Unlike in any other place in the country, Sarail, a small town 80 kilometers northeast of the capital, reserves some mind-boggling surprises. For centuries two distinct species -- Sarail hound and Aslee Morog (fighting fowls) -- have survived in Sarail. It remains a mystery till date as to how these two unique animals landed in Sarail more than 200 years ago. Morshed Ali Khan, Porimol Palma and Sheikh Md Shahidul Islam tell us the tale of these two pride of Brahmanbaria.
With its unmistakably lanky shape and predatory instinct, the Sarail hound can leap several feet into the air and hunt down a bird in flight. Any furry animal, be it a cat or a rat, venturing into Sarail territory, stands little chance of escaping. Among its handful number of connoisseurs in the country, the Sarail is still there, but its existence is at the verge of extinction.
Nobody seems to know for sure how this unusual canine landed in Sarail over 200 years ago when communications in this part of the hemisphere were extremely perilous.
Legend goes that Zamindar Dewan of Sarail one day set out for Calcutta (now Kolkata) on his convoy of elephants. At one point during the painstaking journey he met an Englishman with an unusual dog. Fascinated by the canine's looks and agility, Dewan convinced the Englishman to give up his dog in exchange for an elephant.
Later on a hunting trip the dog was lost in the forest. But weeks later the dog wandered back to Dewan's palace. To the surprise of the caretakers, the dog was pregnant. Eventually, it gave birth to several puppies. Some say the puppies were the results of the dog's mating with wolf or jackal.
Kaiser Tamiz Amin, a Sarail enthusiast, having four Sarail pets at his residence in Gulshan, has a different story. Amin says traders from the Arab Peninsula, Central Asia and Western India often travelled to this part of Bengal on horseback. For their own security they brought with them the Central Asian Hounds, famous for their attacking instinct.
The British brought with them the European Grey Hounds, known for their hunting instinct. “To me, both versions seem correct. At one point, both the breeds might have crossbred, which is Sarail,” Kaiser Amin says. Interestingly, the European Grey Hounds also originated from the Arab Hounds.
Shihab Ally of Royal Bengal Kennels, a platform of dog lovers, suggests that the breed is from the family of Sight Hounds, an ancient variety of dogs brought to the subcontinent by Middle Eastern traders. Descendents of the breeds like Salukis, Azawakhs, Tazis and Afghan Hounds crossed with the Grey Hounds of the British rulers in India, creating a new set of hounds. The landlord of Sarail might have brought these hounds and crossed them with wild dogs from the jungles of Tipperah district (Tripura of India), creating what is known as Sarail today.
Loss of Purity
In course of time the breed is losing its purity. Tapan Lal Rabi Das of Chouragoda village at Noagaon Union of Sarail is one of the few individuals trying to rear the Sarail. Das, who now owns a dozen Sarail breeds, claims that Zamindar Dewan Monwar Ali presented two hounds to his great grandfather Kali Charan Rabi Das over a hundred years back. Since then, they have been rearing and breeding the dogs for commercial purpose. He has 12 of them. A six-month old pure Sarail puppy could change hands for as much as Tk 50,000 or more.
Some people are crossing the local dog varieties with the partial Sarail Hounds just for commercial gains.
Revival of Sarail Hounds
Dr Shahjahan Thakur, another Sarail enthusiast, set up a breeding project in Brahmanbaria in 2001, but failed to flourish due to fund shortage. A dog-lover, Faisal Mahmud Faizee of Dhaka formed The National Society for the Sarail Hound in 2006 with young Sarail Hound enthusiasts, who owned, trained and bred pure Sarail Hounds.
“In some cases our members succeeded, but many failed,” Faizee told The Daily Star.
Sarail's MP advocate Ziaul Haque Mridha sent a letter to the Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries in 2009, and even raised the issue in parliament to preserve Sarail Hounds. In response to the letter, Sarail Upazila Livestock Department sent a report on Sarail Hound to the ministry. No further development is known.
Major Mod Abdullah Al Mamun, former director of Rapid Action Battalion Bhairab Camp-9, collected four Sarail Hounds for the Rab headquarters to train them for anti-crime techniques. Its progress is not known.
Kaiser Amin says Sarail Hounds have a problem for use in anti-crime activities. “Once these hounds set a target, they go after it without listening to any commands.”
“A few years ago I got seriously sick, and I was on bed rest for two weeks. I found my dogs lying beside my bed eating almost nothing for the whole period,” Kaiser Amin says.
In 2011 when his mother died, the dogs refused to eat and cried the whole day and night. “Humans have so many demands, but the dogs don't. And they are so devoted to their masters.”