Commentary

Native Yellow Dogs of Peru

The Chiribaya Herder, Native Peruvian Dog

In Cuzco you will see yellow dogs with fallen ears. They are very common and people call then zorros, foxes, though they are dogs. Similar dogs are found on the coast, in Moquegua where a mass of mummified dogs was found in 2006 that date from 900 AD to a century or so before the coming of the Spanish and their hounds.

People live with their dogs and admire their’s and other canines. They generally do not stop to think about their origin and their genetics. The one exception to this, of course, is in the case of pure breeds. Indeed the notion and naming of breeds, something that was not much done with indigenous dogs in the Andes, makes native dogs invisible and generally less valued.

One exception to this is the perro peruano, a hairless dog found on the Peruvian coast and now considered a national symbol. Curiously, geneticists have shown that although it has been in Peru for many centuries it shares it genetics with Mexican dogs. As a result, the question of indigenous Peruvian canines and whether they continue to exist remains open.

Sonia Guillén, the senior researcher at the site in Moquegua and a bio archeologist and director of the Centro Malqui in Ilo, Peru noticed the color and characteristics of the dogs preserved as mummies, especially their yellow color. One day, she noticed local dogs that looked amazingly like the ancient dogs preserved as mummies.

This led her to consult with other experts and to propose another indigenous Peruvian breed of dogs, the Chiribaya Herder, or pastor chiribaya in Spanish.

Anthropologist Sonia Guillén and a Mummified Dog
Anthropologist Sonia Guillén and a Mummified Dog

She and others argue that the attention to mummifying and preserving the dogs showed their social and economic importance among the indigenous population of the area. Guillén knows that they herded numerous llamas and so argues that the dogs probably helped in the tasks and protected the flocks.

Given the similarity of many living dogs in Ilo and its state of Moquegua Guillén holds they probably descend from the Chiribaya Herders, although she does not discount admixture. As a result, genetic studies are in process and a program has been started to breed local dogs to develop and stabilize characteristics like those of the mummified dogs. These include the yellow or reddish color, the droopy ears, and the wide “hare-style” footpads.

As a result, another dog must be added to the list of indigenous Peruvian dogs. However, with genetic studies one can also explore the vast numbers of dogs in rural highland Peru to identify those that are either purely native or show little European or Asian admixture, to better understand and appreciate the native dogs of the Andes.

After all, yellow dogs with either pointy or droopy ears are common around Cuzco where they are much loved as pets and guard dogs.

 

A documentary in Spanish on the mummies and the Chiribaya dogs (two parts).

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