The Basenji Club of America African Stock Project

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THE FUTURE FOR BASENJIS

by Russell D. Hendren

I'D LIKE VERY MUCH TO SHARE with the membership a few of my concerns about the future 
of the Basenji. I'll limit this to just a couple of problems I believe are present in the breed. Then we
can get to the more important issue, a possible solution to these problems. I would also like to state
that all I have to share are opinions and ideas. There is no good, bad, right or wrong attached.
I'm certain most everyone is aware that all Basenjis outside of Africa are the descendants of a mere 
handful of dogs. In the last forty years or so, the descendants of these original dogs have been select-
ively bred together to produce the thousands of Basenjis that are now spread throughout the entire
world. At first glance, a newcomer to the breed might believe that breeders have a real smorgas-
board to chose from in selecting a new stud for their bitch. I remember well my own plans, hopes
and fantasies when I started with a dog and a bitch in the sixties. At that time, there seemed to be
many choices available to me for new blood. It was with real enthusiasm that I traveled around the
U. S. to dog shows and to visit other breeders in search of that better tail set, coat color, etc. It was
this same enthusiasm that motivated me to travel to many other countries in the last few years.
During the years I've been in the breed, I've imported a bitch from France (she was of English 
bloodlines) and obtained two dogs from Australian breeders. It is these personal experiences of
observing Basenjis in many countries worldwide together with firsthand knowledge of the results of
crossing Australian and English bloodlines with my own stock that lead me to believe there is really
nothing available to any of us in the way of "new blood". This surely won't cause any great disagree-
ment from breeders who have spent any time tracing pedigrees -- all of which go back to the same
handful of dogs that formed the foundation of the breed in the developed world. I also know that the
belief that the breed is inbred is not original to myself. I have heard many other breeders from many
countries around the world state this thought before.
If the breed is in fact inbred, as I and others believe it to be, what is the possibility that we breeders, 
the caretakers of this unique and delightful dog, can make any significant contribution to Basenjis in
the future? If our goal as caretakers is to attempt to improve the conformation, disposition, health,
etc. of the breed or at the very least to maintain the present condition, then I honestly believe we
have real reason to be alarmed for the breed's future.
Regarding one issue, that of the health of the Basenjis in the U.S., where I have had first hand exper-
ience. Ten to fifteen years ago, it was rare to hear other breeders talk about kidney or malabsorp-
tion problems. It is now commonplace for one to hear these discussed at most dog shows or any
other event where Basenji breeders get together to visit. It is guaranteed that the subjects will be
brought up between breeders when considering breeding to one another's studs.
I have talked to several breeders who have communicated with Drs. Bovee and Breitschwerdt, the 
two veterinarian researchers currently studying these tragic diseases. Both doctors are still involved
in the research process and have not come to definitive conclusions. However, both stated that they
have tested with positive results dogs from ALL the major line-breeding programs in the U.S., as
well as dogs from many areas of the country with pedigrees not involved in these lines. With the
pedigree research and analysis that has already been done on the affected dogs for both diseases,
the doctors are reasonably certain that the diseases are inherited and can be traced back to the orig-
inal foundation stock. The exact mode of inheritance, treatment, cure and an ability to identify carrier
status in dogs before they are bred have not yet been successfully established. So, for at least these
two health issues (Fanconi and chronic diarrhea syndromes), we are aware of the problem but have
no solution.
Over the last few years, I have had the good fortune to discuss health issues with breeders from 
Australia, England, New Zealand and several other countries. All responded to the Fanconi and
chronic diarrhea syndrome questions with no knowledge of it occurring in their country. This respon-
se has always caused me to recall an actual experience I had regarding the question of hemolytic
anemia. I'd like to share it with those breeders who feel they are unaffected by these problems.
Approximately fifteen years ago while on holiday in Europe, I visited England so I could meet some 
of the old_ time breeders whose names were so familiar to me. During a conversation with one very
well known and long established breeder, the subject of hemolytic anemia arose. I was informed that
this person had heard about the "blood problem" the U.S. breeders were having in letters received
from friends, as well as in articles on the subject published in the Basenji Magazine. This breeder's
veterinarian had been given the information and had consulted with other veterinarians in England.
They professed to be unaware of any such problems in their country. The conclusion was that
improper diet caused this! Therefore, this breeder's big question to me was, "Just what do you
Yanks feed Basenjis over there? " Well, being relatively ignorant of genetics and health research in
general at that time, I certainly didn't have any intelligent response to the question. However, three
years later on a return visit to this same breeder, I was proudly informed that all this person's stock
has been tested for hemolytic anemia. My question, naturally, was, "Why? Did you change their
diet?"
The purpose of sharing this trivial story is merely to point out to those breeders not yet affected by 
the current health problems that the same handful of Basenjis are the foundation for ALL our dogs.
It's possible that the genes responsible for the health problems in the U. S, Basenjis have not been
passed on to stock in the rest of the world. For the sake of the dogs and their breeders, I sincerely
hope this is true. However, the probability is that these genes are present in stock all over the world.
They have been phenotypically expressed in the U. S. due to the many large kennels with their long-
term intensified line-breeding/in-breeding programs which increased the probability of expression.
I personally believe it was for these reasons that persistent pupillary membrane and hemolytic 
anemia became general knowledge in the U. S. breeding community before this knowledge spread
to the rest of the world. In any event, it is my opinion that the future of the breed regarding health
issues does hold some serious reason for concern.
For now, let's put the health issues aside. How many other breeders on their third or more genera-
tion in a breeding program have noticed that the number of studs they would consider using on their
beautiful bitch seems to dwindle with each successive generation produced? The "smorgasbord" of
studs I thought was available to create that "perfect" Basenji when I started on my idealistically con-
ceived breeding program has gone from a banquet-sized table to one of a size that would be lucky
to hold a ready made T. V. dinner! Surely, I'm not the only one to admit to becoming more narrow-
minded and specific about what I'm willing to spend my time, effort and money on to continue a
breeding program.
Another problem seems evident to me. If you and I are feeling at all limited now in our choices in the 
gene pool available to us, what will the situation be forty years down the road from today? Our role
as caretakers of the breed is really a mere blink of the eye when compared to the history of the
breed and the centuries it has taken to evolve!
WHAT ARE THE POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS to these problems? My ideas for solving these prob-
lems in the future are actually somewhat limited. We can support the health research being done in
the U. S. and hope a treatment, cure and early means of identification of carrier status is found. We
can hope the science of genetic engineering really advances and includes work in dogs to remedy in-
herited problems. Personally, I don't think either of these solutions are available to us in the near fu-
ture. Another solution is possible, if a strong worldwide community of breeders unite together. That
is to bring new stock out of Africa!
I suggest now to concerned Basenjis fanciers everywhere that we no longer wait for someone else 
to do this. Many individuals in different parts of the world have expressed to me over the last few
years their desire to do just this, myself included. However, I realize that one individual has a really
poor chance of success due to: The huge expense of making the safari needed to find stock in isolat-
ed ecological niches in Africa; the bureaucratic red tape involved in getting a recognized kennel club
to approve the breeding program and eventual registration of the 4th generation of the imported
stock; the expense of transporting the dozen of more dogs required to start a legitimate breeding
program that would result in enough new stock to actually make a difference to the Basenjis in the
developed world; the immense cost of maintaining the breeding colony for 3 generations; the deci-
sions necessary regarding how the program should be carried out and how the eventual distribution
of the registerable dogs would be done.
At first glance, this does indeed seem like a Herculean if not impossible task. The most difficult part 
will be for each of us to really believe in the possibility of achieving this goal. A conservative estimate
of the people in the developed world now involved in Basenjis is 1, 000 people. Fewer people than
this started the projects of settling entire continents and putting the first man on the moon. With that
perspective, perhaps this task won't seem so impossible. My suggestion for the successful realization
of this goal is to form an International Organization of Basenji Breeders. Individuals from each coun-
try can form committees and the work can be divided amongst these committees. Dues would be
collected from members, along with pledges from individuals and organizations to make this project
financially feasible. Funds to implement this would probably run between 50 and 100 thousand
dollars. This sum may seem imposing, but when split between 1, 000 people, should become one of
the least difficult parts of the project. I personally have raised between 3 and 4 thousand dollars in
the past few years for the BCOA and the BCONC -- IT CAN BE DONE!
To conclude, the goals of this article were: to point out our current and possible future problems; to 
request agreement from the community of Basenji breeders that inbreeding and health issues are
problems in Basenjis; to suggest that a solution is possible - individuals can collectively make a diff-
erence; to suggest that the ecological niches where purebred Basenjis can be found do still exist in
Africa and can be reached; to point out that it will never be "someone else" to do this - there IS only
you and I!; to point out that time is of the essence. Once these remote isolated areas are developed,
as is happening everywhere in the world now, the opportunity WILL NO LONGER EXIST. I hope
you will agree that you and I ARE the caretakers of the Basenji breed. There is no one else...


 

Reprinted from
The Official Bulletin of the Basenji Club of America
Volume XIX Number 4 October-December 1985 pp. 28, 29, & 31
Copyright © 1985 The Basenji Club of America, Inc., All Rights Reserved