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Yakutian Laika’s clone: Reviving Siberian ancient traditions and breeds

February 13, 2018, 18:33 UTC+3 TASS

The breed has almost disappeared due to diseases, but generally speaking the traditional breed suffered greatly from work of the Soviet-time dog handlers

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© Vadim Skryabin/TASS

TASS, February 13. Scientists and volunteers plan reviving an ancient dog breed - the Yakutian hunting Laika. Experts told TASS why the revival and the traditions use of those dogs would require DNA samples, what mistakes the Soviet dog handlers made.

DNA and more

Enthusiasts from the local Bayanai hunting club are reviving population Yakutian hunting Laika. Recently scientists from the North-Eastern Federal University and the Sooam Biotech Research Foundation (South Korea) have joined them. They say, about 200 hunting Laikas now live in the region - the population in central Yakutia was almost lost in diseases in the middle XX century.

"We began collecting their DNA samples to see specific markers this breed may have. Enthusiasts want to have it registered, and they have asked us to help them with putting together the breed’s features," an expert at the Molecular Paleontology Center of the North’s Applied Ecology Research Institute Lena Grigoryeva told TASS.

Luckily, the researchers managed to find in Yakutia the breed samples, though the gods were too old to reproduce, thus their tissues’ samples were taken to clone the breed. In summer 2017, the Korean Sooam Foundation presented to hunters two cloned puppies of Yakutian hunting Laika, who they had cloned together with the University’s scientists. The puppies are called Kerecheene and Belekh, which in Yakutian mean "beautiful girl" and "gift."

These dog’s puppies would be used to revive the breed. According to Grigoryeva, the cloned dogs are not different from those born naturally - they are healthy and in future would be able to produce offspring.

"The puppies are nine and nine months old. They are regular dogs, lively, and kind. It is too early to hunt, but they go to the forest, and get trained there. The girl is very lively, and the boy is a built balanced dog, like his [genetic] father," the dog club’s head Yuri Borisov said.

Kerecheene, the girl, represented Yakutia at the region’s Days in Moscow in December, 2017. It was not the first public appearing for her: prior to that, it had visited the capital as a guest to the Festival of Science.

Collecting the breed

According to Borisov, gene purity and, consequently, a set of exterior features are a necessary condition for using the breed.

"The dogs should work hunting the sable, bear, moose. They should be high - as snow covers grow early… Besides, a Laika should have thick undercoat as frosts may be as low as 50 degrees," Borisov said, and Grigoryeva added there are no clear requirements about hair color for a hunting Laika, though, on old pictures, the dogs were mostly white.

Clones only would not be sufficient to revive the breed. The experts will have to collect similar dogs fitting a temporary standard. "Yakutia is very big, it is the size of seven Frances, they say," Borisov continued. "There are a few types of Laika here - sled, reindeer and hunting dogs. The Sled Laika has been registered at Yakutian Laika. We have been traveling to many villages to collect the hunting breed material."

Mistakes of Soviet dog handlers

In case with Yakutian hunting Laika, the breed has almost disappeared due to diseases, but generally speaking the traditional breed suffered greatly from work of the Soviet-time dog handlers.

"The situation with breeds is complicated and complex - initially, every geographical region formed a special breed adjusted to certain conditions and practices. Over centuries, many new types appeared, and then the Soviet dog handlers on their basis made a few types of Laika - for example, using the Amur Laika they made the East-Siberian Laika. This mixture had no positive results, as the breeds ceased being regional," an expert in hunting and sled dogs Alexander Bagayev told TASS.

Result of that mixture was that the "average" breeds could not be used successfully throughout Siberia, where climate conditions differ from district to district. "In the past, the Yakutian Laika was divided into "squirrel," "sable," "animal" and others. Laikas were also used as transport animals. The sleds were used in hunting, fishing, at various agricultural works," the expert said.

Currently, Russia’s registered breeds include Russian-European, Karelo-Finnish, West-Siberian and East-Siberian Laikas. Quite popular are the sled breeds - Siberian Husky, and much less - Alaskan Malamute.

Taymyr Husky

The Taymyr sled Laika, a local breed, was well-known in Taymyr. Back in the early 2000s, a French trans-continental expedition used dogs from Volochanka, a village in the heart of the Arctic peninsula. The explorers bought several dogs and took them out of Russia. Nobody can tell for sure how many Taymyr sled dogs are in the peninsula’s northern part or whether there are any. Local enthusiasts are reviving the former traditional hunting in the region, where they use sled dogs, bred on the basis of Siberian Husky.

This is what Denis Terebikhin, director of Bolochanka’s school, is doing. "We have bought (Husky - TASS) for 65,000 rubles each ($1,100) with the grant money, and received three dogs as gifts. Only thirteen years ago, dogs from Volochanka were exported to Europe, and now they are working there though under a different brand - Taymyr Sled. And on Taymyr, they were lost or killed by rascals," he told TASS.

The desire to revive the old traditions and hunting develops also in Taymyr’s eastern part, where the residents do not seem to need sled dogs, said Bagayev, who supplies Siberian Huskies there. "They are buying them, breed Huskies and use them as sled dogs, though very many people living there have motor sleds, often a few. And still, the desire to revive this old traditions is already a tendency, first of all among the indigenous peoples," the expert said.

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