I should mention here that it’s a myth that all domestic and feral domestic dogs (other than New Guinea singing dogs, Carolina dogs, Dingoes, and basenjis) come into season twice a year. I had a golden that had an estrus cycle once every 8 to 10 months, which does not add up to twice a year. It was not a seasonal season, of course.

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