I wonder if any breed has had a more mysterious past than Basenjis? Their homeland is Central Africa, which
used to be called the Dark Continent, as so little was known of it. Even today, where Sudan adjoins the Belgian
Congo and French Equatorial Africa, it is difficult to find a map which is in any way detailed and correct. With such
a background, it is not surprising that there have been all kinds of rumours and theories about Basenjis in their
native land. Statements of every sort have been made and the same statements completely contradicted. No one has
ever gone on an expedition with the definite purpose of finding out more about them, so in April, 1959, Colonel
Rybot, Mr. Hughes-Halls and I set out for the Southern Sudan to see for ourselves. We had no idea what to expect.
Some people told us there were no Basenjis left, and if there were, they would not be pure-bred. Others said there
were plenty of Basenjis scattered all over Central Africa - a theory we quickly found entirely incorrect.
We went by sea to Port Sudan, then flew to Khartoum, where we spent a few days, then by air to Malakai and
Juba. During this time, we saw dogs of faint Basenji type, merely because they had prick ears and curly tails, and
later in our travels we saw what we nicknamed "the little red dog of Africa." I believe this dog is common to many
parts of Africa, and probably the cause of the rumour that Basenjis are plentiful. It is of varying size with rather
a domed head, little or no wrinkle, rather large erect ears, slim and long-backed, with an almost straight tail. It
is red in colour, usually with white feet. To a Basenji expert, it is just a dog, but to the uninitiated, it might
resemble a bad Basenji.
Colonel Rybot, Mr. Hughes-Halls and I arrived in Juba, and then set out in a Land-Rover with a trailer,
in Equatoria and the Bahrai-Ghazai - an area which I believe extends to over 100,000 square miles. We had
with us a native driver, a native interpreter, and camping equipment. We drove, on an average, 100 miles a day,
over rough roads, through the most fascinating country of rolling hills and brilliant green jungle. Then we came to
what used to be known as "the country of the barkless dogs". One Sudanese district commissioner told us that until
a few years ago, most of the natives had never heard a dog bark, and were dumbfounded when they heard a Euro-
pean dog bark. Here the dogs are not called Basenjis, which is an unfortunate misnomer, but are known as Zande
Dogs to the English speaking people, and as Ango Angari by the natives.
In scattered villages we saw Basenjis of various sorts, ranging from poor specimens with sickle tails, then
good ones fit for any show ring, and a few beauties of exquisite type, and better than anything we have in England.
It is impossible to describe the thrill of seeing one of these dogs in the jungle with its native owners. The biggest
difference between the native dogs and the English-bred specimens is not so much size as in grace and fine bone.
The native dogs looked just like gazelles, with long slim legs, narrow fronts, slim bodies without much spring of
rib, elegant waists, narrow hindquarters, with very long slim second thighs and very little bend of stifle. I do not
remember seeing a single cow-hocked Basenji. And, contrary to what we expected, we did not see a single dog with
an umbilical hernia. Tails were usually high-set and usually a single curl, though we saw a number of wonderful
tails, tightly curled in a double twist and carried closely to one side of the hip. We also saw a number of the less
attractive central curls.
Colours were also of great interest and quite surprising. The usual shade was rather a poor chestnut,
possibly bleached by the sun, though a fair number were a glorious bright red. Many had a lot of white markings,
blaze, legs and collar. About a quarter of the dogs we saw were typical tri-colours of black, tan and white clearly
defined. We saw only one black and white, without any tan on it, which proves that the rumour of black and whites
is true. The most surprising of the dogs were true tiger-striped brindle, bright red with black stripes -- a
colour I had not known to exist. In one village there were only tiger-striped Basenjis. We saw only two dogs, an
adult and a puppy, of the unattractive colouring which we have called in England "shaded reds", brindle or
"blanketed tri-colours", which is really a mixture of red and tricolour, black hairs being sprinkled through the
red, and we again confirmed how unpleasing it was to the eye. We saw only one cream. This was in a town and on
closer inspection, we came to the conclusion it was not pure-bred, as it had long coarse hair on its back.
Wrinkle was rather disappointing. It was there, but usually not nearly as well-defined as most English-
bred dogs, though a few dogs had beautiful fine wrinkle. Eyes were mostly dark, and noses black. The majority of
heads were good with very little cheekiness and short muzzles. Ears were often rather large and too wide set.
Easily the most attractive were the small, wedge-shaped heads with small triangular ears set on top. We saw quite
a number of them and they stood out for type. Feet were small and oval, but I was surprised to see such long nails
on hunting dogs. Size varied from dogs which were much smaller than the English ones, to dogs in this country.
The big difference was the fine bone and the slim grace of the native dogs -- a point which needs careful
consideration. Temperament was delightful. The dogs are as precious to their native owners as their children.
Their dogs followed them quietly to heel and were picked up in their arms. Then we did not attempt to touch them.
On the ground, the puppies and young adults played with us, but the older dogs were timid of white people and
usually kept their distance -- a point which made the photographing of the best specimens almost impossible.
We then ran into expected and unexpected difficulties. I had often been told that the natives seldom parted
with their adult dogs, which I could hardly credit. But it proved true. We occasionally saw a young adult we wished
to buy. Through our interpreter, we offered sums of money (up to double and treble the price of a native bride),
we offered jewellery and cigarettes, but to no effect, the native owner usually walking away with a disdainful
expression on his or her face. This was an attitude with which I thoroughly sympathised. Another point was that
the adult dogs obviously had a receprocated attachment for their owners and naturally knew nothing of white
people, or the doggy horrors of civilization, such as cars and aeroplanes, and we felt it would be cruel to bring such
dogs to England and put them through quarantine. So we decided that puppies were the answer. We then had
another shock. We went to various villages asking for puppies and usually received this answer - that they'd had
some puppies, but they were all sold. There seems to be a roaring trade in Basenjis in the Sudan!
The most unexpected difficulty was that there are now few white people in the Sudan and word went ahead of
us by the mysterious African grapevine that we were Europeans who had come to shoot the dogs. Probably this
came from memories of the days when dozens of dogs were shot because of rabies outbreaks. As a result, the dogs
were hidden and it would have taken more time than we had at our disposal to gain the native confidence and
persuade them we wished them good and not harm.
In the end, I think more by good luck than good management, we acquired two puppies. Mr. Hughes-Halls bought
the son of one the best bitches we saw, and I purchased a tiny red bitch, against the advice of my two fellow
travellers, who said she was too young and fragile to live. We had to do terrible things to her, like dosing her
for dysentry and squeezing huge maggots out from under her skin, and all she did was lick our hands in appreciation.
She may not be a world-beater, but she is a true Basenji with fine bone and all the necessary characteristics, includ-
ing a delicious yodel through which she kept up an incessant conversation with me.
The puppies were no trouble on our travels. They were not car-sick in spite of the neck-breaking jolts, and
in the evening used to go to sleep round our feet with their heads between our ankles. At night, we often had to shut
them up in the Land-Rover, as leopards are very partial to dogs, and the native boy warned us they might be
whiped off in front of our eyes. It was only when we got them to Khartoum we suddenly realised we had never
trained them to collar and leads! The latest news is that both puppies, now aged about 12 weeks, are doing well in
I have written of both our troubles and our triumphs, and to my mind, our triumphs far exceeded our troubles.
One cannot go to a strange land on a strange quest and meet with instant success. We have paved the way for future
expeditions and, as far as I am concerned, I am already planning to return to the lovely and mysterious country of
the barkless dogs within a year, as there is still so much to be seen and learnt.
Reprinted from England's Dog World,
July 24, 1959
The Official Bulletin of the Basenji Club
XXIII, Number 3 July/August/September 1989 pp. 17-18