For the longest time in Mongolia, talk of dogs conjured a mental image of a large shaggy dog with a thick black coat, floppy ears, curly tail and orange-brown spots above the eyes. The Bankhar has long symbolized Mongolia’s nomadic culture. Once a Mongolian herder’s closest friend, it was also a guardian who protected the herd from thieves and predators. Nowadays, the Bankhar may only be an animal people faintly remember from countryside summers. But all that is changing.
The Mongolian Bankhar Dog Project (MBDP) is a U.S.-Mongolian NGO that is reintroducing Bankhars to nomadic families. Recently U.S. Embassy staffer D.Badamsambuu interviewed Greg Goodfellow, the project’s scientist-in-residence. The first thing Badamsambuu wanted to know was what is so special about a large dog that just hangs around the herd all day. Greg told him that the Bankhar is so big and intimidating it keeps away predators that attack livestock. Without Bankhars, the only other option herders have to protect their livestock is to kill those predators. Therefore, Bankhars protect the herd and also Mongolia’s other ecologically important animals, such as wolves and snow leopards. The Mongolian Bankhar Dog Project focuses on giving Bankhar puppies to families in areas where those animals mainly live – Khustai, Gorkhi Terelj, and South Gobi.
According to Greg, the Bankhars are not a breed of dog, but rather a “landrace” that evolved naturally over time to adapt to Mongolia’s environment. Because Mongolian livestock and Bankhar have co-existed for thousands of years, they bond easily. When Bankhar females give birth, the MBDP team places sheep alongside the pups and as the dogs mature with sheep and goats, they become like family.
The Mongolian Bankhar Dog Project was started by an American named Bruce Elfström in 2012 (how he had the idea is another interesting story). Since then, MBDP has given 15 puppies to nomadic herder families. Greg came to Mongolia a few months ago to study how the Bankhars adapt to their new homes. As part of the study, MBDP will distribute a survey to learn more about Bankhar behaviors and habits and collect scientific herd data.
To learn more about the Mongolian Bankhar Dog Project, visit bankhar.org