From a Russian hunting magazine, 2005
By: Sergey Bogatov, Wildlife Manager and Expert Cynologist of the First Category
Translation: Sergey and Tatyana Desyatovy in cooperation with Ellen Gerritsen ©
Zhigalov District is located in the center of the Irkutsk Oblast (Province). Its regional center, Zhigalovo village, is situated 400 kilometers from Irkutsk, along the Lena river, which divides the area into two.
The district, with an area of 2.000.200 hectares of which a significant part consists of pine forests, is considered to be a highly productive hunting area. It is called the “trade pearl” of the Irkutsk Oblast. With the annual yield of up to 64.000 skins, this area took a leading position in the field of hunting squirrels, during the last years. As well, this area is good for up to 1.500 sables a year. Knowing the methods that are used for this fur production, it is not strange that this area is considered to be a classical “dog” district, as 100% of the squirrel production and 85% of the sable production is obtained by using dogs. Dogs are the basic means of
production, in this region’s hunting branch. Unfortunately, the condition of these means of production leaves much to be desired during the last few years.
Since long, East Siberian Laikas from Zhigalov District where famous for their excellent working qualities and their exterior. But with the beginning of the 1990’s, the level of the hunting dog population started to decline strongly (especially regarding the exterior).
This development was due to the economic crisis, which affected the hunting facilities in the region and in the complete Irkutsk Oblast. Assignments for breeding hunting dogs were sharply reduced and fur prices were minimal and sometimes did not even cover the hunter’s costs for traveling to the taiga and back. As a result, a part of the hunters gave up hunting and liquidated their dogs.
In 1991, when the exploration of the Kovykta gas deposit started, an absolutely incontrollable import of dogs of various breeds has begun. In villages where Laikas traditionally were kept in freedom, this led to serious negative consequences. The quantity of dogs with pedigrees strongly decreased. In 1991, the average rate of dogs that received the qualification “excellent” at dog shows was 31% and in 2001 this rate was only 10%. One of the features regarding the hunting dog population of Zhigalov District was the higher quality of female exterior, compared to that of male dogs. Such a feature was generated in an area where female bloodlines were the basis for development of the breed instead of male bloodlines. Reason for this might be the fact that Laikas were kept in freedom and the, for these dogs so characteristic, monoestrous cycle;
bitches are in heat once a year, mostly in autumn, during hunting season. Therefore, keeping a line with one male was possible only within the limits of the dogs that belong to the same owner1)
Most of the attention was given to females, due to their diligence and loyalty. Among males that were kept in freedom, a higher death rate occurred (caused by fights, roads etc.). There are cases known where owners shot especially active males during females’ heat periods when these dogs did not work the way they should and were not allowed to mate. As a result of these problems with breeding hunting dogs, the female population in this region has suffered less. At an exhibition in 2003, the qualification “excellent” was given to 31% of the females and to 17% of the males.
From separate clauses describing the exterior, it is desirable to note the decrease in size. The population consisted of many small-sized dogs. Possible reason for this could be a decrease in the general standard as dogs living in villages did not get high quality food and there was absolutely no veterinary service.
The quality of hunting skills among hunting Laikas from Zhigalov District is higher than the quality of exterior.
First reason is the severe selection. In all hunting districts, there is only one concept of how to keep Laikas: every dog should earn its own meal. Therefore, hunters aspire to use the dogs for that kind of hunting that brings the maximum benefit. Such an approach has negative consequences, though. In the 1980’s, the population of “zverovyh” 2) dogs suffered this kind of approach. The purchase value of an average elk (moose) was equal to that of one sable but there
was an incommensurable difference in expenses for additional work. The number of hoofed animals was high and “zverovyh” dogs often started to hunt this game instead of the sable that they were supposed to hunt now. As a result, hunters often simply liquidated dogs that worked on elk.
Recently, for the same economic reasons in this area, there was a tendency of a decrease in the population of pure squirrel dogs as hunting squirrels became absolutely unprofitable, therefore dogs that could not work on other game, were killed.
In general, in Zhigalov District, there has always been high preference for breeding dogs for fur industry, especially sable. These dogs were and remain the elite of the population; they are appreciated, protected and are used as much as possible for breeding, as there is a steady demand for puppies from sable hunters. The reason is simple: fur from sable always was popular. As a result, working qualities of local dogs, used for hunting sable have constantly been developed up to perfection through the centuries. The analysis of hunting trials in the area show that 96% of the participating dogs had a working trial result on squirrel or wood grouse, 54% of which even had a first degree diploma.
Bear trial results show somewhat different figures. Only 23% of the participating dogs have received working trial diplomas, 6% of which have received a second degree diploma and 17% have received a third degree diploma. Such figures are
partially caused by the influence of the fur industry on breeding and partially by the fact that local dogs sense that a trial is a game and therefore do not work the way they would under “normal” hunting circumstances.
The majority of local hunting Laikas is genetically predisposed to universal work. As was mentioned before, among dogs that work well on furred animals, there are a lot of dogs that work on wood grouse, only few of them are able to switch to working on hoofed animals. Most of the problems among the hunting dog population in the area have been caused by the irregular and not qualified work and sometimes even periods of no work at all. Reason for these situations was a poor financial support that completely failed by the end of the 1990’s. From 2000, financial support from hunting organizations and local authorities stabilized and serious working with Laikas has started.
At 4 regional exhibitions and at the First Interregional Exhibition of East Siberian Laikas in September 2004, representatives from Zhigalov District won the first prize. Furthermore, representatives from Zhigalov District at the Irkutsk Regional Exhibition of Hunting Dogs (2001) and at the First All-Russia Exhibition of East Siberian Laikas in Irkutsk (2003) were considered to be the best and they were not unsuccessful at the III National Exhibition in St. Petersburg (2003) as well 3).
In the area, trials on squirrels were organized annually. Also Interdistrict and I Regional bear trials, where dogs were tested on occupied bear dens, began to take place. These campaigns to popularize breeding purebred dogs
started to have a positive effect on the improvement of the dogs’ exterior as well. These are minimal results, though, and it is too premature to speak about a serious change in the situation. Still, hunting dog breeding in Zhigalov District is in big danger as well as in the majority of other districts that are part of Irkutsk Oblast. It is necessary to take urgent measures for keeping the situation under control. For monitoring these measures, cooperation with Irkutsk Oblast authorities is necessary regarding a special program for finance and legislation (an interdiction of import of other breeds into trade areas for example). East Siberian Laikas are a pearl of Irkutsk Oblast and with joint effort, we should keep and improve their population.
Notes from the
1) mostly the heat period is during hunting season and all dogs are in the forest with their owner to hunt. When hunting season ends, the owner returns to his village with the dogs but the heat period is over by than. So mating is only possible with the male dogs that belong to same owner.
2) “zver” is the Russian word for
beast and in Siberia, large game like bear, elk and deer are called “zver”. Dogs that work well on “zver” are called “zverovye”.
3) in Russia, every district, area or club enters a group of representatives at a show. These representatives receive points (10 points for the champion, 5 points for the best dog in its class etc.). and the points from all representatives are totalled.