Britain’s rarest breed of dog - which is more endangered than the giant panda and the white rhino - could have been saved after 19 puppies were born this month.
Just 20 British Otterhounds were born in the UK during the whole of last year so the arrival of the pups - born into two litters to owner Maria Lerego in Ledbury, Herefordshire, - has provided a vital lifeline to the dying breed.
There are less than 1,000 Otterhounds left in the world and about 300 of those are in Britain.
The numbers are far less than the 2,000 or so giant pandas left in the world and the 17,000 white rhinos.
Otterhounds date back to the 12th century when they were bred to hunt otters which were then seen as a pest.
But their numbers rapidly decreased when otter hunting was banned in 1978.
Experts fear the hounds could be extinct within ten years but Miss Lerego, a former Crufts best of breed champion, is fighting back with her one-man breeding programme.
Puppy love: The birth of these puppies and their siblings is a cause for celebration as they could greatly increase the likelihood of the survival of their whole species
The 48-year-old has bred about 200 puppies in 25 litters over the last 25 years.
But she has just experienced her most prolific year yet after bitches Calista and Symphony gave birth to the huge litters within several days of each other.
Miss Lerego, from Ledbury, Herefordshire, said: ‘Only 20 were bred in the UK last year and 15 were born in a working pack so they wouldn’t have been available to the general public to buy.
Puppy dog eyes: Miss Lerego is monitoring the puppies 24-hours a day as they are so small they could easily be squashed by their 80-pound mother
‘The other five were bred by me and sadly we lost two of them so only three were available as pets.
‘I tried to breed last year and I was really beginning to tear my hair out that I wasn’t going to get them mating.
‘But, then two of my bitches did and fell pregnant about Christmas time.
Quite a handful: Miss Larego with a full size Otterhound, one of just 300 left in Britain
‘The first litter that arrived was Calistas and she gave birth to nine. Symphony gave birth a few days later to 11 but sadly one died.
‘I am over the moon. We now have as many as we did in the whole of the last year for the country.’
Miss Lerego is watching the puppies around the clock because they are so young their mother can easily roll over and squash them. They only weigh a pound at the moment, while their mother weighs 80.
Source: Daily Mail - Read more