Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s appeal in ‘Mann Ki Baat’ (aired on August 30) to adopt and breed native dogs finds a lot of resonance in Tamil Nadu which has the only state-run dog facility for native dogs in the whole country.
Ignorance about native dog breeds
The Prime Minister named native breeds of dogs such as Rajapalayam, Chippiparai, Kanni and Combai amongst the most valuable ones.
All the dogs mentioned by the PM are found in Tamil Nadu in adequate numbers, but not many people know about them, forget about knowing their rare qualities.
About the state-run dog facility
Fortunately, the state has a separate dog breeding unit whose main objective is to preserve native dog species, but the unfortunate part is that the centre is fighting closure. Notably, it is the only state-run dog facility for native dogs in the whole country.
The unit was started under animal husbandry department in 1980-81. In 2013, an investigation commissioned by the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) and conducted by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) alleged that the unit was not properly maintained and the dogs suffered from a variety of ailments.
In 2014, the Madras High Court ordered a second inspection and it was found that the dogs were not looked after with care. In 2016, the court directed the state government to shut down the unit. However in 2017, the state went for an appeal to the Supreme Court and the High Court’s order was stayed. In 2018, PETA filed an affidavit with fresh evidences alleging cruelty to the canines in the unit. The matter is still in court.
Meanwhile, media reports suggested the unit has developed a standard operating procedure for breeding and the dogs will thereafter be bred as per rules laid down by the Centre.
It is in this backdrop that the importance of preserving native dog breeds has gained importance once again.
Two Chippiparai dogs that saved 35 others
“Four years ago, a Central expert committee declared the Chippiparai dog as a pristine indigenous breed,” said nature writer Theodore Baskaran, who has authored ‘The Book of Indian Dogs’, the most comprehensive account of Indian native dogs.
Talking about the value of Chippiparai breed, Bhaskaran cited an example of the civil war in Sri Lanka in the 80s where Indian Peace Keeping Forces were involved. The Indians had taken 35 foreign bred dogs with them. “The dogs got infected from deadly ‘ticker fever’ because of staying inside bunkers for days. To save them, the dogs were brought to Chennai for treatment,” Bhaskaran recollects.
“Like humans, dogs too have eight types of blood groups. Chennai is the only place in the country where we have a dedicated blood bank for dogs. Chippiparai is the only breed which can be a universal donor. Two Chippiparai dogs gave blood to save the 35 dogs. Later, the two dogs were honoured in Madras Veterinary College,” added Baskaran.
Sight hounds and scent hounds
Dogs can be divided into two categories namely sight hounds and scent hounds. Our indigenous breeds are sight hounds. “That doesn’t mean they lack the skill to smell. Instead, they largely use their eyes. They have large lungs too. So they can run faster and longer. We still don’t know the full potential of our native dogs,” Baskaran rued.
It is interesting to note that these native breeds once bred for hunting are now used in the service of the nation. The Mudhol breed is used in Army to detect landmines. Likewise, Combai is used in CRPF. Baskaran said the Chippiparai dogs were once used in Tiruchi to guard railway yards.
Indigenous dogs are available in good numbers
So, how are the numbers of these indigenous breeds of dogs? “It is good. People are unable to get dogs of these breeds because they don’t know where to find them. So they think their population is dwindling,” says Tenkasi-based independent dog enthusiast Siva Siddhu, whose family is breeding native dogs for last two generations.
“In Rajapalayam region of Virudhunagar district, about 200 families depend on Rajapalayam dogs for their livelihood. Each family has at least two female dogs. A Rajapalayam dog gives birth twice a year. Each time it bears five puppies. Selling the puppies fetches them anywhere between Rs12,000 and Rs15,000 per dog. In those days, the breed was used to hunt wild pigs. The native dogs also have high immunity,” said Siddhu.
These native dogs were brought to Tamil Nadu some hundred years back from Andhra Pradesh by Nayakkars. Only the Nayaks and zamindars in areas such as Sevalpatti, Sattur, Bodinayakanur were used to hunt animals and only they had access to breed the native dogs.
Dalits started breeding these dogs only in the last 40 to 50 years. “Mudhol, which is conserved in a dedicated centre in Bagalkot, Karnataka, is bred with the support of funds allocated under SC/ST funds. They are the ones who mainly breed dogs to protect their farmlands. The individual breeders are also supported with subsidies,” added Siddhu.
‘Native breeds were once labeled street dogs’
N S Raja, associate professor, department of genetic engineering, SRM Institute of Science and Technology, Chennai, said sadly people once considered all the native dogs as street dogs. “Only now they realise their importance. There are also special sections in dog shows to exhibit native dogs. Now the awareness is increasing,” said Raja, whose ongoing research is to identify and validate DNA markers of Indian dogs.
“People still identify dogs by their physical appearances. But over the years these dogs have been crossed with other breeds. We need to scientifically prove the identity of our native dogs. So we need to do whole genome sequencing. It has not been done so far,” added Raja.
What should the government do?
“Governments should take steps to conserve culturally important species,” said T Ravimurugan, associate professor, department of animal genetics and breeding, Veterinary College and Research Institute, Tirunelveli.
“The National Bureau of Animal Genetics Resources in Haryana, which was established to conserve livestock and poultry genetic resources focus only on economically important animal species like cattle and poultry. It should also focus on culturally important animal species like dogs to conserve native varieties. The governments can think of establishing a centre to protect such species in Rajapalayam itself,” suggested Ravimurugan.