Updated: May 15
Everyone knows that the descendant of the grey wolves were the first of all animals domesticated by humans. Studies show that the diverging process from grey wolves to dogs occurred about 20,000-40,000 years ago. Likewise, the earliest fossil evidence of human's best friend is a 33,000 year old dog-skull found in Altai mountains, Siberia.
A number of cave arts(dating back to the Stone Ages) in Mongolia depict dogs hunting or following their owners. These prove that dogs were loyal friends to ancient humans. In the past, dogs were mainly used for hunting, guarding as well as herding. A handful of shepherd breeds named after their respective nationalities have earned world wide recognition, such as the Scottish shepherd, the Caucasian shepherd, and the German shepherd to name a few. But the world is slowly recognizing one of its earliest landrace dogs, the Mongolian Bankhar which deserves just as much attention as the others.
-"Mongolian Bankhar dog could be the progenitor of all the livestock guardian dogs"
Chinggis Khaan made use of dogs for his war expeditions, and reportedly had 30,000 dogs. He even built a training camp for combat dogs in Tibet. Marco Polo, the Italian merchant and traveler who had spend years in Mongolia wrote in his The Book Of The World's Marvels, " - I have never seen such a large dog, that is almost the size of a two-year old colt."
As a result from the domination of Mongolian and Turkic empires, the Mongol Bankhar dogs had spread widely across central Asia, western Europe and the Himalayas.
Recent studies point to the origin of the domestic dog as central Asia around 15,000 years ago. The DNA samples taken from the "Mongolian Bankhar Dog Project" were used to support this hypothesis and in the paper (available here) Doug Lally was coauthor along with Cornell University professor Adam Boyko PHD, among others.
Moreover, a Russian researcher, Galina Yagorskay took Bankhar puppies from each provinces of Mongolia to feed them near Saint Peters-burg, while working on her analysis in Mongolia. She had the Bankhar dogs' blood tested in Belgium. The test resulted in similar DNA to wolves which becomes another proof to Bankhar's potential to be the first of all livestock guardian dogs in the world.
"The Mongolian Bankhar is not a dog breed, but an ancient landrace; a type of dog shaped through thousands of years of co-evolution with humans driven by the need for an effective guardian of livestock on the Mongolian steppe. Bankhar are large, athletic, protective, and need comparatively little food for their size. They are perfectly adapted to the intense ecosystems of Mongolia."
- The Mongolian Bankhar Project
Appearance and Behavior
Bankhar usually appear in dark brown or black fur with orange spots above their eyes and white patch in the chest. They are not very quick at learning new things but are unbelievably prescient. Therefore, Mongolians say Bankhar have four eyes; the two orange spots are the two other eyes of Bankhar which allow them to see the spiritual world. Mongolians observe their dogs' behavior to predict the weather.
Bankhar are between 25-30 inches tall at shoulder, and weigh around 80-120 pounds.
At a glance, Bankhar may seem large and slouchy but they are great at adapting to various environments. They live outdoor in all seasons where the temperature ranges between 30C to -40C. Bankhar do not usually jump at everything like other dogs but save their energy for times when they need it the most, especially when hunting or fighting with wild animals like wolves, leopards, or wild cats. They are calm and melancholic like, but very protective when it comes to guarding their owners or livestock. Bankhar have deep and thick voice, which comes in handy to scare away predators and intruders at night when they bark.
Bankhar live for about 15-20 years, which is surprisingly a long life-span, given that Bankhar never receive veterinary care and are often fed with food left-overs and innards of livestock. When they are hungry, they go hunt hares and rodents like squirrels. Most Bankhar do not even have shelters built for them. Bankhar are born to be wild.
Bankhar dogs breed only once a year in November, and the females whelp in the coldest time of the year- January. That is exactly how the grey wolves reproduce. If the puppies can survive this severely cold period, they are bound to be tough and healthy.
Current situation of Bankhar
There were approximately over 300,000 Bankhar dogs in Mongolia during 1920s, considering that most families had a dog. When communism was introduced in Mongolia from Russia, it brought a lot of good such as well-developed infrastructure and education/ health systems. However,there were some negative outcomes in the society which were not widely recognized at the time, the treat to Bankhar being one of them. They were suspected by the Russian doctors and advisors for transmitting diseases and viruses to humans, thus a lot of hem were shot during the 1960s. In addition, many of them were killed to supply the trending Russian army-belt factory. due to the toughness of Bankhars' coat.
A present day danger to Bankhar is interbreeeding with Tibetan Mastiff. Bankhar are often mistaken for Tibetan Mastiff due to their similar appearance. But these two are genetically distinct from each other. Plus, Mastiffs are not working dogs like Bankhar. Mixed genes like Mastiff or other breeds in Bankhar gene-pool could result in degrating the quality of the working dogs genes in Bankhar. There are few pockets of true Bankhar dogs left. The Mongolian Bankhar Dog Project has identified them using DNA testing and has isolated these dogs for breeding the next generation of genuine working Bankhar guardian dogs.
Please visit the Mongolian Bankhar Dog Project site to know more about the dog and what the organization is doing to support what could be the ancestor of all the working dogs in the world.