Breed of the Week: The Majorcan Pointer

Of all the breeds I’ve seen and studied, the Majorcan Pointer came as the biggest surprise. Despite finding a good number of historical references to it in the old literature, I was unable to determine if the Balearic Islands’ native pointing breed was still being bred today. And since Googling its name in English, French and Spanish only turned up the same old quotes from the same old books, for a long time I assumed that the breed was extinct. 

But only a few weeks before flying to Spain to photograph Burgos Pointers and Pachónes Navarro, I decided to give it one more shot. This time the words I entered into the Google search field were in Catalan, the other official language of the island of Majorca. I typed ca de mostra and ca de caça, then hit return. Less than an hour later I was on the phone to Sheryl Marchand, my very understanding travel agent, telling her that Lisa and I would need to extend the Spanish leg of our trip. Majorca’s native pointing dog was still alive!

The Balearic Islands are an archipelago off the east coast of Spain.They have been inhabited from at least the time of the ancient Phoenicians and Greeks who probably introduced hunting dogs to the four major islands of Majorca, Minorca, Ibiza and Formentera. Even today, Podengos —a type of hunting dog used throughout the Mediterranean in ancient times—are still found on the islands, used by their owners to hunt rabbits by sight and scent.

We know that pointing dogs have been present on Majorca since at least the 14th century. A number of documents surviving from that era clearly indicate that hunters armed with crossbows used pointing dogs to help them take small game. In fact, the practice seems to have been so widespread and effective that game populations may have been adversely effected. Royal ordinances banning it were issued in 1383 and again in 1392. How pointing dogs got to the island is unknown, but it is reasonable to assume that they were brought over from the mainland and that they share a common origin with the earliest types of pointing dogs that were then being developed on both sides of the Pyrenees Mountains. They were probably bred in fairly small numbers on Majorca and the other Balearic islands, and developed in similar ways to pointing dogs elsewhere. 

By the late 1800s they had gained a reputation as excellent hunting dogs. At least one hunter thought they were the best dogs to be found anywhere. Jules Tallien de Cabarrus was a French doctor and diplomat who had hunted in many parts of the world. In the 1860s he fell ill and was sent to Majorca to recuperate. There, he hunted over Majorcan Pointers and wrote about them in his book, Chasses et Voyages, published in 1863: I repeat and will continue to say that the Majorcan pointing dog is the best and most accomplished that one could possibly find.1

In 1882 he published another book, El Mejor Perro de Muestra, in which he wrote: The Majorcan Pointer...is worth more than all the beautiful spaniels, setters or pointers. I speak from experience since I have used them for over 25 years, nine of which I spent on Majorca, three in Trieste [a city in Italy, but under Austrian rule at the time], and the others in America. And of the 49 dogs that I have had, 29 of the Majorcan breed have passed through my hands, and I have also seen many more besides mine at work.2

Another high profile person who described pointing dogs on Majorca was Archduke Ludwig Salvator of Austria (1847- 1915). He wrote a nine-volume book on the Balearic Islands in which he mentions local hunters using pointing dogs to hunt quail.

In 1911, the Real Sociedad Central de Formento de las Razas Caninas in España (later renamed Real Sociedad Canina de España) was formed. In some of its earliest stud books there are listings for Perdigueros Mallorquínes (Majorcan Pointers). But then the breed seems to fall into near complete obscurity. While a few references are found in the Spanish sporting literature of the 1940s and ’50s, it was not until the mid-1990s that any efforts to establish Majorca’s native pointer as a recognized breed got under way. In 1996 the Club del Ca Mè Mallorquí was formed and a standard drawn up. In 2002 a stud book was established, and in 2004, after six centuries on the island, Majorca’s native pointing breed was officially recognized—sort of. Recognition was granted by the Minister of Agriculture of the Balearic Islands but not (yet) by the Real Sociedad Canina de España or the FCI.

Before travelling to Majorca, we spent several days on the Spanish mainland with the people involved in the revival and growth of the Pachón Navarro and Burgos Pointer. We discovered that both breeds had faced difficult times in the recent past but were now in the hands of well-organized clubs and were becoming more popular throughout the country. The Majorcan Pointer seems to be following in their footsteps, but efforts to revive it did not really get going until the late 1990s. And the relative isolation and small population of the island mean that it will probably never reach the level of popularity that the Pachón Narvarro and Burgos Pointer now enjoy. Nevertheless, supporters of the Majorcan Pointer are every bit as dedicated to their cause as supporters of Spain’s other indigenous pointing breeds. They also have had the opportunity to observe the progress of the other breeds and to learn from them. 
After we had photographed a number of dogs in the field, Lisa and I went to diner with members of the breed club. While discussing the future of the Majorcan Pointer, club president Francesc Mir Tomàs had this to say: We are very happy with the progress we have made so far. We know this is a long-term project and we want to do it right. We also understand that the most important thing is to breed dogs that are born to hunt, that are authentic Majorcan Pointers. They are an important part of the heritage of this island and the local people support our efforts. Pedro Salva Vidal added, “We are a patient bunch. We will make progress poco a poco.”

1. Jules Tallien de Cabarrus, Chasses et Voyages, quoted in Referencias Históricas, http://www.camemallorqui.org/referencias_historicas.htm (April 13, 2009)

2. Jules Tallien de Cabarrus, El Mejor Perro de Muestra, quoted in José Manuel Sanz Timón, Origenes e Historia Antigua, http://perdiguerodeburgos.info/historia/historia.htm (August 19, 2010)

Read more about the breed, and all the other pointing breeds from Continental Europe, in my book Pointing Dogs, Volume One: The Continentals