If you are of a certain age, you will remember a time when Bangladesh was all over the news for a very sad reason: The famine of 1974. A perfect storm of events starting in December of that year lead to the starvation of some 1.5 million souls, one of the worst famines of the 20th century. A rapid growth in population, massive flooding along the Brahmaputra River, the government’s food-rationing system coupled with a steep rise in the price of rice, and subsequent outbreaks of cholera, malaria and diarrheal diseases all lead to unimaginable misery and loss of life. The images from that time remain with many of us.
It seems the height of insensitivity, then, to mention the country’s native dogs in the same post as the paragraph above, but the country called “south Asia’s greenest jewel” is a proud country, and Bangalis have much of which to be proud. The longest sea beach in the world, as well as the largest bay on the face of the Earth are in Bangladesh (Cox’s Bazar beach is nearly 75 miles long, and the Bay of Bengal is a staggering 1,000 miles wide and 8,500 feet deep!) Bangladesh is the fourth-largest Muslim-populated nation, and the first Islamic country to have a constitution and a democratically elected Prime Minister, but Bangladesh is fiercely multi-cultural and takes pride in celebrating different religious and cultural festivals.
The pride of the country is the Royal Bengal Tiger, Bandladesh’s national animal, but as much as we like kitty cats, we are a dog site, and pivot here to the country’s national dog.
In West Bengal, India, these dogs are called Bengal Hounds, and in other locals, they’re known as Saraila Hounds. In Bangladesh, they are Sarail Hounds, but if we’re to honor the breed’s historic legacy, we should refer to them as the “legendary dogs of Bangladesh.” Read on to learn why.
The breed is found mainly in the subunit of Sarail in the Brahamanbaria district of Bangladesh where the dogs were bred by aristocrats, but the breed was also adopted by Moghul generals who molded the canines into superior hunting dogs. In fact, Muhammad Ataul Gani Osmani, a freedom fighter in the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971, was said to have had his life saved by one of the two Sarails he owned when he was attacked. Of the attack, he later said, “Two of the Pakistani Cammando Platoon on a mission to kill me, on jumping into my compound at 23-J Banani on the night of 25/26 March 1971. They were attacked by my ‘Field Marshall’ (a Sarail hound) and got bayoneted by the commandoes. The injured dog was later taken by the son of Mr. Justice Jabbar, to their house at Lalmatia, despite his injury, he broke chain and was at large in search of me. Eventually after four years he traced me out. My Sarail Hound was deeply attached to me, I will always miss him.” Later, in 1981 Osmani said, “There are not many breeds matching the speed and strength of the Sarail Hound.”
Perhaps this is why the breed is considered the “National Dog of Bangladesh.” And why military, police forces, and private security companies have recognized the breed’s value as effective helpmates.
It will surprise no one looking at pictures of the breed that some believe the Sarail descended from English Greyhounds and sighthounds owned by Mughal-era feudal landlords, or from hunting dogs brought by Arab traders. Others suspect that descendents of Salukis, Azawakhs, Tazis and Afghan Hounds, dogs commonly seen with middle eastern traders, were crossed with Greyhounds during British rule in India, and brought to Sarail where they were crossed with wild dogs from the jungles of the Tipperah district. Another theory holds that the breed is related to the Rampur Hound of the northern Indian city of Rampur. It’s possible that all of the above is true.
What isn’t in doubt is that the breed is in serious trouble. Some estimates are that only dozens remain in Bangladesh, and in a densely populated country 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. Government resources devoted to conservation suffered a failed attempt to breed Sarails in the 1970s for reasons we don’t know, but we did read that wealthy owners in the capital city of Dhaka are trying to save the breed. Alarmingly, a lack of serious breeders intent on saving the Sarail is causing it to lose purebred integrity as some are breeding the dogs with Deshi Kukur which, as far as we can tell, are pariah dogs. A Facebook group was set up around 2015 to exchange information, but we suspect others on Facebook are working individually to help bring attention to the breed’s situation. We came across the video below as an example (if you get a message that the video has been blocked to prevent Facebook from tracking you, simply click on “unblock Facebook video”):
We hope that dog enthusiasts in Bangladesh recognize the breed as a part of their heritage and take steps to save it from extinction, but it’s fully understood that there are many challenges facing the country.
Image: Sarail Hound via Creative Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0 license