Dr. Javaid Rahi
Apprehensions among the Tribal Gujjar and Bakerwal communities of North-western Himalayas of Indian subcontinent are growing high that they may lose the rare breed of Bakerwali Dog due to a number of reasons. The tribals are exceedingly worried that the oldest variety of mastiff which protects big herd of livestock during bi-annual seasonal tribal migration may become a part of history in the nearest future as the population of this rear breed is declining rapidly .
The dog is a world-wide known breed of vegetarian dog and is considered to be among the rarest herding mastiffs in view of their power and honesty. It only feeds on milk and bread made of maize or Phak (an outer part of a type of rice) . The tribals knowingly serve only vegetarian food to their dogs as it helps them keep away from attacking the flock for want of meat.
Origin of Bakerwali Dog
Some scientists say that this is an oldest herding dog originating in Central Asia. While others are of the view that this breed is an outcome of Tibetan Mastiff and the Indian Dog. Some trace its origin in India only saying that this is an oldest Indian Dog which surviving since centuries with the Gujjar tribe.
In some works of history, this dog is shown as an ancient working breed found in the Hindukush, and Himalayan belt of Indian subcontinent , where it has been bred for many centuries by the Gujjar/ Bakerwal nomadic tribes as a livestock guardian and settlement protector.
Some historian trace the origin of Bakerwali Dog to some 3000 year back. This dog is much older than many dogs suggested as relatives to the breed. The animal annalists define the lineage of Bakerwali Dog with some older breeds of Molosser including the Hyrcanian Mastiff, the Molossus tis Epirou, the Sylvan, the Tuvan Sheepdog, the Siah Sag, and the Iranian Sage Mazandarani and their descendants.
Largest population of this Bakerwali Dog species is found in Indian side of Jammu and Kashmir and they are in good numbers in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir besides frontier areas of Pakistan.
They also exist in some areas of Afghanistan. According to a raw idea around less than a 1000 pure Bakerwali dogs are still surviving in upper reaches as against 10,000 population in 90s.
Characteristics of Bakerwali dog
Bakerwali Dog has a large in body. Commonly known for its deep-chest, muscular and agility, the Gujjar/Bakerwal sheepdog has a straight back, broad shoulders and long legs. The body is strongly boned, with a powerful neck and large head.
Threats to Bakerwali dog
The nomadic Gujjars and Bakerwals of Jammu and Kashmir are losing the rarest of rare traditional and indigenous species of world famous “Bakerwali Dog” and they are asking that this dog may be given the status of endangered species .
In next few decades, the rugged, courageous and serious, this shepherd dog will become history as this is among the most threatened species in the world.
The population of the dog started declining gradually since 1970 when some of the people of the tribe relinquished their nomadic life, sheep, goats and dogs owing to various reasons and settled at various places.
After 1990 a steep decline in population of Bakerwal Dog was observed as a number of dogs were killed during insurgency/conflict in the State in higher reaches of the State. During the gunfights many dogs were killed by the militants or the security forces when they were interrupted during night operations..
Low productive issue
Another interesting part of their decline is their low productivity/ population tendency. The Bakerwali shepherd bitch which gives birth to a pup only once in a year that too less in number.
It gives one to four pups as compared to other breeds which gives birth to as many as twelve pups simultaneously in a year.
Bakerwali Dog in Indian Market
Owing to less number , the Bakerwals /Gujjars do not sell these Dogs to anybody. with the result they are stolen from higher reaches and taken illegally out of the state to be sold . The approximate rate of this dog is between 75000 to Rs.150000 or above keeping in view the appearance of the dog.
Age and health
The Bakerwali dog has a natural life that averages between 12 and 15 years. After death Bakerwal/ Gujjars bury the dog in nearby area. Barring minor throat infections the breed being tough generally stand firm against all type of sickness.
Powerful Bakerwali dogs
A Bakerwali dog is extremely courageous with a power to kill a lion, a tiger or a bear alone. This dog can fight with an animal larger in double than itself. The breed cannot attack any human being during migration in the day light especially in thickly populated areas.
But in night they can kill a human being without giving any alarm to him/her if he/she enters into the flock area they guarding of. One Dog can guard nearly 300 to 500 sheep/ goats/horses.
Folk-lore about Bakerwali dog
A number of folk tales are popular among Gujjars and Bakerwals which narrate the bravery sagas of this dog. There is a belief among Gujjars/ Bakerwals that if the dog starts crying or weeping in the night, it is believed that the owner of the dog or some family members may face a great trouble in nearest future including the threat of life. If dog is reluctant to move on the occasion of start of annual migration, it is believed that they may face a big disaster in the year.
Its bark is a very high and authoritative in tone tune, which is a main tactics of this Dog to warn away predators and avoid first confrontation. This is the most active breed which can guard the livestock 24X7 without taking even a short sleep. This dog is very intelligent and inflexible to a fault.
As family dogs they are considered as an excellent companions due to their extra ordinary alertness .
The Gujjars / Bakerwals treat this Dog like a family member and give them due attentions as and when required.
( The author is a tribal researcher)