Central Asia is home to some of the most ancient breeds of dogs on the planet. The most famous is the Bankhar. Bankhar can be found in Tibet, Mongolia, China, Siberia, and other parts of Central Asia. Dogs can vary in appearance from region to region. These dogs have been the companions and guardians of nomad camps throughout the ages. Today, these dogs are endangered. Members of the Horde have worked hard bringing the plight of the Bankhar into public knowledge. Mongolian dogs have been brought to the United States into a breeding program to help the number of this endangered breed grow.

Bankhar have been a part of Mongolian history for a very long time. Marco Polo wrote about them in his journals and Mongols have honored their beloved canines in their artwork, stamps, and songs.

Above is a drawing of Marco Polo returning home from his adventures. He was so impressed by the Bankar dogs of Mongolia, that he aquired one himself. He is the first Westerner recorded to own one.

The strength and bravery of these dogs was legendary and is still honored today.

Horde Ernak is also working in cooperation with the Nomadic Livestock Guardian Project. This is a group of Mongolian scientists and other scientists that are starting a foundation who’s goal is find the older “Land Race” dogs used by the nomads to protect their flocks from predation, breed them, train them and place them free with the nomads. Their goal is to help protect the wolf and other predators of Mongolia in a way that does not force nomads to use guns or poison.The goals of the project are:

* Gather the scientific group needed
* Gather funds needed from grants and private institutions inside Mongolia and outside
* Develop an encompassing plan to breed, train, and reintroduce to the nomads
* Gather data on predation rates and type on nomadic herds
* Locate a breeding kennel and staff it with graduate students if possible
* Determine what is really the Bankhar - in process
* Find 7 pair of breeding stock animals
* Gather livestock herd to raise in which to raise the puppies
* Train nomads on the way to use the dogs effectively
* Place dogs with families most likely to adhere to the plan
* Gather follow up date , etc. for peer review papers· assign grad students (Mongolian) to take over project and continue gathering data
* Publish papers
* Gather more funding throughout these steps.

Below are some photos from the Horde’s Save the Bankhar project.

Picking out the right pups is an important task for grandma.

Welcoming a new pup at the airport

Puppy anyone?

A Horde brother with a pup

Many travelers who visited Mongolia in different periods were impressed with the number of cattle and dogs. Mongolian nomadic families usually migrate with their cattle, frequently changing pastures. With such a lifestyle, the service of dogs is essencial for alerting about the arrival of strangers, and guarding and herding sheep flocks. Each nomadic family usually has 2-3 dogs to look after livestock, guard the home, and help in hunting.

The dog was always a loyal friend and companion to nomadic herders. Many ancient rock paintings show that Central Asian nomads used dogs for guarding their flocks and hunting. Graveyards of Hunnu people (Huns) often contained metal embroidery and pottery with pictures of hunters with dogs or dogs along with their masters.

Ancient Chinese historical records describe Hunnu dogs as “very ferocious and big dogs with strong legs and wide chests.” Dogs are mentioned very often in famous historical documents and literary epics. It is said that“Dogs are the most loyal friends. They will never change a poor master for a rich herder, grown by a poor nomad, it will never follow even a khaan.” There was even a poem composed by Sandag, a famous poet of the 19th century called “Praise to Dog”.

Ch. Jugder, a well known expert on Medieval Mongolian philosophy, notes that “Mongols deeply respected and revered their dogs and the dogs never betrayed their masters.” Such respect for dogs even found reflection in the legislation. The Codes of Law from 1640 and 1709 (enforced and observed until 1921) both contain provisions prohibiting to kill or beat dogs. Dogs, similar to horses, were buried in the hills so that people did not walk on their remains.

Before the revolution of 1921, the number of dogs in the country was astonishing. According to veteranarian D. Tseveenjav, some 200-300,000 dogs lived in the country in the 20s. As the population gets more and more settled and repeated campaigns to destroy stray dogs, the number of dogs has diminished. According to A. Osor study, in 1985 there were only 18,840 dogs registered in the country.

Dogs are the only domesticated animals Mongols give names. All other animals are given nicknames based on their color or shape while dogs are condsidered a family member.

When aquiring a pup, a new master should bring in gifts to the owner of the dog as well as food for the she dog. When the puppy is brought home for the first time it is fed with some milk. After this the foundation of its ears and the tail end are smeared with some fat with the wish of turning into a lion. Then the new owner whispers the dog’s name into its ear. Each name has a meaning. Eagle, Flacon, Lion according to some qualities of these animals. Often names are associated with the kind of service: Hunter, Guard, Shepherd, etc.

There are some strict rules for picking up a good dog some of which are contained in medieval medical scripts and some of which are passed from father to son. According to these rules, the dog’s outside appearance is important in judging a good one. It is believed that a dog with a heart-shaped white spot on the chest will be brave and loyal. White on the chest is the sign of bravery because bears in Mongolia have white on their chests. Reddish shadow in the eyes indicate that the dog will be a fierce fighter ready to fight until the end. White spots near the claws are a good omen because they bring in wealth to the master’s home but white legs and a white tail end mean that the dog will neglect its duties.

“Save the Bankhar!” is the motto of those worried with the sudden decline of the number of Mongolian dogs. If 20 years ago they comprised about 30% of all registered dogs, nowadays it is hard to find one real Mongolian dogs even in remote areas.

Above photo: A friend holding pick of the litter at only 8 weeks old. This pup went to the Khan.

Save the Bankhar!