Are there native African dog breeds

Original village dogs


The diversity of the village dogs

In Africa and Asia, original village dogs have survived, which since ancient times have largely reproduced according to their own choice and live more or less independently. Their genetic diversity has proven to be surprisingly high.

The appearance of the dogs we see on the beach on Waigeo Island off West Papua is reminiscent of the Australian dingoes. They are quite small and delicately built, but have the head shape and also the typical erect ears of the dingoes, which have been wild in Australia for thousands of years. A proud white bitch stands in an imposing position on the beach, while a puppy playfully looks around for something to eat. The bitch appears to be watching over the puppy, but is clearly not the nursing mother. There is also a red-brown dog on the jetty to the lodge, blocking our way. He continues to doze calmly as we just walk past him.
Not only with the local family who run the tourist lodge, there is a sizeable population of dogs with a few puppies. We also meet numerous dogs in the nearby village. Some even walk confidently with us for a while on the street. Another time we experience that a dog that has probably ventured too far into the neighboring area is chased back from the pack there to “our” lodge. And a young white dog accompanies some children who collect things that can be used in the kitchen during the low tide. Wherever people lead their traditional life, we always see some dogs on the island.

Window into the past

When traveling in rural areas of Asia, Oceania or Africa, one almost inevitably comes across such village dogs. Depending on the situation, they live more or less with a "family connection", but mostly as independent waste disposers, as was undoubtedly the case in the earliest times when dogs and humans lived together. They move freely, organize their social life and reproduce largely unaffected by humans. In some places they are important as guard dogs or as hunting companions, provided that the hunt for wild animals is permitted. The original dog beatings can be thousands of years old, provided no dogs brought in from outside have been crossed. And they have proven to be a rich genetic reservoir that is no longer known from European pedigree dogs.
Before someFor years, researchers led by Adam Boyko from Cornell University in Ithaca (USA) devoted themselves to the genetics of native village dogs in detail. Their compilation of genetic data showed a great genetic diversity in the original village dogs of the traditionally living rural population, especially in Asia and Africa. The researchers had collected and compared gene samples from hundreds of different village dogs and over a thousand pedigree dogs.
For example, they were able to determine that there are regional kinship groups among the village dogs. Examined dogs from East Asia (Vietnam and Southeast Asian Islands), Central Asia (Mongolia and Nepal), India, the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa show noticeable genetic differences from one another. Using these animals, it is also possible to decipher the history of the development of dogs as the earliest domestic animal of humans, and their wanderings around the globe, with increasing accuracy.
These dogs, which live quite independently and, like wild animals, are also exposed to natural selection, look almost the same everywhere in the world. They have erect ears, a pointed snout like the wolf, about medium size compared to domestic dog breeds and typically a slightly curved sickle-like tail. In contrast, the diversity of modern European pedigree dogs is enormous. Although the pedigree dogs, reduced by the strong artificial selection, only bring a fraction of the genetic diversity of all domestic dogs with them!

Endangered original diversity

In many places, especially in larger cities such as Cairo, Mumbai, Kathmandu or Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea, the genetic analyzes of local dogs showed a larger proportion of genes from European dogs. In Africa, the researchers found a patchwork of originally indigenous village dogs and dogs whose ancestors were later brought to the continent from Europe. And while the village dogs on Borneo originally stayed, those on the island of Fiji in the Pacific Ocean can be traced back almost entirely to European dogs. In South America, too, researchers looked for genetic traces of original dogs, because the four-legged friends were already present on the American double continent before Columbus' times. They found traces that could have come from dogs of the indigenous peoples, but in today's free-range dog population in South America, the influence of European dogs apparently predominates.
"Most of the original dog populations have mixed with imported dogs, except in the most remote areas," fears Janice Koler-Maznick, an American biologist and dog breeder who is dedicated to preserving original dogs. While there were probably thousands of different local village dog types in the past, only a fraction of those are left in pure form today, she estimates. Because where economic development allows, people like to buy pedigree dogs, or they move to new places for work and take their dogs with them. When such "foreign" dogs go wild or cross with free-range dogs, their genes end up in the local population.
Both in their behavior and in their genes, the roaming village dogs come much closer to the earliest dogs than the modern pedigree dogs. To a certain extent, they offer a window into the past of human and dog coexistence. How long they can hold up with their way of life in the future as modernization progresses remains unclear. Breeders have taken care of some of these dogs, which, like the Basenji from the Congo area, are now being reared as original breeds far from their homeland.
It is not easy for the breeders to keep the dogs of a relatively small breeding stock in the broadest possible genetic range. Koler-Matznick recommends keeping an open stud book that allows the ongoing inclusion of new individuals from the original populations. Strong selection to promote external traits should be avoided, as this would cause greater gene loss. One dilemma, however, remains: the original dogs will live in the future like modern domestic dogs. Accordingly, other characteristics are required, such as good conduct or reduced fearfulness. Their adaptations to the previous living conditions and tasks could easily be lost in the course of further breeding.


Further information: Primitive & Aboriginal Dogs Society


Published (slightly adjusted) in Tierwelt No. 20, May 18, 2017

© E. Wullschleger Schättin