Boerboel is derived from the Afrikaans/Dutch words of boer (farmer) and boel which is a reference to the Bullenbijter (Bullbiter) ancestry that the breed comes from. So in a nutshell the word Boerboel literally translates into “farmer’s mastiff”.
The exact ingredients that went into the recipe that created the modern Boerboel are not precisely known but what is beyond dispute is the Boerboel’s mixed African and European heritage!
The history of the Boerboel dog breed traces all the way back to 1652 when Jan van Riebeeck (the founding father of the Dutch settlement at the Cape of Good Hope) arrived in southern Africa.
Jan van Riebeeck took with him a very large and impressive looking Bullenbijter (Bull biter) to serve as protection against the real and imagined dangers found on the African continent. His Bullenbijter was a large mastiff-type dog that was more than capable to multi-function as enforcer and protector!
Other settlers followed Jan van Riebeeck’s lead and soon enough the settlements were teeming with large forbidding dog breeds that originated from all across Europe.
The British arrived in tow with their own powerdogs most of which at the time were typically a cross between the long-legged Bulldogs of the period and the large English Mastiff. The Germans and the French not to be outdone took their own canine powerdog specimens with them.
With time inevitably crossing of these various powerdog breeds occurred resulting in the genetic legacy upon which the Boerboel breed was developed. But that is just a tiny portion of the history of how the Boerboel became the dog it is today!
The Great Trek
In 1806 following the annexing of the Cape Colony by the British, a period of hardship befell the Afrikaans. In the wake of the tide of British settlers in 1820, several Afrikaan and Dutch settlers felt compelled to relocate to avoid the yoke of British rule!
And thus began the era of the Great Trek that spanned several decades and involved the migration to remote regions; a process that played a significant part in the development of the robust nature and signature character of the Boerboel dog.
The trek of the 1830s – 1840s (the Great Trek) was an exodus that involved more than 10,000 Afrikaan and Dutch families, a journey that also included theirs strongest and best dogs. These treks into the interior unchartered regions of the heartland were relentless and unforgiving. Before the trek was over many fell by the wayside, both dog and man!
By the time the trek was over and the migrants resettled in the deepest regions of the heartland only the hardiest of dogs had survived and it was from this gene pool that the modern Boerboel gets its genetic robustness and stamina.
Due to the limited amount of contact with the outside world and with few dogs alive after the trek the settlers had little option but to replenish their dogs from the few that remained. In this manner the homogeneity of the Boerboel dog breed was fashioned.
The African Connection
Shortly after the arrival of the first powerdog specimens from Europe it didn’t take long for the settlers to realize that despite their large size and strength the dogs were quickly conquered by the African heat and the buffet of local diseases. Thus it made a lot of sense to cross-breed the European dogs with the hardier African dogs that were optimally adjusted to the climate and environment.
One such local dog was the Khoi dog from which the Boerboel inherited its much greater tolerance to heat (as compared to other mastiff dog breeds), an exceptional resistance to Tick Bite Fever (amongst other diseases) as well as its intense dislike for big cats especially the leopard!
The Boerboel Dog Breed Almost Becomes Extinct!
Although the existence and status of the Boerboel dog breed today is secure and growing stronger this was not always the case! Twice during its history the existence of the breed skirted the fine line of extinction. The first time occurred during the Anglo-Boer war of 1899-1902 following Lord Kitchener’s “Scorched Earth” policy and the next was a little more recent (as well as more subtle) and was due to the inevitable march of urbanization!
In the face of urbanization the Boerboel dog found itself in the crosshairs of a dilemma; those traits and characteristics quintessential to the Boerboel dog breed on the farm proved to be an inconvenience in the city. As a consequence Boerboel dog owners resorted to breeding their dogs “with anything that barked” to the point that pure Boerboel stock literally disappeared!
Fortunately small pockets of original Boerboel genetic stock could still be found in farms located in remote regions.
Resurgence of the Boerboel Dog Breed
In the early 1980s, lovers and fanciers of the breed pained by the seemingly inevitable demise of the Boerboel dog breed decided enough was enough! The South African Boerboel Breeder’s Association (SABBA) was duly formed with the main objective and purpose of reviving the Boerboel to its genetic purity and original stature.
In the August of 1990 an extensive search covering over 5,500 kilometers was undertaken by a few devoted individuals with the express purpose of finding and selecting those Boerboel specimens that best embodied the Boerboel breed in its purest form. Out of 250 dogs examined only 72 passed the grueling selection criteria.
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