Of Dingoes and Rajapalayams
Lyn and Peter Watson, long-standing breeders of top-winning dogs, run the Australian Dingo Discovery Centre near Melbourne. They have now turned their expert attention to the South Indian pure breed dog the Rajapalayam. They are confident it can thrive if a caring, scientific, and environmentally sound approach to its conservation can be adopted as a priority. DHANYA PARTHASARATHY talks to the Watsons, who are currently based in Chennai, about their passion.
Dingoes' Day Out: Lyn Watson entertains three of her 20 pure bred dingoes. The Watsons' 40-acre idyllic Dingo Discovery Centre near Melbourne is surrounded by a national park.
LYN WATSON intends to walk 3,000 miles across Australia, from Melbourne to far north Queensland with a dingo to spread awareness of what may be the purest breed in the world and "the stupidest laws in Australia."
Lyn's complete fascination is for the animal she could never own by law in some Australian states the dingo. "When I was the Kennel Club's vice-president, I tried to campaign so that people could own them. But in some states of Australia the dingo is still classed as vermin and poisoned, trapped, and shot at by farmers," she says.
"The dingo is not an aggressive animal. It will never go out looking for trouble. Mostly, its first response in a threatening situation is flight."
A centre for purebred dingoes
First Catch Your Dingo: Lyn demonstrates that "the dingo is not an aggressive animal."
Lyn and her husband, Peter Watson, both longstanding breeders of top-winning dogs and international dog show judges, run the Australian Dingo Discovery Centre at Toolern Vale near Melbourne. This 40-acre sanctuary for 20 adult purebred dingoes is affiliated to the Dingo Care Network, which is the national group concerned with the conservation and well being of Australia's indigenous canines. The Discovery Centre's mission is to maintain the pure gene pool in captivity and "one day to re-introduce the pure dingo into a National Park or sanctuary large enough and cleared of all domestic-cross wild dogs, similar to the large game parks of Africa, where the proud and resilient Australian dingo can once again safely rule his domain as the natural top order predator."
Lyn and Peter see the education of the public and lobbying governments as two tools available to win a viable future for the dingo. "As an educational project," she notes, "we have taken dingoes to schools and small children love playing with them." But the "ridiculous" Australian laws stand in the way. "To get out of Victoria I need an export permit for the dingo. In New South Wales I am de-regulated and I can do what I like. I will be probably jailed in Queensland for harbouring a wild dog. But it will be very interesting to draw the public's attention to the dingoes."
Peter and Lyn have spent the better part of a year in Chennai where he, a chartered accountant by profession and an employee benefits expert, is heading the corporate distribution arm of AMP Sanmar's life insurance business in India. (In their spare time, they have been judging dog shows in different parts of India.) Away from their beloved dingoes for many months, they have turned their unblinking canine experts' attention to a unique South Indian pure breed dog the Rajapalayam. Lyn was riveted by its distinctive appearance: "the white coated, flesh-coloured skin, the arched loin of the galloping hound, the handsome family and guard dog features, tough."
Survival Of The Fittest: "The Rajapalayam has come a long way from being a wolf with a double coat and survived several diseases. Only a tough dog can survive here," says Lyn in admiration.
Here indisputably was one of the few breeds adapted to life in the tropics. "Dogs don't like tropics," explains Lyn. "Only a tough dog can survive here. The Rajapalayam has come a long way from being a wolf with a double coat and survived several diseases," she notes with visible admiration. Peter adds: "The Rajapalayam is the largest native dog we have seen in a tropical environment. It's taller than both the dingo and the jindo."
Aside from being nature's choice for survival and the retention of strong genetic traits, the Rajapalayam is a precious part of South India's cultural heritage.
The breeding programme
Lyn has made a thoughtful presentation to the Executive Committee of the Kennel Club of India (KCI) on a programme for the conservation of the Rajapalayam as a pure indigenous breed. The programme calls for a committed preservation initiative, vesting control and responsibility firmly in the hands of the KCI, learning from the experiences of countries such as South Korea, Japan, and Australia in conserving pure indigenous canine breeds, and the establishment of a state-of-the-art breeding centre for the Rajapalayam with identified sources of domestic and perhaps external support.
The practical tasks would include assessing purity visually and by DNA testing; maintaining a stud book and standards; studying the customs surrounding the Rajapalayam and the cultural context in which it survived and flourished; and bringing in the latest science to support the breeding programme.
One For The Album: Lyn is confident that the handsome Rajapalayam, a precious part of South India's cultural heritage, can be assured a bright future.
The challenges involved in such a programme would be retaining the dog's special hunting aptitude in captive conditions, caring for the social and emotional well being of project dogs, and adopting a sound environmental approach.
As dingo experts, the Watsons promise to help in a sustained way, for example by putting the Rajapalayam conservation programme in touch with a top-class DNA research programme of the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory at the University of California at Davis.
"The Korean Government declared their native indigenous breed called the jindo a national treasure in 1937," Lyn points out. "And they set up a breeding programme to conserve them. Today the [South] Korean government has 14,000 selectively bred jindos and has had to pass legislation so that they can be exported. The government paid for everything. It gave them an island, bred and selected the best of each generation, and the breed is healthy and recognised round the world."
Employee benefits expert and dog breeder Peter Watson
The Watsons call this a model programme to emulate for the Rajapalayam.
They are confident that, like other indigenous pure breed canines, it can thrive if a caring, scientific, and environmentally sound approach to its conservation can be adopted as a priority.
Those interested in the subject can e-mail Lyn Watson at:
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