MBDP suffered a great loss this passed Fall. One of our Bankhar in Mongolia was shot by a group of hunters culling stray dogs near Hustai National Park. His name was Baavgai – the father and name-sake of young Baavgai who now lives in the U.S.
This is an unfortunate but common occurrence in Mongolia; with far too many stray dogs in the countryside and city, areas will periodically hire or allow culling parties to shoot and remove stray dogs that are considered a nuisance. Our dog was clearly not a stray and was simply wandering around the flat area near our program, however this particular culling party did not notice this and were not informed of their proximity to our facility.
Baavgai was extremely intelligent. He was the best at sneaking out of his enclosure when I wasn’t looking and was quick to learn commands. He played gently with pups while they grew up, and he joyful received pats, belly rubs, and attention. He had a wise ‘old man’ face and absolutely beautiful confirmation. I don’t like to pick favorites since all of our dogs have distinct and loving personalities, but Baavgai was certainly the king of our little dog kingdom. He was everything a good Bankhar should be. His loss was especially devastation because of its abruptness and was something we previously would never have guessed could happen.
Rest assured that the team moved quickly to resolve this as a safety concern for the future; we have a much more clear understanding with the park to alert us to the presence of hunters and culling parties, we put much more visible collars on each dog, and while Baavgai was roaming in a reasonable proximity to the facility when this accident occurred, we no longer let the dogs walk around away from our land during the summer season.
The days following Baavgai’s passing were difficult and sad for Batbaatar, Myagmar, and I. Holding the traditional burial ceremony for dogs gave us some relief and closure. Dogs hold sacred meaning to Mongolians and it is typical for a dog to have this rite performed when they die.
We selected a secluded spot on the south side of a mountain where there would be sunlight and protection from the wind and positioned Baagvai (as local tradition dictates) with his head pointing in the direction of the area he was born. Mygamar put shar-tos (a yellow oil that looks a bit like butter) in his mouth, a symbolic last gift. He then carefully cut off his tail and placed it under his head. This symbolizes the belief that dogs will be reincarnated as humans so they no longer need their tail. Then the three of use walked in a circle around him three times and left without looking back (an important aspect of the ceremony). Perhaps this seems unusual to American readers, however many shamanistic ‘burial’ rituals don’t involve actually being buried. Mongolian tradition is somewhat averse to breaking the ground in certain symbolic ways, and so burial rituals even for humans do not involve being physically covered with earth.
Baavgai dying this Fall serves us as a reminder of the rarity of this landrace and how critical it is for us to protect their genetic diversity. The lose of even one high quality individual dog is significant when the breeding population of Bankhar is already limited. We remember him with gratitude as we move forward with our work and mission.
A poem to memorialize Baavgai:
Near this Spot
are deposited the Remains of one
who possessed Beauty without Vanity,
Strength without Insolence,
Courage without Ferocity,
and all the virtues of Man without his Vices.
This praise, which would be unmeaning Flattery
if inscribed over human Ashes,
is but a just tribute to the Memory of
Boatswain, a Dog
When some proud Son of Man returns to Earth,
Unknown to Glory, but upheld by Birth,
The sculptor’s art exhausts the pomp of woe,
And storied urns record who rests below.
When all is done, upon the Tomb is seen,
Not what he was, but what he should have been.
But the poor Dog, in life the firmest friend,
The first to welcome, foremost to defend,
Whose honest heart is still his Master’s own,
Who labours, fights, lives, breathes for him alone,
Unhonoured falls, unnoticed all his worth,
Denied in heaven the Soul he held on earth –
While man, vain insect! hopes to be forgiven,
And claims himself a sole exclusive heaven.
Oh man! thou feeble tenant of an hour,
Debased by slavery, or corrupt by power –
Who knows thee well, must quit thee with disgust,
Degraded mass of animated dust!
Thy love is lust, thy friendship all a cheat,
Thy tongue hypocrisy, thy heart deceit!
By nature vile, ennobled but by name,
Each kindred brute might bid thee blush for shame.
Ye, who behold perchance this simple urn,
Pass on – it honours none you wish to mourn.
To mark a friend’s remains these stones arise;
I never knew but one — and here he lies.