BOERBOELS FROM AFRICA TO YOU

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South Africa's own mastiff - The Boerboel

Boerboel roots

The history of the Boerboel is a fascinating story, which can trace its beginnings way back to ancient times. We find that the boerboel history and that of the Arabian horse are very similar click here to find out more about the equally fascinating Arabian horse's history. We take up the Boerboel story in about 640 BC, in Assyria.

Two Assyrian Kings, King Asarhaddon and King Ashurbani-pal, were recorded as having used large dogs to hunt lions and wild horses. This information is evident from the Assyrian chambers at the British museum. Later we find evidence that the King of Albania gave Alexander the Great a gift of a large dog.

Alexander the Great was suitably impressed by the size of the beast, but was soon greatly disappointed when the dog refused to hunt firstly bears, then wild boars and deer. The poor dog was then killed. On hearing of the tragedy, the Albanian king quickly replaced the dog. This time the king gave explicit instructions not to waste the dog's time, if it was going to be used for hunting, it would need a challenge. The dog was offered both lions and an elephant. Without going into any graphic details, the dog impressed the leader greatly.

Canus Molossus has had an important effect on the large dog breeds of today. It was originally used in the times of the Roman games. The activities of the Romans resulted in the spreading of the breed throughout Europe, including the British Isles. As trading between East and West started developing and the trading routes around the Cape of Good Hope started being established, Jan van Riebeeck was sent by the Dutch East India Company to establish a trading post at the southern tip of Africa. For his protection, van Riebeeck brought with a "Bullenbijter". Other colonialists brought other large mastiff-type dogs with them.

This is where Europe met Africa in the dog sense. The large European dogs crossed with the strong African bloodlines. These dogs then accompanied the Boers on the Great Trek into the northern parts of South Africa.

The African side of the boerboel story starts in southern Ethiopia, where a tribe called the Cynomones used dogs described as "Indian Dogs". These dogs had their origin in Babylon. They are described as large, strong dogs, able to fight with lions. The Cynomones used their dogs to protect them from migratory wild animals as well as for hunting. They even used to milk the bitches. Folklore, or maybe just ancient marketing techniques, suggested that these Indian dogs were a cross between a dog and a tiger. As many African tribes migrated southwards, they brought their dogs with them.

The Boerboel developed, from 1652 up to about 1900, in a hard school by tough farmers in South Africa, who were threatened by every kind of dangerous predator, in testing terrain and a challenging climate. Hard-pressed pioneer farmers, however resourceful, didn't have the circumstances which exactly encouraged the conservation of rare breeds of dog. They had a need for brave powerful virile dogs and breed good dog to good dog untill they obtained the desired result. Performance directed every breeding program. Pure-breeding, handsomeness and a respect for heritage doesn't usually feature highly in a pioneer hunter-farmer's priorities.

It should be a matter of pride that the Boerboel was developed from the best mastiff-type dogs available in South Africa and brought here by soldiers, colonists and settlers from Europe as well as migrating African tribes. It is a breed to be proud of for this reason alone. As a registered, pure-bred, recognised breed of dog, the Boerboel will need a well-worded breed standard if it is to be bred true to type and function in future years.

Modern Boerboel

Since 1980 and with the forming of the SABT and later the HBSA and the EBBASA, selective breeding of the dog has resulted in what we know today as the South African Boerboel. The emergence of this fine breed, after a century of neglect and indifference in its native land, and its subsequent stabilisation into a distinct canine race, is not only a tribute to its loyal fanciers but also to the dogs themselves.

"How virile they must be to survive the climate; how robust to survive the terrain and fearsome wild opponents; how dependable in remote locations to inspire their owners to continue with them and how strong the genotype to triumph after a century of anything but pure-breeding. This information accounts for the fact that the boerboel has a structure far superior to any other mastiff-type breed. Perhaps the biggest threat to the Boerboel in the long term is misuse, MISGUIDEDNESS IN THEIR FUTURE DESIGN BY SHOW BREEDERS and a closed gene pool, which they have managed well enough without in their whole history.

These pressures face all pure breeds once recognised; the closed gene pool receives undeserved worship and sickly, unathletic dogs, quite unlike their ancestors, are perpetuated in so many pure-bred dogs in far too many developed allegedly civilised countries. In Britain the lurcher men breed excellent dog to excellent dog regardless of breed, FUNCTION RULES. The working Basset Hound has been outcrossed to the Harrier to enhance performance. The show Basset Hound continues to be bred to an unhealthy design. The English Mastiff is now bred for bulk rather than activity. The Bullmastiff is in danger of becoming a small Mastiff with a Bulldog's head as breeders lacking skill decide its future."

The admirable Boerboel devotees need to be alert and open-minded if our breed is to survive in the 21st century - please, don't leave a heritage of small unhealthy designed Boerboels with a Bulldog's head.

 

Source: SABT, HBSA and EBBASA news letters
The Mastiffs - The Big Game Hunters - their history, developement and future -by Colonel David Hancock MBE

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