Monday, February 19, 2007

History of the Kangal Dog

Beyond Kayadibi the country dogs were the largest and most savage of any I had met. In build they were like Newfoundlands, but larger, with black head or muzzle, yellow body, and long curling tail. From nearly every flock that fed within a half-mile of the road a dog would presently detach itself and come lumbering across country to the attack.” (Childs, W.J. Across Asia Minor on Foot. London, 1917)
Childs was certainly not a dog-lover but he accurately described the native Kangal Dogs he met along the old Silk Road, outside of Sivas in Turkey. Sheepherding as been the way of life here for hundreds of years and references to “great yellow dogs with black faces” go back to the 14th century. The principal predator is the wolf but other predators include feral dogs, mountain cats, foxes, jackals, and wild boar.
In Turkey, the Kangal Kopegi has been declared both the National Dog of Turkey and a National Treasure, celebrated at an annual Kangal Dog Festival, and regular Kangal Dog Symposiums. The Kangal Dog is conserved at various Turkish military and university facilities including two breeding centers in Sivas. It is technically illegal for non-nationals to export Kangals from the province. In addition, the United Nations has funded small grants for projects that demonstrate and encourage the use of Kangal Dogs in conservation efforts to protect wildlife.
Historically, the Kangal Dog has at times been referred to as Karabas or Karabash meaning black-head. The mtDNA samples of the Kangal Dog show that it is more genetically isolated than the Akbash and for a longer time. The two populations show little mixing, according to Dr Peter Savolainen.
In Turkey, the Kangal Dog works actively with shepherds, out with their flocks grazing by day and returning to the villages at night. In the villages, Kangal Dogs are expected to be gentle with children and tolerant of neighbors. They are not allowed to run free but are confined outside the home or with the sheep. They are fed barley mash, scraps, and bones. During the summers, flocks often make the journey to high summer pastures, far from roads and people. Two or three dogs accompany flocks of 200-300 sheep. Kangal Dogs are known for their fierce battles with predators, first intimidating them through barking, but they do, at times, pursue wolves when necessary. Puppies grow up in the village until they are old enough to accompany the older dogs and learn from both them and the shepherds.

The Encyclopedia of Historic and Endangered Livestock and Poultry Breeds

I have been fascinated with historic breeds for a long time. I joined the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy in 1985, and there I met many dedicated people who have devoted their lives to rare breed conservation. I was fortunate to serve as a delegate to the Third Global Conference on Domestic Animal Diversity, where I met conservationists from around the world. As a result, Yale University Press published The Encyclopedia of Historic and Endangered Livestock and Poultry Breeds.

The hardy, multipurpose Dominique chickens that came to the New World with the Pilgrims and later traveled in pioneer saddlebags to help settle the West were once too numerous to count; by 1990 a mere 500 hens survived. This is but a single example of the diminishing diversity of farm animals: half of once-common livestock breeds are endangered, others are already extinct. The need to preserve farm animal diversity is increasingly urgent. Farmyard animals may hold critical keys for our survival and with each extinction, genetic traits of potentially vital importance to our agricultural future or to medical progress are forever lost

• complete information on the history, characteristics, qualities, and traits of 138 endangered livestock breeds (goats, sheep, swine, cattle, horses, other equines) and 53 poultry breeds (chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese)

• where these breeds may be seen today

• the degree of rarity of each breed in the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada

• information on feral livestock populations

• 160 color photographs and over 80 black and white photos and historical illustrations