|Other names||African Dog
Hottentot Hunting Dog
Umbwa Wa Ki-Shenzi
|Country of origin||South Africa|
|Dog (Canis lupus familiaris)|
The Africanis is a landrace of South African dogs. It is believed to be of ancient origin, directly descended from hounds and pariah dogs of ancient Africa, introduced into the Nile Valley from the Levant. The Swahili name for the breed is umbwa wa ki-shenzi meaning common or mongrel or "traditional dog". Africanis is also an umbrella name for all the aboriginal dogs in southern Africa.
While the Africanis Society of Southern Africa has conceptualised the Eurocentric term of "Africanis" to encapsulate all African breeds of dog, there do exist numerous specialised types developed by various African ethnic groups with their own indigenous and ancient names. These types are not "land races" as dictated by the Africanis Society, but rather unique types developed for certain specific conditions, and that do exhibit differences in type one from the other.
The Africanis Society of Southern Africa aims to conserve the Africanis as a landrace rather than develop it as a breed. While the Africanis is recognized by the Kennel Union of South Africa (KUSA) as an emerging breed, researchers on the ground, such as anthropologist Sian Hall, hold that the various different types of indigenous African dogs have already developed, over thousands of years, as types suited to their specific conditions by Africa's own indigenous peoples. They therefore have no need to be Eurocentrically regarded as an "emerging breed" by European Canine Institutions. Hall holds that the dogs have already developed as distinct types among the various African groups and that each deserves to be regarded and recognised as such. It follows that one breed descriptions cannot be allocated to the many different types of indigenous dogs on the African continent.
The Africanis is a short-coated, medium-sized dog, well-muscled and slightly longer than tall. It can be of any colour and occasionally comes with a ridgeback. It is slenderly built, agile, supple, and capable of great speed.
The Africanis is well disposed without being obtrusive: a friendly dog showing watchful territorial behaviour. The breed is independent and territorial, but highly trainable. They can however, become grumpy as they grow older, and may also become quite difficult when kept with other dogs in a pack.
- It is my experience that the Africanis is a marvellous pet and house dog. Guided by its instinct of subservience it will steal your heart before you realise it.
- - Johan Gallant, President of the Africanis Society of Southern Africa (September 9, 2005).
The Africanis needs neither pampering nor special food. One view holds that it is consistently healthy and has over the years developed a natural resistance against internal and external parasites,although they do appear to be very susceptible to introduced diseases such as distemper and parvo virus, and to tick-borne bilary. Others suffer from cancer. Rabies is very prevalent among the indigenous dog populations of southern Africa. It is therefore essential to ensure that any indigenous African dog, including the Europeanised Africanis, be innoculated annually for all the usual contagious diseases, and understood that they are as susceptible to other dieseases as any other domesticated dog.
There is ample evidence that canine domestication took place in Asia. The traditional African dog is a descendant of dogs that had been domesticated in the East and came to Africa. Their earliest presence has been established in Egypt and dated at 4700 BC. Archaeological records show that, from then on, the dog spread rapidly along the Nile into Sudan and even beyond. At the same time, migrations, trade, and transhumance took it deep into the Sahara. By 2000 BC, this moving frontier stopped for a long period. Meanwhile, throughout the Egyptian dynasties, the breeding of swift and slender hounds together with a variety of common dogs became very popular.
For thousands of years, the aboriginal San (Bushman) populations in Southern Africa hunted without the help of dogs. Although the Khoikhoi brought domestic sheep along a western migratory route to the Cape of Good Hope just before the Christian era, there is no conclusive evidence that dogs were part of their party.
The domestic dog first arrived in Southern Africa with the migration of the Early Iron Age Bantu speaking people. Dogs of Nilotic origin consecutively joined the Early and also Later Iron Age migrations. It is generally accepted that these migrations traveled along the Albertine Rift and the Lake region. They followed tsetse-free corridors through Zambia and Zimbabwe to reach Botswana and finally South Africa. The earliest evidence for the presence of a domestic dog in South Africa has been established by Dr. Ina Plug, deputy director of the Transvaal Museum. The remains were found near the Botswana border and dated at 570 AD. By 650 AD the presence of the house dog is established in the Lower Thukela valley. By 800 AD it is part of a Khoisan settlement in Cape St. Francis, indicating that contact and trade between Bantu and Khoisan had been established.
For hundreds of years this exclusive primitive canine gene pool adapted to various conditions of the Southern African landscape and, through natural selection, evolved into ecotypes all belonging to the same landrace. It is sometimes argued that dogs brought by the Arab trade, Eastern seafarers, and Portuguese explorers might, over the years, have "contaminated" the traditional African dog. In other opinions, these chances are scant. Exotic canine influences became more likely after the colonisation of Transkei and Zululand during the 19th century.
The true Africanis is still found today in tribal areas where people maintain their traditional lifestyle. The fast-changing South Africa and the impact that this causes on rural societies, together with a certain disdain for the traditional dog and the status that the ownership of an exotic breed provides, poses an increasing threat to the continuation of the aboriginal Africanis. The Africanis Society of Southern Africa was founded to conserve this ancient gene pool. Conserving the Africanis as a landrace stands for conserving biodiversity. The society has been praised as an ethically responsible canine association.
- Gallant, Johan, The Story of the African Dog. University of Kwazulu-Natal Press ISBN 1-86914-024-9
- Hall, Sian, "Dogs of Africa". 2003. Alpine.
- Africanis Society of Southern Africa