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On International Dog Day, let’s talk about undivided Bengal’s only purebred hound

27 August, 2022 16:19:06
On International Dog Day, let’s talk about undivided Bengal’s only purebred hound

Sarail is a subdivision of Brahmanbaria district in modern day Bangladesh. Historically, it was the domain of Isa Khan, a Muslim Rajput zamindar who was one of the renowned Baro Bhuiyans (twelve landlords) of 16th-century Bengal. Throughout his reign, he resisted repeated invasions by the Mughal empire, and it was only after his death that the region came under Mughal control.

Which brings us to the topic under discussion. It was the Mughal military aristocracy stationed in and around Sarail which created undivided Bengal’s only purebred international dog breed - the Sarail Hound. And August 26 being International Dog Day, celebrated since 2004 to draw attention to stray and rescue dogs, we thought this was a good time to look at the Sarail Hound, and the threat it faces today. 

Descended from the Arabic Saluki, one of the oldest hunting breeds in the world, Sarail Hounds were bred over hundreds of years into superior hunting dogs. They have served as Army and police dogs in Bangladesh, as hunting and guard dogs, and as fiercely loyal pets. A popular story attributed to Gen. M.A.G. Osmani, the renowned freedom fighter who was one of the leaders of the Bangladesh War of Liberation (1971), recounts how he was saved by one of two Sarails he owned when he was attacked. 

In appearance, the Sarail Hound bears a close resemblance to the Greyhound, and is still found mainly in Sarail. The body is compact and tough, lightly built and fine-boned, with long legs and a long, narrow head. Their nature is largely reserved and controlled, and though extremely attached to their humans, they rarely show open affection by cuddling or licking.

Though not much authentic information exists about the origin of the breed, some researchers conclude that the Sarail Hound was a fusion of the Saluki, and local wild dogs, with the Greyhound added in during the British era. Sadly, purebred Sarail Hounds today face a very real possibility of extinction, leading to concern and alarm among dog lovers of Bangladesh.

Broadly speaking, the Sarail Hound is from the family of sight hounds, which rely on their sharp eyesight, rather than smell, to chase and hunt prey. Sight hounds are ancient breeds that were brought into the subcontinent by traders from the Arabic regions, such as Saluki, Azawakh, Tazi and Afghan Hound were common among them. However, the breed is rapidly losing its purity as it has now become common practice to breed Sarail Hounds with local breeds owing to a lack of genuine breeders.

In 2021, some estimates put the number of purebred Sarail Hounds in Bangladesh at just a few dozen, with an AFP report stating, “In the densely populated country of 168 million where some 30 percent of people live below the poverty line and access to land is scarce, Sarails are viewed as a luxury beyond the reach of ordinary Bangladeshis.”

In Dhaka, relatively well off Sarail owners have set up a Facebook group to exchange information about their dogs and to arrange mating sessions. The owner of the group is banker Kaiser Tamiz Amin, who has owned Sarails for two decades and believes just 30 to 40 purebreds are left in the country. “This is going to continue to be an uphill battle but we will get there,” Amin told AFP. “With the help of (genetics) experts, we hope to restore this breed to its original perfection.”

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