Basenjis are among the oldest dog breeds in the world....
A recent study researched the whole-genome sequences of dogs and found that the modern dog is a divergent subspecies of the gray wolf. The dingo and the Basenji are both basal members of the dog species, which means that their genetics are most similar to the ancient doggos.
The history of the Basenji is carved into history. Literally! Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics on the tombs of Pharoahs depict the Tesem dog, a long-legged canine with tall, triangular ears and a tightly wound tail that closely resembles the modern Basenji.
The name Basenji means small wild thing from the bush, and the Pygmy translation of that phrase sounds a lot like Basenji which is how this dog got his name from Europeans visiting Africa in the late 1800s. For thousands of years, this breed lived alongside the Pygmy tribes in Central Africa, from the Congo basin down into South Sudan. As there was no human interference with the breeding of native Basenjis, the dog has managed to retain most of the original characteristics from its ancient family tree.
There are plenty of unsubstantiated theories as to how the Basenji may have traveled from the Congo to Egypt, if their ancestors were indeed Tesem dogs. One theory mulls the possibility of the Pygmies offering the dog to the Ancient Egyptians as a gift. Another theory flips that around and guesses that perhaps the Sudanese, after winning a war with Egypt, took Basenjis home as war trophies.
What we do know is that the first breeder of Basenjis was Mrs. Olivia Burn, who took the dogs from the Congo basin back to Great Britain in the 1930s. The first few attempts were a disaster, with many dogs dying in quarantine. In 1937, Mrs. Burn succeeded and presented the first litter of Basenji puppies to a rapturous audience at Crufts in London. But it was the famous animal importer Henry Trefflich who introduced Basenjis to America. Trefflich would become famous for finding Cheeta the chimpanzee, who starred alongside Tarzan and Leo the MGM lion. Basenjis in the United States are believed to have been bred from Kindu and Kasenyi, the original Basenjis that Trefflich brought into the USA back in 1941.
Kindu and Kasenyi arrived in America with a consignment of infant gorillas, also sourced from the Congo. The two dogs made headlines upon their arrival, as both the dogs and the baby gorillas had become the best of friends while traveling together from Africa to America! Originally, 11 Basenjis were meant to arrive in the shipment, but true to the nature of the breed, the others escaped. Kindu and Kasenyi went to live in California, and in 1946, both dogs made the cover of Western Kennel Reserve magazine with an advertisement inside listing the new Basenji puppies for sale.