THE AfriCanis dog is being celebrated in a special exhibition being staged at the Normand Dunn Gallery at Hilton College from June 13 to 18.
“These animals have a story of their own and it needs to be told,” says wildlife artist Brent Dodd, who is sharing the gallery space with Ed Schroeder, known for his beautiful photographs of Nguni cattle.
The two artists were drawn to the indigenous African breed through the work done by Edith and John Gallant which was recorded in the book The Story of the African Dog.
The couple are passionate advocates for the breed, which is only found in isolated tribal lands in the interior of Zululand, the former Transkei, Sekhukhuneland and Vendaland.
“The apartheid regime kept such rural areas marginalised,” Edith Gallant said, “and people living in these areas, notably in the former ‘Bantustan’ regions, were relatively isolated. This isolation was extended to their dogs.
“It is largely because of the isolation enforced by apartheid that these dogs, having been kept separate, still exist.
“These dogs have also been called ‘Nguni dogs’ or ‘Bantu dogs’, because they migrated with the Early Iron Age Bantu-speaking people into southern Africa. They also occur in northern Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, Mozambique and Swaziland.”
The AfriCanis has not been selectively bred for its looks, but rather exemplifies survival of the fittest.
“They are well adapted to the demands of their environment and their custodians,” says Edith. “They differ from region to region, and are generally taller in the desert and smaller in more forested regions. These dogs occur in a great variety of colours, as do the Nguni cattle.
“Genetic DNA research has found a specific DNA marker for the AfriCanis that differs from any other dog. In the very near future we will be able to test individual dogs to see if they carry this marker or not.”
The Gallants have also found that the dogs help herdboys bring cattle to and from the grazing lands, and that they fiercely guard the animals in their kraals at night.
The dogs live alongside other farm animals and, although they are excellent rat hunters, never hunt large prey alone. Traditionally, they assist their owners to hunt for the pot.
The Gallants introduced Schroeder to the AfriCanis when Edith took him into a traditional area near Kranskop. “I took photos of the dogs and showed the pictures to Brent and he felt there could be something special here. This exhibition is not just about showing our work but showing people what these animals are all about,” he said.
One of the main aims of the exhibition is to correct the mistaken belief that AfriCanis dogs are used in illegal hunting. In reality the hunters use Greyhounds or crossbreeds thereof. Bets are placed and dogs are released to hunt whatever is in the vicinity. This type of hunting has become a significant problem for game conservation and many animals, including the endangered Oribi, have fallen victim to the practice.
Gallant is also keen to correct another misconception that cross-breed dogs living in the townships are AfriCanis. “These animals are not AfriCanis dogs. No other dogs could survive in the conditions that the AfriCanis live in. They have been living and working with humans for some 7 000 years,” she added.
For Dodd it this harmony between man and animal which lies at the heart of what he hopes to achieve with the exhibition.
“I want to tell the story of their heritage,” he said “and that is what I have tried to do in my paintings … to capture the essence of these animals and the people they live with.”
For Schroeder it’s a chance to use his lens to bring the dogs into the spotlight in the way he has done with the Nguni.
“My father Bert Schroeder worked very closely with Dr Marguerite Poland on her acclaimed book The Abundant Herds, which is illustrated by artist Leigh Voigt.
“Marguerite dedicated her wonderful book to my father who sadly never got to see it published. Marguerite’s encouragement, enthusiasm and immense knowledge of the Zulu language, their culture and cattle is a constant source of inspiration to me and my photography.
“This is an exhibition, we hope, will ignite a larger conversation around Nguni cattle and the AfriCanis dog. It’s going to be a visual feast of history.”
• To find out more about the AfriCanis and the work done by the Gallants, go to www.africanis.co.za
• For more on Ed Schroeder and his work, go to the website www.edschroeder.co.za
• For more on Brett Dodd, go to this website www.brentdodd.com or like his Facebook page: brentdoddartist
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