by   David Hancock

 "Hunting elephants with dogs! Impossible." This was the instant verdict of a colleague of mine in a discussion a few years ago.  I gave my disbelieving colleague some extracts from Sanderson's 'Elephant Catching in India' of 120 years ago and he went very quiet! The value of dogs in elephant hunting was once well recognised. In his 'The Illustrated Natural History' of 1862-3, the Rev JG Wood wrote: "When wounded, the African Elephant is a most formidable animal, charging impetuously in the direction of the foe, and crashing through the heavy forest as if the trees were but stubble. In such a case, the best resource of the hunter is in his dogs, which bay around the infuriated animal, and soon distract his attention. The bewilderment which the elephant feels at the attacks of so small an animal as a dog is quite extraordinary. He does not seem to know what he is doing, and at one time will try to kneel on his irritating foes..."

 Sanderson worked for the Forestry Commission in India and in his field work often had to live for extensive periods in the jungle. He needed protection for himself and his workers and, as a keen sportsman, he naturally turned to dogs. His experiences and his advice on breeding the right dog for such a task are worthy of study. Sanderson was inspired by Sir Samuel Baker's experiences as recorded in his classic 'The Rifle and Hound in Ceylon'. Baker stresses the huge difference between hunting elephant in Africa to that in Asia, where the jungle leads to short-range confrontations. I discovered this myself whilst serving in Borneo, when a well-armed patrol from the Gurkha Brigade I was serving in was surprised by a charging elephant and a soldier killed.

 Whilst building up his pack, Sanderson learned valuable lessons when encountering bear, bison, panther and wild hog, and especially when capturing a young wild elephant which "the pack seized without hesitation." He developed a pack of six seizers, that is holding dogs, nowadays represented by the perros de presa of Spain, the filas of Portugal and Brazil, the bullbreeds of Western Europe and the smaller mastiffs. The six comprised: a 'bullmastiff' of only 40lbs, two 'country-bred' bull terriers of around 35lbs and three young dogs from a mating of the first two. Sanderson wrote firmly that "show dogs are not required".  

 The first elephant captured using the dogs was a two year old weighing around 900lbs. The dogs seized the elephant by the cheek, the ears and the trunk, slowing it down sufficiently for men to approach and secure it with ropes. The elephant recovered quickly, its wounds healing in a week. It then joined Sanderson's department, working in the forests. One day, a recently imported bull terrier which had never seen an elephant before, met this one and without hesitation seized it by the trunk and 'held' it before being removed. The elephant was not harmed; the dog's instinctive behaviour and reckless courage being remarkable. This pack once engaged a panther, with only one dog being bitten, but not badly. 

 For use against panthers, Sanderson advised the use of a thick leather collar on the dogs, 3½" wide, and without spikes, writing that the presence of spikes made the quarry seek another vulnerable spot. He considered "two really good bulldogs a complete match for any bear". He went on to write that "When it is considered with what ease one good dog can pull down the largest tame buffalo or bullock, it may easily be imagined that a bison or wild buffalo has no chance against three or four." He did not use his dogs to kill animals but to 'hold' them, rather as practised by medieval hunters. His quarry was not savaged by his dogs but 'gripped' by them and slowed down. His trained dogs were rarely severely wounded.

 He used his seizers only after the 'finders', usually terriers, had put up the quarry. The seizers were restrained on leashes until they were needed. This is in the mould of the 'bandogs' in early medieval hunting, which were leashed until the hounds of the chase had brought their quarry to bay. I do not support the theory that bandogs were merely 'tied-up yard-dogs' as some writers infer. Mastiffs were big game catch-dogs when respected as functional dogs, not bred to be massive and lacking agility; without agility a catch-dog would not live long. I have attended a Bullmastiff seminar where the breed expert on the podium claimed that only a dog weighing 120lbs could knock down and 'hold' a poacher. This despite the best nightdogs weighing around 90lbs and the recorded experiences of real experts like Baker and Sanderson.

It is disappointing to me that the Armed Forces and police service in Britain hasn't capitalised on the holding instincts of the mastiff breeds. At the Brazilian Army's Centre for Instruction for Jungle War at Manuas, Colonel Moniz de Aragao has been testing their national breed, the Fila Brasileiro, as anti-guerilla dogs. Having myself used Labradors and Alsatians in the Malayan Emergency, I know only too well how demanding such work can be for any dog. In Canada, Copeland and Alice Shavers have been testing their Filas for the exacting Schutzhund training and found them superb. Mastiff breeds like the Fila have a strong instinctive guarding nature; they just will not tolerate a threat to their family and property.

 Another South American breed for catching big game is the Dogo Argentino, now being increasingly banned in Europe under the near-hysteria of the dangerous dog lobby. This breed was developed by two brothers, both doctors. One of the Drs Martinez spelt out the essential qualities desired in an Argentinian big game hound at a lecture in 1974. He wanted: a hound which did not give tongue until confronting its quarry; a hound able to seek air scent with a high nose, comparing this feature with that of the Pointer; a hound with scenting power ahead of sheer pace and a resolute animal, not afraid to tackle dangerous quarry. He stressed that a hound which could not 'seize and hold' its prey was valueless, mainly because of the immense physical demands made on hunters in the terrian favoured by the quarry. His dogs were used on puma and hog.

 The Martinez brothers used Bull Terrier blood to instil gameness in their dogs. Sanderson, nearly a century before them, advocated much the same. He described his requirements as follows: "The seizers should be bulldogs or bull-mastiffs. In using the word bulldog I mean the dogs--usually bull and terrier--commonly termed bulldogs...The bulldog's determined courage and forward attack must be joined with the terrier's vivacity and inteligence." Baker's favourite seizer was sired by a 'Manilla bloodhound' or Cuban Mastiff, 26½" at the shoulder, with a girth of brisket of 34". He was alleged to have 'seized' at least 400 elk and boar.

 We live in times when such a brave dog would be forcibly castrated and compulsorily muzzled in many allegedly civilised countries. Meanwhile the big game of Africa is being slaughtered by the lawless with Kalashnikovs whilst western so-called intellectuals clamour for more and more restrictions on controlled hunting. Most people who have seen big game in Africa hate seeing such animals in circus acts or zoo compounds. But for future generations this may be the only place to see them, as the big game species struggle to survive. Hunters like Sanderson, Selous and Baker had great respect both for brave determined dogs and the quarry they pursued.

Sanderson wrote: "The excitement of the sport consists in seeing the valour of the dogs...Nothing can be finer than to see the headlong attack of dogs that do not know what fear is. Some persons may take exception to the sport on the ground of cruelty to the dogs, but I do not think sportsmen will...they understand better what the dogs' feelings are." Some modern sportsmen, those only used to safe, sanitised sport, may not understand.