A pair of US-based scientists are currently in Qatar investigating the stray dog population as part of a study to determine exactly where dogs were first domesticated.
Married PhD students Ryan and Cori Boyko chose to visit Qatar as their project is being run at Cornell University in the US, and they contacted Weill Cornell Medical College-Qatar (WCMC-Q) to discuss the possibility of conducting some of their research here.
“Everyone at WCMC-Q has been so helpful, and they have made things so much easier for us,” explained Cori, who added that although they knew there would be a relatively small population of dogs to sample here, they had also opted for Qatar as a “safe” part of the region to visit.
Ryan explained that the study came about as a result of a class he took at university which examined the origins of dog breeds, but not of the domesticated animal itself.
“I was brought up around dogs, and I found it really interesting that no one really knew where or when these animals became domesticated in the first place,” he said.
Studies differ on when dogs first became domesticated, with some claiming it to be as recent as 14,000 or as early as 40,000 years ago. Despite this divergence in opinion, it is generally accepted that they were domesticated somewhere in the Eurasian region, as they most closely resemble Eurasian wolves.
This is why visiting the Middle East is so important, explained Ryan, who added that their trip to Qatar is the first of seven countries they will be visiting this summer.
“We will be going to Lebanon, Turkey, Croatia, Papua New Guinea, Vietnam and India after this,” he explained, adding “and last year we visited Puerto Rica, Uganda, Namibia, Egypt and Indonesia”.
The project, which is being funded by a professor at Cornell, is expecting to be awarded a grant by the US National Science Foundation in the coming weeks, and both the Boyko’s claimed that by the end of this summer they should be well on their way to presenting some major publications.
“We need to find the area with the most diversity amongst the local dog population – wherever is the most diverse will be where they first came from as the diversity will have trickled out as they moved away,” he explained.
And to that end, they have been testing stray dogs in Qatar to examine their DNA. With the stray population here being so small, they have visited the Qatar Animal Welfare Society (QAWS) to test their dogs, and have also been taken to sample rescued dogs in peoples’ homes.
The couple expressed their appreciation to QAWS and the people at WCMC-Q who have helped them organise their trip, and also emphasised how much they had enjoyed their visit.
And talking about the dogs themselves, they said they were surprised at how ‘Saluki-like’ they were, but also described them as some of the “sweetest” and “nicest” dogs they had sampled, claiming they had been just as welcoming as the people here!
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