The Basenji Club of America African Stock Project

Project Library


by Leon C. Standifer

   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 basically carbohydrate.
  "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.
  "Life's 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.

Popular Dogs
June 1965 pp. 73-74