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Philippine 'Witch Dog' Could Be 36,000 Years Old

It climbs trees and hunts cobras.
IMAGE Tom Asmus
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In the ancestral lands of Bukidnon in Mindanao, there is a type of wild dog that does not breed with other dogs. It has sharp claws, climbs trees, hunts cobras, and could be 36,000 years old. It is called tiger dog and aso ng gubat by locals. It is also called bird catcher in Luzon and witch dog in the Visayas. The aso ng gubat in Bukidnon has a brindle coat—dark-brown with black stripes

According to Philippine indigenous dog researcher Tom Asmus, the dog can survive independently in the jungle, and is difficult to raise at home.

Aso ng Gubat

Photo by Tom Asmus.
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Photo by Tom Asmus.

“They climb trees after prey, hunt snakes, and are capable of surviving on just jungle vegetation,” said Asmus. “It's difficult to keep a wild blooded one domestically, as they have little to no resistance to common domesticated canine illnesses.”

The dog’s refusal to mate with dogs other than its own kind makes its genes among the purest native breed in the country, says Asmus.

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In the wild, the dog has an impeccable kill instinct, which makes it a high-value target for illegal dog fights. “They will kill another dog no matter its size or type,” said Asmus.

Even Asmus has trouble keeping his group of 10 aso ng gubat from killing livestock. “If I let them loose, they kill domestic dogs, goats, cats, and all kinds of poultry. They see no difference between a rat and a cat.”

An Alpha Male Aso ng Gubat

Photo by Tom Asmus.
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Unlike other dogs, the aso ng gubat has extra sharp claws which they regularly shed.

According to Asmus, unlike most dog breeds around the world, the aso ng gubat has extra sharp claws it uses for climbing trees to chase prey. Most interesting is how it regularly sheds these claws to produce new ones, instead of wearing them out. This has not been observed in other breeds of dogs (regular dogs shed nails but usually due to illness), says Asmus. 

Climbing Walls

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The following photos compare the claws of the aso ng gubat with those of regular dogs.

Aso ng Gubat's Shedded Claws (left) and Regular Dog's Nail Clippings

Photo by Tom Asmus.

Aso ng Gubat's Shed Claw 

Photo by Tom Asmus.
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Aso ng Gubat's Shed Claws

Photo by Tom Asmus.

Aso ng Gubat's Shed Claws

Photo by Tom Asmus.
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Aso ng Gubat About to Shed Claw, With New Claw Underneath the Old One

Photo by Tom Asmus.

Aso ng Gubat's Shed Claws

Photo by Tom Asmus.
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Aso ng Gubat's Claw

Photo by Tom Asmus.

Aso ng Gubat's Sharp Claws Used for Climbing Trees

Photo by Tom Asmus.
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Adolescent Aso ng Gubat's Claws

Photo by Tom Asmus.

Aso ng Gubat Stretches, Revealing Sharp Claws Used for Climbing Trees

Photo by Tom Asmus.
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Aso ng Gubat and Its Closely Related Breed Aso ng Bundok Have Sharp Claws for Climbing Trees

Photo by Tom Asmus.

 

The aso ng gubat has other unique identifiers.

According to Asmus, there is strong evidence that indicates the aso ng gubat is a breed of its own and has been largely overlooked by science.

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Among its unique identifiers are the following:

  • Sharper claws that it regularly sheds
  • Genitals less than half the diameter of most domestic dogs, so it usually only mates with its kind
  • Double-sealing anus
  • Very high prey drive
  • Black lips
  • Black gums and roof of the mouth
  • Tongue spotting

 

Aso ng Gubat Displaying Black Gums and Roof of the Mouth

Photo by Tom Asmus.
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Black Gums on Display

Photo by Tom Asmus.

The Lumads have an oral mythology about the aso ng gubat

The Lumads in Bukidnon have passed down for generations ancient oral mythology about the aso ng gubat. According to lore, anyone who hurts an aso ng gubat will be cursed. Kill one and your entire family will be cursed.

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“Most Filipinos think that the aso ng gubat is only a myth and does not exist,” says Asmus. “But the Lumads see them on the same level as humans, with some considering them as forest spirits.”

The existence of such ancient lore suggests that the aso ng gubat is not just a mere street dog, but is an ancient indigenous breed of wild dog.

The Aso ng Gubat, Whose Bloodline Could Be 36,000 Years Old

Photo by Tom Asmus.
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The aso ng gubat’s DNA sequence has been forwarded to researchers worldwide.

In 2015, Asmus submitted two samples of DNA taken from two of his aso ng gubat to the World Canine Genome Project, which aimed to assemble the dog genome. He received copies of the dogs’ genotype data, which still need to be analyzed by a canine geneticist so the dogs can be confirmed to be a unique breed or species of canine.

“If the samples plot out correctly, researchers will probably be asking for a new sampling to be done in the Philippines,” said Asmus.

Currently, there is no official dog breed in the Philippines, and the government has denied the existence of any wild dogs in the jungles. The aso ng gubat is a strong candidate for being the first official breed of indigenous dogs in the Philippines.

Tom Asmus' Pack of 10 Aso ng Gubat

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Mario Alvaro Limos
Features Editor, Esquire Philippines
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