The Basenji originated in Central Africa and is said to be “as old as the pyramids.” It originated from Zaire, now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo. When the Egyptian civilization fell, this breed almost lapsed into obscurity, but thankfully it was preserved by its African admirers. Hundreds of years later, a European explorer discovered the Basenji and brought a breeding pair to England in 1895. The breed was exhibited at the Crufts dog show as African Bush Dogs, but the pair shown there died of distemper shortly after the show. Additional Basenjis were brought to England, and also to America. In 1936, Olivia Burn visited the Belgian Congo with her husband and found remarkably true-breeding Basenjis there. She brought excellent specimens back to England, which became the foundation stock of the modern breed. She exhibited her Basenjis at Crufts in 1937, having already been registered with and recognized by the Kennel Club (England). Her Basenjis caused such attention that police were called to control the crowds.
The Basenji Club of Great Britain was formed in 1939. In 1941, an African-bred female was imported to Boston and ultimately was bred with a Basenji male who had been imported earlier. The result of that breeding was the first litter of Basenji puppies to be raised to maturity in the United States. Eventually, dog lovers from all parts of America became interested in this unique breed. The Basenji Club of America was established in the mid-1940s, and the breed was officially recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1943, as a member of the Hound Group. The breed reached its peak of popularity in 2001, when a Basenji won Best in Show at the Crufts World Dog Show. Today’s Basenji is not widely popular but has fanatical support from those who fancy it.
Basenjis have an average lifespan of 10 to 14 years. Health concerns of particular risk for this breed may include cataracts, coloboma, corneal dystrophy, Fanconi syndrome, hemolytic anemia, hip dysplasia, immunoproliferative small intestinal disease, persistent pupillary membrane, progressive retinal atrophy, thyroid problems and hernias.