The Bankhar dog is an ancient tool that has aided the nomadic people of Mongolia as long as they have lived on the steppe. Traditionally, nomads and herders kept these specially bred large working dogs to protect livestock from predators. Published, peer-reviewed research has shown that 1) properly employed livestock protection dogs have a demonstrably positive effect on conservation of wild predators, and 2) that curtailing retaliatory killing of large predators and repopulating their natural prey are the most significant contributions conservation programs can make toward protecting these endangered species. MBDP is building its programs according to the best scientific research available, and plans to contribute invaluable research to the scientific community supporting this method of conservation.
The current Bankhar dog population is a fraction of what it was in the past, because of the general loss of knowledge about how to breed, train and employ these working dogs, and mis-education about dogs’ potential to spread disease to livestock.
Mongolian Bankhar Dog Project aims to restore the Bankhar dog to its former status as the mediator between nomadic people and large wild predators, and in so doing to provide a tool to help favor non-lethal approach to managing livestock predation in Mongolia.
MBDP believes that rehabilitating the Bankhar dog population constitutes a win-win for wildlife conservation and cultural preservation.
Through the widespread reintroduction of the Bankhar dog, MBDP’s ultimate goals are to bolster the culture and traditions of nomadic people, restore the depleted grassland ecosystems that support humans as well as endangered keystone wildlife species, and reduce the number of predators hunted and killed by herders protecting their livestock. While herders must retain the right to control predators, it is all they have after all, we hope the Bankhar can help reduce the need for too much reliance on lethal control of predators.
MBDP identifies, breeds, trains, places, monitors, researches, reports on, and advocates for working Mongolian Bankhar dogs.
We chose our breeding group of dogs using the following criteria. These criteria give Mongolian Bankhar Dog Project the best chance of breeding and training good working dogs:
– Dog choice: We chose dogs that we felt were “Bankhar” as had been seen in the past and as elder Mongolians remember. The basic criteria were: demonstration of appropriate, calm behavior with humans, a protective level of aggression toward predators, a moderate size allowing for speed, grace and athletic performance, as well as sound structure and proportion of body and head, historic roots (did we know the parents and were they working dogs) and of course, overall health and age.
– DNA: working with Cornell University and the Canine Institute of Biology, we utilized genotype techniques on all individuals. We did this to determine if the dogs samples had any DNA associated with modern dog breeds. We chose to exclude any individual with any modern dog breed genes, assuming that the primitive Mongolian Bankhar dog would have only recently interbred with dogs from outside of its natural range. We also utilized the DNA data to chose dogs unrelated to one another.
– Gender ratio and breeding group size: utilizing all the above we have developed a long-term breeding program that will ensure we retain the amazing genetic diversity of this dog type as well as retain the attributes that the dog needs to survive and aid its human counterparts.
Our dogs are housed in large enclosures that are 45m x 22.5m (150ft x 75ft) for a pair or mother and pups. In addition the enclosures house a small herd of sheep (4-8) that live with the adults and pups at all times.
Each enclosure has a Hashaa (small barn or lean-to). The Hashaa is where the sheep eat and sleep (in winter). It also has a doghouse, playpen and a hide spot. The doghouse is where the mother gives birth and the adults and pups sleep if they want. The playpen places the pups for play or feeding right next to the sheep to help the bonding process. The hide spot is a table-like structure that the pup can hide under to avoid sheep hooves or hide from an aggressive sheep. The doghouse, play pen and hide area are removed as soon as the pups are large enough to not be hurt by the sheep. We do this to enhance the bonding process since the sheep and dogs will sleep together.
We feed our dogs the same food they will get when they are placed with host families. This consists of sheep innards, rice or noodles, cheese whey, and water. This is all cooked and served warm. Large fresh raw sheep, goat or cow bones are given biweekly.
We weigh our dogs periodically and constantly watch dog weight and condition. We keep our dogs on the thin side compared to western ideas of proper body weight.
Bone disorders are practically unheard of in the Bankhar. It is unclear if this is because of diet, genetics or some combination of factors.
We care for our dogs on a vet schedule and care régime used in western countries. In addition, we have a full time caretaker and a vet on call as needed.
We have arranged our breeding adults into a program that we hope will retain the high genetic diversity in the Bankhar as well as retain the forces that made the landrace to begin with. Our goal with this program is to avoid any inbreeding and ensure that our founder group is adequate enough to establish a larger population. However, we do not want to fall prey to reducing genetic diversity; therefore, we propose to follow what our founder Bruce Elfström calls Biogeographic Breeding Mimicry (Read more…). In addition, we will be searching/finding and bringing in new breeding adults constantly and as we find fine examples of true working dogs.
Our breeding facility houses up to 48 dogs in very large enclosures so sheep can also live with the dogs (click here to read more and see pictures). However, in addition to our facilities and our breeding group, certain nomadic herders will join a network of breeders around Mongolia and coordinated by us will breed dogs for distribution locally and between other nomad breeders. It is our ultimate goal to have all Bankhar bred by herders themselves and the network and mate choices tended by them independently.
The Bankhar breeds in the fall or early winter. The landrace seems to breed once a year, but this is most likely due to the very harsh and cold conditions of Mongolia. We do not know if this holds true once removed to more moderate climes.
Once estrus is noticeable, the adults are paired up for a few weeks, unless they don’t already live together.
This step is critical to the formation or shaping of a truly reliable working livestock guardian dog. The adults and pups live at all times with sheep. They sleep with, eat next to, and play around sheep. Human interaction is not at the level of a “Pet”. While we do interact with the dogs enough to socialize them to people, especially children, we make a point to treat the dogs like fellow workers and not baby pets.
From the ages of 1 day to 3 years old the protocol we use for ourselves and the host families is very strict and precise. The protocol was developed by us with a great amount of input from, Orysia Dawydiak, Cat Urbigkit, Vicki Hughes, and Robin Rigg and reference to current literature and similar projects.
We give dogs to host families living within areas under some type of ecological study or protection (see current placement locations). This allows us to aid other projects and to get aid for ours. Data collection is at the root of all conservation projects. However, it is our plan to place dogs everywhere in Mongolia eventually.
Host families are chosen based on the following criteria:
– Need: Is the area under high predator pressure?
– Cooperation: Does the family agree to raise and care for the dogs by following our protocol very closely? This is paramount to success. If the protocol is not followed (for example, if the dog is allowed to be tied up) then the dog has little chance in bonding with its livestock and developing the protective behaviors needed.
– Contract: We require host families to sign a contract binding them to the proper care and management of the dog throughout its life.
– Number of livestock: Does the family have a number of livestock the dog(s) will be able to protect once they are adults? We set this at different levels depending on pressure and terrain. As a guideline we place one dog with each 150-200 sheep or goats.
– Existing dogs: Does the family have existing dogs and what are these dogs used for normally. We avoid dogs that stay mostly by the ger and not with sheep and we heavily favor dogs that stay with and work the sheep. Preliminarily we place first with families that have working dogs, second those with no dogs at all, and third with ger dogs that can be kept away from our placed dogs.
– Location: For the time being, we place dogs within study areas or parks that our partners control or work in, or we have strong local connections through established cooperative groups. We need to quantify the dogs’ effect on predation on livestock so we can further modify our protocol to be as effective and successful as possible.
-Alternative Fibers: We hope to develop a means to allow the herders top harvest and sell alternative fibers like Camel or Yak. If we can create a market, then the herder will be able to diversify the herd, thereby reducing the deleterious effect of “mono-culture’ grazing of livestock on the grasslands. This is especially true for the goats because they eat grasses to the roots.
-Sustainable Cashmere and cruelty-free markets: We are working with other conservation groups in an attempt to develop a label and market for sustainable cashmere and cruelty (non-lethal predator control) labeling. This product would fetch higher prices and allow the herders to ride market fluctuations without increasing the size of their goat herds.
-Alternative products: We are working with The Snow Leopard Trust to have our host families join their Snow Leopard Enterprises program where herders create toys, ornaments, and gift products that can be sold for increased income from livestock without resorting to increased herd sizes.
Once our dogs are placed, we start the work of collecting data to determine the factors that make our dogs most effective in the field. Our goal is to publish papers and develop this project into a model that can be used globally.
The data we collect will be analyzed, summarized and posted to our donors, followers, and participants on a biannual basis.
We will work with other conservation groups to share data and combine our efforts. Together, we are more effective.