It was one of the sights that were very characteristic of Ibiza when I first arrived on the island – the lean, greyhound-like hounds that seemed to wander fairly freely around the island – that I later discovered that the breed was called the Podenco or Ca eivissenc, and much later still discovered that they were known in other parts of the world as Ibizan Hounds, a name that sounds rather inappropriate to Ibiza purists, but is accepted throughout the canine world, particularly in the USA, so I suppose we shall just have to grin and bear it.
I became more personally involved with the breed when I was asked to translate a book written by Rafael Sainz – Historias de Mel – into English. In translating the book I learned a lot more about the breed, and quite a lot more about Ibiza as well.
Rafael and his family had lived on Ibiza for at leat part of the year since at least the early 1930s, and Rafael was a mine of information about all sorts of obscure facts relating to the island. I had not known until that point that the Podenco was an acknowledged pedigree breeds with two different varieties, the smooth-haired, which was most common on Ibiza and the rough-haired, which was more associated with Formentera.
Local tradition had it that the breed was directly descended from the dogs kept by the Egyptian pharoahs, and certainly pictures painted about 5000 years ago in Egyptian tombs showed an animal that looked very like a Podenco – even the colouring looked similar. Mummified remains also bore an uncanny resemblance to the modern day Ca eivissenc, and Rafael devoted several chapters of his book to the theory that the Phoenicians had taken dogs from ancient Egypt and introduced then to Ibiza where, largely isolated they were able to preserve a pure line.
A recent genetic study, though, casts doubts on this very reasonable but highly romantic story. An article that originally appeared in Science magazine in 2004, authored by Heidi G. Parker and others (Genetic Structure of the Purebred Domestic Dog, Science 21 May 2004: Vol. 304, Issue 5674, pp. 1160-1164) states that “our results indicate, however, that these two breeds have been recreated in more recent times from combinations of other breeds. Thus, although their appearance matches the ancient Egyptian sight hounds, their genomes do not.”
In other words, the Ibiza Podenco is related to European breeds, and its resemblance to the hounds of ancient Egypt is purely coincidental. Sometimes science can be so unromantic!