42 HUNTING DOGS OF SOUTH AFRICA
HUNTING DOGS OF SOUTH AFRICA
If you have read books about the Rhodesian Ridgeback, you could be forgiven for thinking that there were no hunting dogs in southern Africa until the white settlers arrived. But if you read the articles of Johan Gallant, President of the Africanis Society, on the ancient native hunting dogs there, you can then see the real situation. You can at the same time read of dogs so virile that they have survived for thousands of years without veterinary medicine. Breeds like the I-Baku, the I-Twini and the I-Bansi, as well as the better known Sica dogs, have survived not only harsh terrain and an unforgiving climate over countless centuries but also their encounters with dangerous quarry too. Lions are unlikely to be too tolerant when their own hunting grounds are disturbed by man.
This same writer mentions that in the 1860s military posts were 'scattered about the frontier' and at each post could be found bloodhounds, staghounds, greyhounds, bulldogs, terriers, mastiffs, pointers and sometimes foxhounds. Another writer to this issue of the Gazette describes how as a boy, fifty- two years earlier (i.e. in 1857), he had hunted tiger and baboon using "...a cross breed between the mastiff and the bulldog, the parents coming from Europe. The boar-hound, though big and strong, is too fine skinned to withstand the claws of a tiger, and...the mastiff, though strong and big, is too lumpy and no match for the nimble tiger; the bulldog is plucky and tenacious, but owing to his lightness, the tiger...can throw him...The cross-breed, that is the mastiff and the bulldog, combine the swiftness and tenacity of the one with the strength of the other, and have always proved to be the best for fighting with a tiger."
The emergence of mastiff breeds like the Boerboel, the Gran Mastino de Borinquen in Puerto Rico, the Perro Cimmaron of Uruguay, the Ca de Bou of Majorca and the Cao de Fila de Sao Miguel in the Azores is immensely pleasing; after years of misuse, overuse and neglect by man, this remarkable group of dogs is now receiving the recognition it deserves. The Boerboel appears to feature all the best attributes of the mastiff breeds: immense power combined with great faithfulness, physical stature combined with admirable tolerance and a temperament capable of placidity or ferocity, if its family is threatened.
Of a totally different type are the tribal dogs of South Africa. This remarkable group of dogs has been researched and then publicised by Johan Gallant in South Africa, after centuries of European indifference. Any group of dogs which can survive without ever receiving any veterinary care, in a testing climate like the South African bush and operating in terrain which would challenge any functional animal, deserves attention. The Africanis is believed to be a direct descendant of the domestic dogs which came to southern Africa with the Iron Age migrations of the Bantu-speaking people. These dogs were then taken up by the resident Khoisan people; these dogs were never bred for type but type developed from function.
The generic term Africanis embraces several types of dog; the I-Twina, now quite rare, is a living representative of the Iron Age dog, and a sighthound described as the original hunting dogs of the Xhosa. The I-Baku, big or floppy-eared in the Xhosa tongue, longer-haired and featuring a hind dew claw, is the long distance sighthound, unlike the I-Twina which is a sprinter. The I-Nqeqe, or I-Maku to Zulus, conforms to the same type, but has a blunter shorter muzzle. Some Europeans have noted a certain Border Collie look to these dogs, which are found across a wide area. The more streamlined I-Bansi are the most competent hunting dogs, able to hunt using sight and scent. The Zulus have their Sica dogs, which can vary in appearance, never having been subjected to selective breeding, and can be found right across the Zulu homeland.
Of interest to Rhodesian Ridgeback fanciers is the appearance of the ridge on the spines of some of these dogs; the Kalahari San were seen in south-eastern Angola as recently as 1954 with ridged hunting dogs. The Khoi were reported as long ago as 1719 as having dogs about 18" at the shoulder, with a sharp muzzle, pointed ears, with a body like a jackal's and a ridge, or mane, of hair turned forward on the spine and neck. The original Khoi dogs of Namibia, like the Kalahari Tswana dogs, had the appearance of medium-sized Greyhounds and some sported ridges. One hundred years ago, the Khoi were reported as having a dozen ridged dogs near Naauwpoort, from where, in 1901, a Scots Guards officer is said to have had two ridged dogs in his 'bobbery' hunting pack.