AFRICANIS: THE DOG OF AFRICA

THEY WERE ONCE DIS­MISSED AS CROSSBREEDS AND MONGRELS. THEY ARE THE AFRICANIS, ALSO CALLED THE AFRICANIS NGUNI DOG, THE IN­DIGE­NOUS DOG OF AFRICA AND ARE IN­TEL­LI­GENT, HARDY, ATH­LETIC, LOYAL – AND AN­CIENT.

In Flight Magazine - - IN THIS ISSUE - { TEXT: MARY ALEXAN­DER / BRAND SOUTH AFRICA | IMAGES © EDITH GAL­LANT }

You’ll see them in the vil­lages of ru­ral South Africa – medium-sized, slen­der built dogs, with elon­gated snouts, pointed ears, short coats in a va­ri­ety of colours and springy up-curled tails.

Some dis­miss them as mongrels and curs. But th­ese dogs are a dis­tinct Lan­drace, en­demic to Africa and with a proven lin­eage go­ing back some 7,000 years.

AfriCanis dogs have al­ways been val­ued by the in­dige­nous peo­ple of South­ern Africa for their har­di­ness, in­tel­li­gence, loy­alty and hunt­ing abil­ity. But it was only in the 21st cen­tury that they be­gan to lose the Western stigma of “mon­grel”, thanks to the work of two men: dog ex­perts Jo­han Gal­lant and Joseph Sit­hole.

For years Gal­lant and Sit­hole along with ar­chae­ol­o­gist Dr Udo Küs­sel roamed ru­ral KwaZulu-Na­tal, Venda, Transkei, Botswana, Mozam­bique, Namibia, Swazi­land study­ing and pho­tograph­ing the dogs they came across in tra­di­tional ru­ral home­steads. Af­ter DNA test­ing was car­ried out, they con­cluded that th­ese an­i­mals

were not a dis­ar­ray of mongrels but mem­bers of a co­her­ent “Lan­drace” with a spe­cific African genome.

They de­cided on the name for this African lan­drace: “ca­nis” (dog) and “Africa”, the AfriCanis. Gal­lant’s re­search, to­gether with Joseph Sit­hole’s knowl­edge about tra­di­tional dogs, re­sulted in Gal­lant writ­ing the book: The Story of the African Dog, pub­lished by the Uni­ver­sity of KwaZulu-Na­tal Press in 2002.

“The Africanis is the real African dog – shaped by Africa, for Africa,” Gal­lant says in the book. “It is part of the cul­tural and bi­o­log­i­cal her­itage of South­ern Africa.”

The Africanis is de­scended from dogs pic­tured in an­cient cave art and on Egyp­tian mu­rals. The ear­li­est re­mains of the do­mes­ti­cated dog in Africa was found in the Nile Delta and dated to 4,700 BC, and from there spread all over Africa.

NAT­U­RAL SE­LEC­TION WITH­OUT HU­MAN IN­TER­VEN­TION

What makes the Africanis unique is that the dog was shaped by nat­u­ral, not hu­man, se­lec­tion. Un­like Western dog breeds, whose ap­pear­ance and dis­po­si­tion have been de­ter­mined by the spe­cific breed stan­dards of the Ken­nel Clubs, the Africanis evolved to sur­vive in the of­ten harsh con­di­tions of Africa.

“The Africanis is the re­sult of nat­u­ral se­lec­tion and phys­i­cal and men­tal adap­ta­tion to en­vi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions,” Gal­lant says. “It has not been ‘se­lected’ or ‘bred’ for ap­pear­ance. For cen­turies, the fittest and clever­est dogs sur­vived to give us one of the rare re­main­ing nat­u­ral dog lan­draces in the world.”

Also un­like Western breeds, the Africanis does not have a rigidly uni­form ap­pear­ance, although Gal­lant and Sit­hole have iden­ti­fied the com­mon traits that de­fine the lan­drace. “The beauty of this dog is em­bod­ied in the sim­plic­ity and func­tion­al­ity of its build,” Gal­lant says.

The Africanis is of medium size and well-mus­cled. It is ag­ile and sup­ple and can run at great speed.The coat is short, and comes in a wide range of colours, with or with­out mark­ings. A ridge of hair is some­times seen on the back – one of the Africanis’s ge­netic con­tri­bu­tions to the Rhode­sian Ridge­back.

The head is cone-shaped, with ex­pres­sive oval eyes. Its slen­der build is some­times wrongly at­trib­uted to star­va­tion.When in good con­di­tion, the an­i­mal’s ribs are just vis­i­ble. Be­cause the Africanis has roamed freely in and around ru­ral set­tle­ments for cen­turies, it has a need both for space and for hu­man com­pan­ion­ship.

“Tra­di­tion­ally it is al­ways close to hu­mans, other dogs, live­stock and do­mes­tic an­i­mals,” Gal­lant says. “Africanis is well dis­posed with­out be­ing ob­tru­sive: a friendly dog, show­ing watch­ful, ter­ri­to­rial be­hav­iour. The dog dis­plays un­spoiled so­cial ca­nine be­hav­iour with a high level of fa­cial ex­pres­sions and body lan­guage. Its ner­vous con­sti­tu­tion is steady, but the dog is al­ways cau­tious in ap­proach­ing new sit­u­a­tions. In other words: it dis­plays a high sur­vival in­stinct.”

HOW DID THE AFRICANIS GET HERE?

Ge­netic ev­i­dence has shown that dogs are de­scended from an an­cient species of wolf.The evo­lu­tion from wolf to dog was slow and un­even, but gen­er­ally de­ter­mined by one thing: their as­so­ci­a­tion with peo­ple. Over mil­len­nia they evolved from wild hunters to scav­engers look­ing for scraps around hu­man set­tle­ments un­til, fi­nally, they be­came our do­mes­ti­cated best friend. Re­search has found that the dog was do­mes­ti­cated about 15,000 years ago.

But how did the Africanis land up on the south­ern tip of the con­ti­nent?

It is gen­er­ally ac­cepted that the ear­li­est do­mes­ti­cated dog oc­curred in East Asia, and China specif­i­cally, be­fore mi­grat­ing west with early Ne­olithic peo­ple, con­tin­u­ing their mi­gra­tion route to the Mid­dle East, along what is known as the Silk Route. It took three mil­len­nia for the dogs to cross the Si­nai Desert in or­der to reach Africa. Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal ev­i­dence shows that the dogs ac­com­pa­nied no­madic stock keep­ers and crossed into Africa in 700 BC.

The ear­li­est record of do­mes­tic dogs – Ca­nis fa­mil­iaris – on the African con­ti­nent are fos­sils found in the Nile es­tu­ary and dated to 4,500 BC.

Even be­fore the time of the Egyp­tian dy­nas­ties, do­mes­tic dogs spread quickly along the Nile River. Sea­sonal mi­gra­tions and trade also took them into the Sa­hara and Sa­hel. Early iron- Age Bantu speak­ing peo­ple brought their do­mes­tic dogs along when, from about 200 AD, they left the grass­lands of Cameroon in a mas­sive mi­gra­tion which even­tu­ally led to their set­tle­ment in South­ern Africa.

The dogs ac­com­pa­nied th­ese peo­ple in their long mi­gra­tion south­wards, where they were ac­quired by in­dige­nous San hunter­gath­er­ers and Khoi pas­toral­ists.The ear­li­est ev­i­dence of do­mes­tic dogs in South­ern Africa dates back to 570 AD, and was found on the farm Dia­mant on the La­palala River near the Botswana bor­der. By 650 AD the dog is found in the lower Tugela Val­ley, and by 800 AD in a Khoisan set­tle­ment at Cape St Fran­cis, in­di­cat­ing that con­tact be­tween the Bantu and Khoisan had been es­tab­lished.

The ev­i­dence that the Africanis is a dis­tinct lan­drace, and not a mon­grel of Western types, is in­creas­ingly clear. A good thou­sand years be­fore any pos­si­ble Western in­flu­ence, the peo­ple of South­ern Africa were us­ing th­ese multi-pur­pose­ful dogs that had be­come en­demic to the re­gion.

THE AFRICANIS SO­CI­ETY

Some for­eign in­flu­ence on the tra­di­tional dogs came with the coloni­sa­tion of the Transkei and Zu­l­u­land in the 19th cen­tury. Later, mi­grant labour­ers brought Western dogs back from the cities, where they bred with lo­cal dogs.

Par­tic­u­larly favoured was the Grey­hound, which mi­grants would have come across at the dog races pop­u­lar at the time. Mi­grant mine work­ers brought th­ese home and crossed them with their tra­di­tional dogs to de­velop hardier, stronger, and big­ger dogs to use for cours­ing or sports hunt­ing.They are of­ten called “Ib­hanzi” and are not con­sid­ered to be tra­di­tional dogs by the in­dige­nous peo­ple.

Today, the true AfriCanis is mostly found in ru­ral ar­eas. A fastchang­ing South Africa, ur­ban­i­sa­tion and loss of sig­nif­i­cance for the tra­di­tional dog poses a threat to their sur­vival.

The AfriCanis So­ci­ety was es­tab­lished to con­serve this an­cient and valu­able ca­nine gene pool and to ad­vise the tra­di­tional cus­to­di­ans of this lan­drace of the im­por­tance of their dogs. The so­ci­ety is strictly a con­ser­va­tion body, launched in 1998 by Gal­lant and Dr Udo Küsel, di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Cul­tural His­tory Mu­seum.

“The AfriCanis, or AfriCanis Nguni Dog, is part of Africa’s unique her­itage and bio­di­ver­sity, and de­serves recog­ni­tion and pro­tec­tion,” Gal­lant says. One of the rare lan­draces still sur­viv­ing in the world, the so­ci­ety’s pur­pose is to con­serve a nat­u­ral dog – not to “de­velop” them into a breed, by se­lec­tively breed­ing them for spe­cific ex­ter­nal ap­pear­ances, like most pure­bred dogs.

It main­tains a code of ethics, guide­lines for breed­ing, reg­u­la­tions and a pro­ce­dure for reg­is­tra­tion, as well as a reg­is­ter of in­spected and ap­proved Africanis dogs. The so­ci­ety also helps mem­bers ob­tain true AfriCanis pup­pies. So if you’re look­ing for a hardy and in­tel­li­gent dog, that is train­able and loves to run, this could be the dog for you.

For more in­for­ma­tion, please visit the AfriCanis So­ci­ety at www.africanis.co.za.

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