The Malta Independent 21 May 2022, Saturday

Genetic survey on the Maltese Rabbit Dog (Il-Kelb tal-Fenek)

Monday, 31 August 2015, 13:48 Last update: about 8 years ago

In 1647 Fra G. Fran Abela, gave the first reference to the existence of a type of dog, also referred to as Cernechi that was highly esteemed for its ability in the hunting of rabbits, especially over harsh and rocky terrain. The establishment and definition of the breed can be attributed to the many generations of Maltese hunters who have bred the Kelb tal-Fenek true to type, recognising the potential of this impeccable hunter thus preserving this beautiful hound throughout the ages.

In honour of its importance, in association with the Maltese culture and traditions, Malta declared the Kelb tal-Fenek the National Dog in 1974 and a one Maltese Lira coin was minted in 1977, depicting the Kelb tal-Fenek.

The origin of this breed is scientifically unknown as no in-depth study has ever been performed. It is usually portrayed with a large dose of mystique. At present, at the University of Malta, a group of Maltese and Italian scientists are working on solving the riddle by attempting to analyse DNA found in the mitochondria of red blood cells. This type of analysis traces the genetic linage along the maternal line and has been used in many studies to describe population history, patterns of gene flow, genetic structure and species limits.

Dr George Attard and Dr Anthony Gruppetta, from the University, are now inviting the Federation for Hunting and Conservation - Malta (FKNK) and its members to collaborate in this research by facilitating the collection of blood samples of their Kelb tal-Fenek.  The results will not only shed light on the origins of the breed but will also give a clear indication on the inbreeding status of the dogs sampled. Based on these results, recommendations can be made for a professional breeding programme that can be adopted and registered with the competent authorities. Such a breeding programme shall reduce the incidence of inbreeding and ensure a healthy future for the breed. The programme shall also be geared at achieving characteristics that may have been diluted with the past uncontrolled breeding.

For the last 17 years, on the occasion of the Maltese traditional feast,  l-Imnarja held in Buskett, the FKNK has organised the Maltese Hunting Dogs and the Maltese Rabbit Dogs shows and competitions. At this year's event, as a result of another Study commissioned by the FKNK, it was announced that the Maltese Hunting Dog is a pure breed and unique to the Maltese islands.

Owners of Maltese Rabbit Dogs, Kelb tal-Fenek, who wish to participate in this research programme are being encouraged to phone on 9983 7103.

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