Writer : Jae-mok Koh Date : 2010-11-18 Hit : 523
Korean Sapsaree dog bounce back from the brink.


(Reuters Life!) - Decades of colonial occupation, war and poverty took a deadly toll not just on millions of Koreans but also one of the country's traditional and beloved breeds of dogs.

Sapsarees, shaggy-haired dogs long valued for their loyalty, were killed in large numbers by the Japanese military, which used their fur to make winter coats for its soldiers serving in the extreme cold of Manchuria, as documented in government records during the period of Japanese colonial rule (1910-1945).

When South Korea emerged from the turmoil of two wars and decades of poverty, the medium-sized Sapsaree, whose name means "the dogs that ward off evil spirits or misfortune" and which resembles a sheepdog, had all but disappeared.

By the mid-1980s, only eight remained, says Ha Ji-Hong, a U.S.-educated geneticist.

But now the breed has made a remarkable comeback, thanks largely to Ha, a professor at South Korea's Kyungpook National University, who combined traditional breeding with advances in modern DNA technology.

"Restoring the Sapsaree breed with only eight dogs was not easy," he said, citing financial and veterinary woes.

Sapsarees, sometimes also spelled Sapsali, are one of three dog breeds native to Korea, along with the Jindo and Poongsan. The first known record of Sapsarees appears in an ancient tomb mural from the Three Kingdom period from 37 B.C.-668 A.D.

Ha's father, a professor of animal husbandry, had set up a kennel to protect the few remaining purebred Sapsarees in the 1960s, with around 30 dogs. By the time the younger Ha returned in 1985 with a U.S. PhD, only eight dogs remained.

"The thought of Sapsarees being gone forever was like a jolt to my thoughts and it woke me up to take on the challenge" of preserving the breed, he said.

"My father told me, 'Restoring a dog breed is a project fit for an English nobleman with unlimited capital. I don't know how you're going to take on such a challenge with your college professor's salary,'" Ha added.

This proved true. Ha ended up selling all his family assets, including farmland that he inherited from his father.

He had to use inbreeding methods at first to build the population to around 50 to 100. After five years, the population had increased to 500 dogs.

He and his research team then took DNA samples from every dog, weeding out undesirable traits to stabilize the breed.

Problems included canine parvovirus, especially lethal to puppies, until good quality vaccines became available in 1995.


Vance Hall 밴스 홀  2010/11/19 03:49:58 [Reply] modify delete

Great news! If the dog is man's best friend, then perhaps the Sapsaree is the Korean man's best friend.
Jae-mok Koh  2010/11/19 08:16:21 [Reply] modify delete
Hi, Vance!.
On behalf of Dr. Ha's efforts for decades, the population of Sapsaree have been increased nearly 1,200 at the moment from only eight dogs.
This puppy is so friendly and have the best loyalty to its master, that there are many examples of their sacrifices to save those master's lives in Korean history.
I love to hear this kind of news.
Thank you very much for your warm comments.
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