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The national dog of Malta

In his article of July 2, Karl Flores writes that his federation has absolutely nothing against the Kelb tal-Fenek and also boasts that it is the national dog of Malta. It is good to know that there are organisations in Malta which are concerned about the future of this beautiful and efficient breed.

However, I think that Mr Flores is a bit mistaken in his analysis of the real dangers to the breed. He states that the gene pool of the Kelb tal-Fenek in Malta is shrinking and that exporting puppies to other countries deprives Malta of much needed progeny. I wonder whether he or his organisation have already evaluated the number of remaining specimens as well as their quality and their inbreeding coefficient, to be able to bolster his conclusions with proven facts.

During the many years that I have frequently been travelling to Malta and Gozo, I have seen hundreds of Klieb tal-Fenek with sound structure and appearance, that are well able to perform the task they are bred for. But almost all of these dogs are owned by farmers and hunters, who will neither display their dogs in the public nor will they ever attend a dog show, no matter which club organises this event. Therefore, tourists and even urban Maltese dog lovers easily tend to conclude that the Kelb tal-Fenek has almost vanished. According to my observations, this is not yet true; Malta apparently does still have the largest gene pool of this breed in the world.

Breeding activities outside started with a first Kelb tal-Fenek litter in the UK in 1963 and a breed standard for the Kelb tal-Fenek (now called Pharaoh Hound) was recognised by the British Kennel Club in 1974. Within this period, only 16 specimens were exported, exclusively to the UK. In the next two decades, there were further exports to the UK and a few to Scandinavia, the average approximately less than one dog per year. More recently, since 1999, another 11 dogs with FCI recognised export pedigrees of the Malta Kennel Club have left Malta, most of them from one single breeder. Compared with the number of dogs and the variety of types, which I have sometimes seen at single farmhouses in Malta or Gozo, this drain of genetic material appears to be negligible.

But although the Kelb tal-Fenek seems to be safe at the moment (as far as it concerns the situation of the breed in Malta) Mr Flores is right in mentioning export as a potential future problem. The government of Kyrgyzstan has recently issued a law, which requires a permit for the export of Taigan puppies, after a study of biologists at the National Society for the Preservation of the Kyrgyz Taigan has indicated that contraband export of Taigans to Russia has become a serious threat to the breed.

But unless a serious evaluation of the breed stock in Malta has indicated that such measures are necessary to protect the Kelb tal-Fenek, we should be careful not to condemn single persons for their activities.

It is also worth to ask what makes more sense: To cull puppies and keep only the most promising hunters (as most farmers still do, thus definitely keeping the breed strong and healthy) or selling puppies to Kelb tal-Fenek enthusiasts overseas, who give them a loving home and who perhaps also use them for sport activities, such as for example lure coursing, thus demonstrating that the national hound of Malta is not only a beautiful but also an efficient dog?

In my opinion, the really important questions for the future of the breed are the following:

Will the people who presently breed and hunt with the Kelb tal-Fenek be able to attract their children to continue this old tradition or will their children devote themselves to other hobbies and activities?

Will future generations of Maltese dog lovers still recognise the Kelb tal-Fenek as a genuine Maltese hunting dog or have foreign canine literature and the internet perpetuated the legend of the Egyptian origin so much that the Maltese forget that this dog is a part of their own heritage?

Will future generations of hunters still find enough remote areas to perform this ancient and environment friendly art of unarmed rabbit hunting with the Kelb tal-Fenek?

I can only suggest that all Maltese organisations and persons who are involved with the breed should join their efforts to preserve this beautiful dog for generations to come. There is not one single point of view which can be claimed to be the only true one. But there are definitely some outstanding breed experts in Malta who have a lot of knowledge about different aspects of the breed.

It would be good if those people put their differences aside and join their knowledge to find the best way to preserve the Kelb tal-Fenek. It would be sad if energy and knowledge were wasted in senseless squabble or in blaming other people for things they did or failed to do. There has never been any useful outcome from pointing fingers at others; but common efforts can sometimes make miracles.

I am sure that local and foreign organisations catering for the preservation of ancient domestic animals will be glad to share their knowledge in support of a future project for the preservation of the Kelb tal-Fenek. But, according to my experiences in other countries, it will be the Maltese themselves who will finally have to decide whether this breed will have a future in their country or whether it will disappear as a relic of past times.

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