The life of a Basenji
in the typical native village would shock most Basenji breeders. The
harsh life that the natives live make their attitude toward dogs and
all animals quite different from ours. In the rain forest, life's
primary problem is food. The dog's diet is food scavenged around the
village and is usually scraps of rice and palm oil that is extracted by
crushing and boiling the fleshy outer coat of oil palm nuts. While
Basenjis get little of the prepared oil, there are abundant palm nuts
lying around—and Basenjis are accomplished
chew-it-yourselfers. They spend hours chewing the outer coat and
gnawing on the hard nut, just as other dogs chew bones. Palm oil has
little, protein, but is rather high in vitamins, while rice is
"Natives get protein by
mixing a little meat in palm oil 'soup', but the dogs seldom get any of
this. On hunting trips, the Basenji may get bird or animal entrails,
but most of what we call entrails is eaten by the native. Even antelope
and buffalo skin is boiled for human consumption. Thus, the native
Basenji survives on a low-protein diet.
secondary problem is disease. A Basenji puppy from a village invariably
bloated from round worms and so covered with fleas that his coat
crawls. Also, it generally has a fungal condition that creates
oily-looking places on his coat. This does not indicate callous
treatment; the native simply has no way of treating these things! Thus,
such pests become the standard first stop in a natural selection for
strength and resistance. Dogs are worm-infested, underfed and subject
to many diseases and probably only 20% reach maturity. Often an entire
litter of puppies dies in six weeks. This is a harsh life, but the rain
forest simply cannot support the number of dogs or humans born there.
Food is at a premium and nature decrees it only for the strong.
"Most Liberian tribes are not given to signs of affection
toward their dogs, and one feels at first, they have little regard for
them. The standard means of picking dogs up is by their front legs; we
saw a women discipline her puppy by picking it up by one ear. In a
recent book, 'The Year of the Gorilla,' by George B. Schaller, the
zoologist author speaks strongly of the native's lack of compassion
toward all animals.
"Most travellers get the same
impression, but we must remember that our attitudes are not comparable.
People, used to a much harder life, react differently than we do. After
living with them, you sense the deep attachment, if not love, they have
for their pets. We are sure the native does love his dog, admires his
hunting skills and respects him for thriving in the hard life. If this
were not so, the Basenji would now be as scarce in Liberia as the
elephant and forest buffalo.