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The Guardian of The Island

Updated: Sep 25, 2021

His fur is brown shaded with a black muzzle or often called “Blang Bungkem” here, with no collar, roaming all around Green School Area with his silent steps that make you'll never notice his appearance. He might know this school better than anyone else. Our first meet was in office in Green School. In my first week here he always passed by the office every day above 11 o’clock. His presence is sometimes unrecognizable by the color of bamboo that matches its fur. Until one day I gave him one of my pieces of chicken bone leftover from my lunch when he just passed. His sharp eyes stare at me, fall silent, with the tip of the brow furrowed in the middle of the forehead. At that time I know, he is very shy. He won’t eat the bone unless I’m pretending as I not looking at him. He is very unapproachable, fear of humans. I wonder perhaps he has trauma with humans or whatsoever. But luckily after that time, he not just passing by the office. He often takes a nap and also staying in our office. But still calm and distant.

Since I’ve been working here in Bali, I have always been in my happy place where dogs are everywhere and surrounded me. Their population is similar to cats in Bandung, or other places in Indonesia. But there is something unique about the dog in Bali. Dogs are a LOT! If there I could put more “s” on “Dogs” because they aren’t just plural but plural-plural ultimate plural: Dogsssss.

Balinese has a strong connection bond with a dog, not only for home security but they more like companion animal. Most of the elderly I have met here in Bali including some of my family members already called their dogs as their kids. Because their human kids are married or wandered already. So, the dog is a companion on an everyday basis.

This bond has been intertwined with Balinese-Hindu as we can see in the well-known story of Yudisthira's odyssey to heaven's gate which cost him the lives of his wife and four brothers. However, he was comforted by a dog that went with him early in his journey. At journeys end, Yudhishthira was freed from the entrance to the heaven gate by the God Indra, but he refused to abandon his canine companion at the gate, and in so doing, renounced God Indra. The faithful dog was in actuality, Dharma, the God of Righteousness and Justice, in disguise [1]. This happens until now, where dogs in Bali and most of the dogs I met were polite, loyal, they even behave like a human. What I mean is, they were like always understand my words.

Group of dogs from Lucky Bali Dog Rescue during Sunday walk at the beach in Canggu area.

This leads me to my curiosity to know more about Bali Dogs. Because somehow this situation is kind of dilemmatic. So here is what I found. Dogs in Bali have a lot of different breeds and species. But Bali has owned its indigenous dog. This island is home to the Bali heritage dog and the Highland Kintamani [2].

One research from BMC Genomic Data said that A viable and diverse population of dogs existed on the island of Bali prior to its geographic isolation approximately 12,000 years ago [3]. It means the Bali Dog is the purest breed in the world! [4]

Veterinary Genetics Laboratory at UC Davis also tested around 3,000 indigenous dogs from all over Bali and shows that Bali’s indigenous dogs held one of the richest pools of genetic diversity of all the dogs in the world [3,2]. During an international conference on the Bali Dog supported by the Bali Animal Welfare Association (BAWA) that just read on the digital news article, Dr. Ben Sacks from the Laboratory said, “The Bali dog is one of the few remaining indigenous dog populations.” “Its genome is valuable to science.”

Sarah (left) and Okta (right) enjoying time with the dogs on the beach.

Unfortunately, their genetic purity is now under threat. The number of pure blood Bali dogs has been dropped over the past decade. Mass culling to the dog without collar mandated by the government was done as a way to stop the propagation of rabies virus speeded in Bali in 2009. Gradually the epidemic subsided, along with intensified anti-rabies vaccination [5] (we can relate to this now, isn't it?). This has removed at least 400,000 dogs from the gene pool [2]. Other threats are dog meat tread which still occurs here in Bali. Most of these threats include acts of cruelty, disease, poisoning, street accidents, and neglect [2].

However number of Balinese Dogs collected as of July 2020 from the Bali Provincial Animal Husbandry and Health Service shows that Bali is still a region with the highest human to dog ratio in Indonesia [5]. On the other hand, BAWA founder Janice Girardi state that only an estimated 20% of the dogs in Bali today could be considered pure Bali dogs, inbreeding with the Bali heritage dog is a serious threat to its genetic integrity [2].

Genetic, population, wealthiness, singularity, diversity, does it feels relatable for not only dogs but most of the species on this planet, including us as humans. So.. what do you think about our guardians now?

Here are my references if you need some future reading, and let me know if you have any more recommendations!

  1. Buck W: Mahabharata Berkeley: University of California Press; 1973.

  2. Irion, D.N., Schaffer, A.L., Grant, S. et al. Genetic variation analysis of the Bali street dog using microsatellites. BMC Genet 6, 6 (2005).

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Sep 29, 2021

I love reading about genome in human and animals. This information is interesting!


Sep 28, 2021

Interesting info! So Bali is not only island of gods, there are more


Makes me think that if domesticated animals are under threat, imagine the wild ones.. At the same time, it makes me wonder where the line is between natural selection and human intervention.


Very insightful! I wonder if there's something we can do to protect the genetic pool.

Replying to

This one still become my question as well Cynthia. Let’s visit some dog shelter or any related organization to know more about thiss!!


A total sweetness 🧚‍♀️😍

Replying to

All dogs are sweet isn’t it? (as long as they doesn’t bite you)

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