The Himalayan Times (Kathmandu), December 20, 2015
Mongolian dog tradition revived to protect sheep, leopards
TUV AIMAG: Through three decades of marriage, they have wandered together across the rolling hills of Mongolia’s northern Tuv Province, accompanied by their herd of sheep and stalked by the wolves and snow leopards that threaten their livelihood.
Five months ago, Chulunjav Bayarsaikhan and Tumurbaatar Davaasuren were joined by a new partner, Hasar, a shaggy, 11-month-old bankhar dog that a hundred years ago would have been a far more common sight outside the country’s tent homes known as gers.
“Now, nothing comes near our herd at night,” Tumurbaatar said. “If anything does, she barks in an alarming way, so we come out before it can attack. She learned to patrol all night and is protecting them well.”
As years of overgrazing increasingly push Mongolian nomads into the territory of their oldest foes — snow leopards and wolves — a group of researchers and herders are trying to reinstate the bankhar, a close relative of the Tibetan mastiff, to its historic place beside their masters. The dog is native to Mongolia but nearly disappeared over the course of mass urbanization drives during the Soviet era.
DNA analysis conducted by Cornell researchers and released this year points to Mongolia as the location where domesticated dogs first appeared some 15,000 years ago. That makes the bankhar even more of a Mongolian icon.
For thousands of years, the giant dogs roamed the Mongolian steppes with their nomadic masters, so much a part of the landscape that they featured in Chinese Qing Dynasty paintings of Mongolia and the 13th century travelogues of Marco Polo.