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Basenji – the African hunting dog

Basenji’s are an ancient dog breed, originally indigenous to central Africa. Basenji-like dogs are depicted in drawings and models dating back to the Twelfth Dynasty of Egypt [1] and they sit at the base of the currently accepted dog phylogeny [2]. Basenjis share many unique traits with pariah dog types. Like dingoes and New Guinea Singing dogs (NGSD), Basenji’s come into oestrus annually—as compared to most other dog breeds, which have two or more breeding seasons every year. The annual oestrus of Basenji is possibly an adaptive response to protect puppies from higher temperature and humidity of the equatorial summer. In the rainforests the key factor affecting breeding is the availability of food [5].

They are often referred as “barkless” dogs of Africa. Basenji, dingoes and NGSDs are prone to howls, yodels, and other vocalizations over the characteristic bark of modern dog breeds. One explanation for the unusual vocalisation of the Basenji is that the larynx is flattened [3]. Basenji’s have short, fine chestnut red and black coat colour with white feet, chest and tail tip.

China striking a pose; Photo: Zanzipow Kennels

The Basenji made its debut in the western world in 1895 when a brace of the dogs was exhibited at the Cruft's show as African Bush dogs or Congo Terriers. Unfortunately, all contracted distemper shortly afterward and died. In England, the breed traces back to six dogs that were transported from Africa by Mrs. Olivia Burn in the 1930’s. The dogs were passed as pure breed by Kennel Club and zoological experts, and placed into the hound group.

Prior to 1987, a total of 28 Basenjis were exported directly from Africa to Europe or the United States [4]. Most of the imports went to England. Six were imported to the United States including one that came as a stowaway in a coffee shipment and two that came with a shipment of baby gorillas. In the 1970s and in the 1980s five Basenjis were imported into Germany. Subsequently, the American Kennel Club re-opened its stud book on multiple occasions so that additional Basenji’s from Africa could increase the genetic diversity of the breed.

Here we release a chromosome-length genome assembly of the Basenji – China or more formally Australian Supreme Champion Zanzipow Bowies China Girl. The genome assembly (Oxford Nanopore + BGISEQ + Illumina Hi-C) is of high quality with the contig N50 of 23,108,747 Mb and scaffold N50 of 64,752,584 Mb. See Dudchenko et al., 2018 for details on the procedure. Thank you to Jennifer Power for providing the sample for this assembly.

The genome is now available on NCBI as UNSW_CanFamBas_1.0:


1. Dollman, G. The Basenji Dog. Journal of the Royal Africa Society 36, 148-149 (1937)

2. Parker, H. G. et al. Genomic Analyses Reveal the Influence of Geographic Origin, Migration, and Hybridization on Modern Dog Breed Development. Cell Rep 19, 697-708 (2017)

3. Ashdown, R. R. & Lea, T. The larynx of the Basenji dog. J Small Anim Pract 20, 675-679 (1979)

4. America, B. C. o. Foundation stock sorted by year of import, 2017)

5. Johannes, J. E. (2003). The Basenji Annual Estrus: The impact of the rainforest ecology on its development.


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