Animal Husbandry

The hounds of Mudhol

Print edition : June 26, 2015

A Mudhol dog on the CRIC campus. Photo: VIKHAR AHMED SAYEED

The Mudhol breed is marked by a distinct long, slender body and graceful features. Photo: VIKHAR AHMED SAYEED

The Mudhol hound. Photo: VIKHAR AHMED SAYEED

Hounds reared at the CRIC line up during a dog show at the centre. Photo: VIKHAR AHMED SAYEED

The penultimate king of Mudhol, Malojirao Ghorpade, who brought the Mudhol hound into prominence. Photo: VIKHAR AHMED SAYEED

Karnataka is tasting success in a commendable initiative to revive an indigenous dog breed that simultaneously uplifts marginalised communities by providing them with a means of livelihood.

The stray dogs in the villages and towns of Bagalkot district in Karnataka are slightly different from their counterparts in other parts of the country: they are thinner and taller and have drooping ears and elongated jaws, for this is the land of the Mudhol hound, a prominent Indian breed that has been making a mark in canine enthusiast circles across the country in the past few years.

While the strays are only slightly different, the thoroughbred Mudhol hound is a breed apart. With its long slender body and graceful features, this tall dog has emerged as Mudhol town’s mascot. A specific canine research centre was established in 2010 near Mudhol to rear this breed, the first time a dedicated and serious effort was made in the country to revive an Indian breed.

The centre is already attracting a lot of attention, with dog lovers coming from distant places to purchase pure-bred Mudhol hound puppies. Dogs reared at the centre have also been quite popular at dog shows across the country.

Mudhol was a minor (nine-gun salute) princely state in British India, located in the southern part of Bombay Presidency and ruled by the Ghorpade Marathas. After the linguistic reorganisation of States in 1956, Mudhol found itself in northern Karnataka and is now a taluk in Bagalkot district.

It is common knowledge in the region that the penultimate king of Mudhol, Malojirao Ghorpade (d. 1939), brought the Mudhol hound into prominence. Arjunsinh Jadeja, a resident of Mudhol with close family links to the royal family, said the king saw these dogs, which bore great resemblance to hounds, being used as hunting dogs by shepherds in his little kingdom.

“Recognising the distinctness of the dogs, he selectively bred the best specimens. He even presented a pair of these hounds to King George V, when he visited England, who christened them ‘Mudhol hounds’,” Jadeja said.

While Mudhol hounds are commonly referred to as Indian dogs, their provenance is tentatively traced to the interbreeding of dogs that accompanied the Greek and Persian armies that invaded India. According to a brief paper published by Dr. B.C. Ramakrishna, president of the Karuna Animal Welfare Association of Karnataka, and Dr. P.V. Yathinder, president of the Mysore Kennel Club, the hounds found in Mudhol are the product of three distinct breeds: the Sloughi, the Saluki and the Greyhound, all of which are categorised as sighthounds (hounds that primarily hunt by sight and speed) in contemporary canine classification.

The Sloughi is found mainly in North Africa now, while the Saluki, a hairier version of the Sloughi and one of the oldest breeds of domesticated dogs which was once found in a large swathe from the Mediterranean to East Asia, is a popular breed reared in almost all dog-loving countries. The Greyhound, which has been popular in Europe and America for a long time, was likely one of the breeds that Malojirao Ghorpade saw on a visit to England, which led him to recognise the native Indian dogs found in his kingdom as hounds.

With the Mudhol hound gaining in popularity, historical stories are becoming more commonplace. Two stories in particular are told and retold by its fans. First, the loyal dogs of the 17th century Maratha king Chhatrapati Shivaji entombed along with him in Raigad bear a close resemblance to the Mudhol hound. Secondly, Shahuji Maharaj, a 20th century ruler of Kolhapur, also owned some of these hounds and their fierce reputation as hunting dogs was vindicated when they defended the king against a tiger attack. While such tales are difficult to verify, what is indisputable is that the Mudhol hound has been around in north Karnataka, particularly in the modern-day districts of Bagalkot and Bijapur, for a few centuries now.

The Canine Research and Information Centre (CRIC) in Timmapur, a nearby village, is located on 40 acres (one acre is 0.4 hectare) of rocky scrub land surrounded by sugar plantations. As one enters, to the right is a large expanse of fenced open land where some Mudhol hounds can be seen running around. These dogs need large open spaces to exercise and to play-act brief hunting scenarios.

The kennel at the CRIC has 28 Mudhol hounds and they are regularly taken to dog shows. They have elongated necks and a narrow skull; the eyes are large and oblong and the body is hairless. The Mudhol hound is a very thin dog, seemingly emaciated, with its rib cage sticking out. It is tall, with the head reaching the waist of an average-sized man. White is the predominant colour, but specimens of various colours—black, brown, grey, spotted—are also seen. With a deep chest and narrow waist, it shares fundamental physical traits with other members of the hound family.

The CRIC is a constituent unit of Karnataka Veterinary, Animal and Fisheries Sciences University (KVAFSU) located in Bidar. Its establishment was approved in 2003 under the aegis of the State government’s Department of Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Sciences but it began operating only in 2010. The primary mandate of the centre is to conserve and develop the Mudhol hound breed.

Researchers at the CRIC have identified 23 breeds native to India, of which only seven exist, and the centre plays a significant role in resuscitating an important breed. The other extant breeds are the Pashmi (northern Karnataka), Rajapalayam (Tamil Nadu), Caravan Hound (Maharashtra), Jananangi (Andhra Pradesh), Chippiparai (Tamil Nadu) and the Rampur hound (Uttar Pradesh). Many of these dogs have been regularly displayed at national and international dog shows over the past decade and a specific dog show only for native breeds was held in Bagalkot last year.

Dr. Mahesh S. Dodamani, who has headed the CRIC since its inception, is a valuable source of information on all aspects of the Mudhol hound. “An initial survey was done in Bagalkot district in 2010 and we identified 500 families that owned around 750 dogs between them. The shepherding community used these dogs for hunting and protecting their fields. Of these, we further identified around 100 dogs that best represented the features of the Mudhol hound and selectively bred them,” Dr. Dodamani said.

This exercise in canine eugenics has two purposes: the first is to revive the pure-bred Mudhol hound, while the second is to encourage alternative animal husbandry practices with a built-in social welfare agenda. Veterinarians at KVAFSU had hit upon the novel idea of encouraging farmers to rear Mudhol hounds so that their puppies could be sold to dog lovers, providing them with income with minimal investment, just as how cows, sheep and goats were traditionally reared by them to profit from the sale of their young.

Since 90 per cent of the Mudhol hound-owning families in the villages belong to Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe communities, funds were sought from the Ministry of Social Welfare to provide a pair of pure-bred puppies each to S.C./S.T. families that had experience in rearing these dogs. A scheme was implemented in 2012 wherein 134 individuals in Bagalkot district were identified as beneficiaries and the results are already visible in such a short span. The puppies have grown up and the bitches have whelped. With an average litter size between 8 and 12 and the prevailing price for one Mudhol pup ranging between Rs. 6,000 and Rs. 8,000, the initial beneficiaries have gained up to Rs. 50,000 each on selling the litter.

With the CRIC taking care of all input costs, including food supplements and vaccinations, the beneficiaries only have to raise the dogs. The price of adult dogs is impressive and Dr. Dodamani cited an instance of an especially well-built stud being sold for Rs. 1.35 lakh.

Shankar Suresh Aralikatti, a Bedar (S.T.) resident of Timmapur, is one of the beneficiaries. “I was provided a pair of Mudhol pups in 2012 and I sold the first litter last year for Rs. 54,000. This supplements my agricultural income,” he said. Lokesh Y. Madar, who belongs to the Madar (S.C.) community and works at the CRIC, is another beneficiary who is looking forward to selling the pups when his bitch whelps. “Our input costs are almost nil as we feed the dog what we eat and since it is a hardy, low-maintenance dog, we don’t need to be very worried,” he said.

Mudhol hounds have a reputation of being fiercely loyal to their owners and are excellent hunting dogs. They are still used by local farmers to hunt wild fowl and rabbit in the scrubby grasslands that dominate the landscape between lush sugar plantations all over Bagalkot. The CRIC has achieved its twin objective of reviving the pure-bred Mudhol hound while providing a source of additional income for members of the S.C. and S.T. communities in the region.

Hopefully, as the success of the CRIC becomes widely known, similar ventures will be started in other parts of the country.

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