The Tibetan Mastiff Business
Ever heard of the Tibetan Mastiffs ? I am sure most of you must have heard of these monsters of Dogs that lived on the Tibetan Plateau and grew into large proportions to the point that instead of resembling Dogs they looked like Bears. They are known for their ferocity and loyalty as well. And of course their shaggy coat which protects them from the extreme cold on the Tibetan Plateau makes them look much bigger than they actually are. And last but not the least their Gruff Bark which literally sends shivers down one's spine. I have kept a Himalayan Sheep Dog or what we called a Bakarwal at my home in Kashmir but its Gruff was nowhere close to what a Tibetan Mastiff Gruff sounds like. They are almost like Bass Speakers. Bigger the speaker, deeper is the Gruff and its more bone chilling.
I have never really encountered a pure Tibetan Mastiff in India though have occasionally come across what I call the Himalayan Mastiff during wanderings in the Mountains. But I know people who have pure ones in India but I have never had a chance to visit them. And I am sure many people have purer varieties in the Regions bordering Tibet.
Anyways I had my first real encounter with these Monsters of the Canine World when last winters, in January 2017, I decided to visit a part of the Tibetan Plateau which lay on the eastern edge along the Hengduan Mountains. Of course I was told its no use going there at the height of Winters and that too solo but I had the time and opportunity so I decided to take a detour while on a Business trip.
It was in Shangri La or Zhongdian that I first encountered these guys. Zhongdian or the fancy name, Shangri La, that the Chinese Government has given it is home to the beautiful Ganden Sumtseling Monastery and is the seat of the local Government in the Deqin Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. The Tibetan name for the town is Gyalthang. The Town is situated at around 3200 m above sea level on the Eastern edge of the Tibetan Plateau.
I had booked a Tibetan Lodge near the Monastery and as the Weather was nice I decided to take a walk around the Lamucyang Tso, a small Lake facing the Monastery. The Lodge was a typical Guest House built like a Traditional Tibetan home in a typical traditional Tibetan Village. While on the walk I came across the first Monster and it was lying lazily in the Grass asleep. I went past it keep a safe distance and then I encountered another but this was on Guard duty outside his House and luckily he was chained up. The moment he realised my presence he went crazy off the hook. And it was big. I am lucky the Chain held on but it did give me a scare.
The next morning I woke up early around 5 AM as I wanted to take pics of the Sunrise and the Monastery as I felt the Monastery would look good when the first rays of the Sun fall on its gilded Roof. It was still dark when I got out of my Lodge and the temperature was 15 Degrees below zero. And there was this small Hill that I wanted to climb as it would give me a good view of the Monastery as well as the Sun as it rose over the Mountains. And i started walking but I did not take into account that I had to pass the House with the crazy Tibetan Mastiff again. I realized it just when I was in front of the House and I heard his growl. There have been few times that I have been so scared in my life. He went wild again and I just prayed to whichever God was up at that time to ensure that his Chain holds. It did and I thankfully got some shots.
The next day I decided to take a walk through the Village as I wanted to hike up a Mountain Peak which looked quite inviting. And then I came across all kinds of Tibetan Mastiffs as it seemed every house in the Village had at least one. And every time a stranger crossed they went into a frenzy. But I rather enjoyed the Tibetan Mastiff Symphony (Cacophony actually) that I created every time I walked the Village, which for some strange reason had very few people and mostly Yaks, Pigs, Chickens and Tibetan mastiffs. The most endearing sight for me was one of two huge Tibetan Mastiffs sleeping alongside with a couple of the Pot Bellied Black Pigs. It was surreal but I didn't have the courage to walk into someone’s House and take pics of the Mastiffs and Pigs enjoying their siesta.
Anyways coming down to more serious business, as the Chinese have grown wealthier, so has their craze for keeping Tibetan Mastiffs more as status symbols though I admit I have seen some crazy love for Dogs in China which I simply can't imagine anywhere else. So much in fashion are these Tibetan Mastiffs that there are reports of a puppy being sold for 2 Million USD, that's a whopping 14 Crores in Indian Rupees. Of course with this Breed being in so much demand what has happened is that the breeding and sale of these Mastiffs is happening on a big scale. And of course what this means many unscrupulous people getting into this business and trying to maximize profits they keep these animals in despicable conditions. And of course the business couldn't sustain forever and the business fell in 2013 with the supply overwhelming in demand putting many out of business.
And i saw it up close and personal. From Gyalthang I took a taxi down to Lijiang as i wanted to visit the Tiger leaping Gorge. Now most Chinese Tourists come by High Speed Train to Lijiang and then do the 4 hour trip to Shangri La or Xianggelila as they call it by Luxury buses. And this Road in its upper stretch had at least 10 Showrooms (yes Showrooms) selling just Tibetan Mastiffs. I stopped at a couple but they were mostly shut as it was off season but I could see that they still had a few Mastiffs held on the backside in cages. And the way these majestic creatures were kept was just pathetic. Filthy cages which didn't seem to have been cleaned since ages and very smelly. And the Dogs had all shaggy coats which seemed all matted. I clicked some pics but never had the heart to post them online as they are just simply disgusting. But I was amazed at the scale of this Business and wondered how long will the craze last and what would happen to the Mastiffs when they fell out of favor with their fashionable owners. Let's admit it. Keeping a Dog so large is no easy task as it has to be given enough food, space, grooming and care for it to thrive. And plus you need to make sure that the Dog is provide facilities to survive the environment in hotter areas
So as result what has happened is that many Tibetan Mastiffs are now abandoned by either the Owners or the unscrupulous Breeders who due to massive competition can no longer make profit so they just abandon the Dogs to roam the streets. An that is a sad sight for such Dogs which once were almost Royalty. Even sadder is the fact that many are sold to Dog slaughter houses which process them for Dog meat which is still liked as food in parts of China. And also there are reports of abandoned Tibetan Mastiffs teaming up with Wild Wolves to attack livestock !
Here is a heartbreaking Video of more than a 1000 Tibetan Mastiffs at a shelter set up by the Surmang Namgyal Monastery. But i guess these are the lucky ones who will no longer have to beg on streets for scraps of food or end up as Meat themselves on a Chinese Table.
Not much we can do but as a penance maybe we should start taking care of the street Dogs wherever we live and never buy Dogs from Breeders. Dont shop. Please adopt.