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Tibetan Mastiff puppy in snow

Spotlight on the Tibetan Mastiff

Tibetan Mastiff breeder-judges from around the world answer our questions -- and reflect the conflict in the breed.

Modern Molosser asked several Tibetan Mastiff breeder-judges from around the world to answer the following questions. The wide range of answers we received reflects the varied, and often conflicting views of the breed within its own ranks.

1. Please briefly summarize your involvement and successes in the breed.

2. Name three Tibetan Mastiffs you have personally seen that you admired most (not your own), and what their best features were. Which one of your own was the best?

3. What important characteristics do you feel are most often overlooked in Tibetan Mastiff judging?

4. What virtues do you think are most difficult to maintain in the breed? Which faults are the most difficult to eradicate?

5. What part of the AKC, FCI or KC standards do you think is most misunderstood? Is there any part of the standard you would change if you could?

6. Do you think the global Tibetan Mastiff community will to move toward more consensus regarding type, or will we see more fracturing? Where do you see the breed 10 years from now?


Kristi Sherling

Sierras Tibetan Mastiffs

Scio, Oregon  


Breed involvement: I started researching the Tibetan Mastiff in 1978, and in 1980 I acquired my first Tibetan Mastiff, Wakefield Kaung Kin Peya Ye-Bo (male), who was also the first Tibetan Mastiff to pass a temperament test from the American Temperament Test Society (ATTS). I acquired my second directly from one of the founders of the breed, Stephen and Linda Nash’s Ausable Kennels in New York – a lovely gold bitch sired by their Dutch import Angmo Rajkumri Chattang and out of their outstanding bitch, Ausables Apache Anne. From these two Tibetan Mastiffs, I produced my first litter, in 1983, which included two dogs, Sierras’ Mojahedin Maynard and Sierras’ Rebel of MCA, who went on to become founding dogs for kennels such as Drakyi, Timberline, Ho-Shen, Shang-Hai, Kesang Camp and several others.


Sierras’ Mojahedin Maynard, whelped in 1983, was an influential founding sire for several American kennels.


From that same cross came several beautiful dogs that established themselves in the show ring. Sierras’ Sable Ladyhawk was at that time the top-winning Tibetan Mastiff in the breed, defeating more than 600 dogs in one year – quite an accomplishment for a rare breed with a handful of exhibitors countrywide.  

I imported and co-owned a lovely dog from the U.K., Farnemoor the Saracen, who only produced two litters but established wonderful structure, coat quality, temperament, movement and head type with the combination of van Chattang/de la Tour Chandos cross, most notably Sierras’ Shayna Mai-Delah, whose only litter, sired by Sierras’ BlackHawke, produced that magical, once-in-a-lifetime offspring, Sierras’ Majestic Mufasa.  

I was also the first to incorporate the bloodlines from Asia, Taiwan and Tibet that have also found their way again into founding kennels via Sierras’ BlackHawke, one of America’s most revolutionary sires who has influenced multiple generations worldwide.  


Sierras’ Shayna Mai-Delah, whose name in Yiddish means “pretty little girl,” had only one litter, with “Maynard” (above).


You will find BlackHawke’s powerful, prepotent type in the European lines of Chenporewa, Sundari and several others, as well as the aforementioned American kennels.  

We do not produce a lot of litters; rather, we study and research health and overall structure, conformation and movement as well as strong breed type into each pairing selected and litter produced. We prefer to produce quality with fewer pups than quantity, hoping for the “it” pup.  


Ausables Apache Anne, dam of Kristy Sherling’s foundation bitch.Ausables Apache Anne, dam of Kristy Sherling’s foundation bitch.


Dogs of note: Ausables Apache Anne was undoubtedly the most beautiful Tibetan Mastiff ever seen in the breed, and she could still hold her own today in the show ring or whelping box.  

Ausables Kubla Khan was a heavily sabled gold with massive bone and breed type. He was a substantially bodied, correctly tempered male, but structurally unsound.  

Cambu Sundari is another dog who knocked my socks off in person when I judged him in Estonia in 2008. He had all the qualities of his pedigree, which includes Apache Anne waaaay back there, as well as being a BlackHawke great-grandson and Sierras’ Majestic Mufasa grandson.  


Cambu Sundari, Junior World Winner in 2006, and an international champion.

Cambu Sundari, Junior World Winner in 2006, and an international champion.


Which one of ours was the best cannot be answered, as its an ongoing quest, but “Maynard” (Sierras’ Mojahedin Maynard), “Rebel” (Sierras’ Rebel of MCA), “Sable” (Sierras’ Sable Ladyhawk), “Shayna” (Sierras’ Shayna Maide-lah), “BlackHawke” (Sierras’ BlackHawke), “Jesse” (Sierras’ Majestic Mufasa) and “Yogi” (Sierras’ Yogananda, top-winning Tibetan Mastiff of all time in the U.K.) are the Sierras dogs, among others, that help us stride forward in producing what we consider our ideal to the breed standard.  

Overlooked in judging: This is a very important question. Too many judges place too much emphasis on hairy dogs, dogs that strike a pretty pose but are too short legged, overgroomed (sculpted) and lightly boned (oftentimes hidden by talented grooming), with incorrect pitty-pat movement that, if balanced, judges put up over more correct, powerfully moving dogs – the usual complaints from a purist.  

This is a working breed, whether one accepts it’s a nomad/pastoralist dog or a property guardian. It must be able to ambulate properly, be agile enough to deter predators (two- or four-legged) and be strong/powerful/substantial enough to stop a predator or leap at the bandit on horseback (short horses!). We have so many dogs product’d and sculpted, cutting outlines that are like giant Chows or Keeshonden (no insult meant to two lovely breeds), dripping in too much coat and not enough emphasis put on what is correct and best for the breed.  

The Chinese have gone overboard in producing coat, and this has influenced many judges, which is wrong, wrong, wrong! These are not sleeve dogs, these are working dogs! We now see Tibetan Mastiffs in China with so much coat and hanging skin it’s hard to tell the dog’s expression, other than its large teeth gleaming at you!  


At the 1995 Golden Gate San Francisco ARBA show, under judge Warren Rice of Australia. From left, BOB Sierras’ BlackHawke; Best of Opposite, Sierras’ Shayna Mai-delah; and one of their get, Best of Winners/Winners Dog Sierras’ Majestic Mufasa. As the show was in August, the dogs are not in full coat.At the 1995 Golden Gate San Francisco ARBA show, under judge Warren Rice of Australia. From left, BOB Sierras’ BlackHawke; Best of Opposite, Sierras’ Shayna Mai-delah; and one of their get, Best of Winners/Winners Dog Sierras’ Majestic Mufasa. As the show was in August, the dogs are not in full coat.


Virtues and faults: Structure, muscling, excellent bone and substance are the most difficult to maintain. I find you can get a better head type – that distinct Tibetan look and expression – very easily, but not so with the necessary equipment to maintain a working ability.  

Difficult faults to eradicate? Too straight in stifles and hocks, too light in bone! We have such post-legged dogs from hip to foot in this breed, and judges accept it as the norm; if it stands wide and gaits nicely on the side gait, judges don’t see the structural problems. They just see what impresses them the most: hair, grooming, quick movement with head held high.  

This is a working breed and should not carry its head above its topline; that is inefficient, especially for a pastoral dog moving toward a predator, its flock or herd. You will never find a well-structured working dog gaiting through acres/hectares of land artificially holding his head up.  

Serious Tibetan Mastiff breeders – aka protectors of the breed – need to pay attention to not overdoing the headpiece with so many wrinkles that entropion, ectropion, distichiasis and other eye problems prevail, as they do in many Asian lines with the type of look being pursued today.  


“Jesse” (Sierras’ Majestic Mufasa), left, with his litter sister “Kachina,” Sierras’ Pila Mayan Kachina.“Jesse” (Sierras’ Majestic Mufasa), left, with his litter sister “Kachina,” Sierras’ Pila Mayan Kachina.


On the standard: Historically, the Tibetan Mastiff has never been nearly square; that is a manmade desire for the show ring. A square dog could not do its job in its native homeland. If you look at old photos and historical artwork, the Tibetan Mastiff is longer than tall, heavily boned and substantially bodied.  

What would I change? Too many points for me to list here!  

Ten-year forecast: I’ll probably be dead in 10 years, but I do not see this landrace becoming more homogenized until some things are figured out by judges, breeders and organizations that say they are protecting the breed. This is a landrace. “Tibetan Mastiff” is an umbrella phrase incorporating sub-breeds and races from a vast area of hugely varying terrains and uses; it is the enigma of dog breeds. Maybe, then, for the breed standard’s sake, we should rename them Tibetan Enigmas, which would suit the Tibetans just fine – they love being mysterious.  


TM REES-JONES bio photoPeter Rees-Jones

Chortens Tibetan Mastiffs

Ammanford, Carms, United Kingdom  


Breed involvement: My first ownership of a Tibetan Mastiff was way back in 1986 – “Kaya” (Delviento Tham-Che), bred by Bruce and Kathy Birks. Kaya did her fair share of winning, but it was difficult back then, as so few judges had ever seen a Tibetan Mastiff. 

We had a litter from Kaya and “Major” (Althan de la Tour Chandos), who was bred in France by Marie-Madeliene Kerherve. The only two puppies from this litter made their marks on the Tibetan Mastiff world with their extraordinary success. The bitch was Chortens Cobi Lingka, who at the time was the top-winning Tibetan Mastiff in the U.K. The dog was Chortens Ben Sharbaz, top-winning Tibetan Mastiff in the U.K. for three years running until he went to Evelyne Colombet, a friend of ours in France. Within three months Ben was a French champion and within a year an international champion, then becoming World Champion under judge Christofer Habig. 

Ben was used at stud only once in the U.K., in 1989, but that gave us his son, Bernmast Ting Jampa, another top winner – his construction was almost faultless and his type unsurpassed, as was his lovely, gentle temperament.   A year later, Lingka had her own litter and gave us “Thea” (Chortens Thea-Ling) who went on to win at many major championship shows and to get Best Bitch at Crufts before being retired.

Above and below: “Major” (Althan de la Tour Chandos) and “Kaya” (Delviento Tham-Che), the foundation pairing for Chortens Tibetan Mastiffs in the U.K.TM REES-JONES Delviento Tham-Che




“Major” (Althan de la Tour Chandos), left, and “Kaya” (Delviento Tham-Che), right, the foundation pairing for Chortens Tibetan Mastiffs in the U.K.


Apart from owning and breeding Tibetan Mastiffs, I have been fortunate enough to have been asked to judge these and all the other Tibetan breeds as well as Working and Hound at Open and Championship level here in the U.K., as well as in Europe and the U.S., including for the two TM clubs – the Tibetan Mastiff Club of America (TMCA) and the American Tibetan Mastiff Association (ATMA).  

My other involvement in the breed was as a founder member of the Tibetan Mastiff Club of Great Britain, where I was its first chairman and later a committee member. I was also a member of the breed-standard committee for the present U.K. standard for the breed.   Dogs of note: My first was a bitch – large, but also feminine, black and tan, called “Anna.” She was wonderful to look at, but her temperament was not the best, and we had to keep our distance. Such a shame, but she made a big impression on me just the same.  

Another bitch that made a huge impression on me was “Akasha” (Shang-hai’s Queen of the Night), bred by Sabrina Novarra in the U.S. We saw this bitch at the ATMA show Eric and I judged in New Jersey in 2001. She was totally wonderful, an absolute dream. Perfect type, perfect construction, perfect temperament, our Best in Show. Fortunately, we later were able to have a bitch, our “Shaydo” (Shang-Hai’s Chortens Shaydo) from Sabrina.  

And for my third selection, Sierra’s Yogananda, bred by Kristi Sherling. He is a lovely, big, substantial dog, of great construction and good type. He also has a daft temperament and is a joy to live with, Alexa Sutton, his owner, tells me. Since he has also been awarded Best of Breed at Crufts and has been twice declared World Champion, this can’t only be my opinion.  


Sierra’s Yogananda, “Yogi,” an American import whose successful show career includes breed wins at Crufts and the World Dog Show.


Overlooked by judges: Type, type and more type! Many are losing substance, and since the Tibetan Mastiff is supposed to be a substantial dog, this is a critical mistake. It now seems to me that large, substantial Tibetan Mastiffs are often penalized for being too big.  

The typical Tibetan Mastiff dog head, another key feature of the breed, is also being lost. Far too many dogs and bitches are now lacking in correct head type and becoming snipey. “Houndy”-headed dogs are also being shown. Very incorrect, as a Tibetan Mastiff does not have low-set ears and should not look like a Bloodhound.  

Virtues and faults: Again, my answer regarding what is most difficult to keep must be type. This is all too easily lost with indiscriminate breeding.  

The most difficult thing to eradicate, I think, is probably bad temperament, as I have seen it pass through generations. Bad temperament is not a good idea in a dog the size the Tibetan Mastiff should be.  


“Ben” (Chortens Ben Sharbaz), left, top-winning TM in the U.K. for three years in the 1990s, was bred only once in his home country, producing this top-winning son, Bernmast Ting Jampa (right), in 1989.

“Ben” (Chortens Ben Sharbaz), above, top-winning TM in the U.K. for three years in the 1990s, was bred only once in his home country, producing this top-winning son, Bernmast Ting Jampa (below), in 1989.



Misunderstood parts of the standard: Oh, lots! Single tracking, drop off at the croup, general proportions, all often misunderstood.  

I am very happy with the current U.K. standard. I don’t know when the Kennel Club handed over patronage of the Tibetan Mastiff to the FCI, or why it happened, as the U.K. has held it for as far back as any kennel club has existed.  

Ten-year forecast: It would be nice to think that the Tibetan Mastiff community worldwide will come together and form a sensible consensus of opinion on the Tibetan Mastiff. In another 10 years time, I sincerely hope it will be better than it is now and we are preserving the original breed.  


TM HOLLIDAY Eric bio photoEric Holliday

Chortens Tibetan Mastiffs

Ammanford, Carms, United Kingdom  


Breed involvement: I have owned Tibetan Mastiffs, in partnership with Peter Rees-Jones, since 1986. Our first litter produced Chortens Ben Sharbaz, the only U.K.-bred Tibetan Mastiff, so far, to become a World Champion. His sister Chortens Cobi Lingka went on to become, during her show career, the top-winning bitch in the U.K. Ben’s son, Bernmast Ting Jampa, also became a top-winning dog, as did Lingka’s daughter, Chortens Thea Ling.  

Since then, Chortens dogs have only been shown lightly but always placed well.  

I have been judging Tibetan breeds since 1980 and judged Tibetan Mastiffs at Crufts in 1993. Since then I have judged the breed at Championship shows in the U.K. and twice in the U.S. at specialties for TMCA and ATMA.  

Chortens Ben Sharbaz, Best of Breed at Crufts in 1992, and the only British-bred TM to earn the World Winner title.Chortens Ben Sharbaz, Best of Breed at Crufts in 1992, and the only British-bred TM to earn the World Winner title.


Dogs of note: Many Tibetan Mastiffs have caught my eye over the years, but the one that made a lasting and pleasing impression on me was Sabrina Novarra’s Shang-Hai’s Akasha, a beautiful bitch. Her construction and movement and temperament were exemplary – a credit to the breed. Meeting Sabrina and Shang-Hai’s dogs for the first time in the U.S. set in train our moves to import a bitch from her. After a long wait Shang-Hai’s Chortens Shaydo came to the U.K. at the same time as Sierra’s Yogananda (“Yogi”), sired by Shang-Hai’s Jack the Bear. Yogi is a dog I cannot ignore, and one that impresses me and leaves a lasting impression on all who see him. Now twice World Champion, he is making his mark in this country, and further afield as a sire of note. He is still going strong at 8 years of age.  

The third dog that ranks among those which have impressed me is Martha Feltenstein’s Altnaharra Dorje. Although he was a puppy when I saw him excel at the World Show in Amsterdam, it would be wrong of me not to include him among the dogs that have impressed me.  

None of the above dogs are or were exaggerated in any way, but all comply with the applicable standards. Substance, without gross exaggeration, is an absolute requirement for our breed, and all dogs mentioned above possess it, but too many judges seem to overlook this and prefer lighter-weight dogs that lack the imposing stature called for. Many dogs do lack substance, and this, coupled with poor movement, is something that concerns me. Likewise, a long and coiffed coat can hide many evils, but flashy dogs would never have been found in Tibet and have no place in show rings.  


Shang-Hai’s Chortens Shaydo, a U.S. import to Chortens. Shang-Hai’s Chortens Shaydo, a U.S. import to Chortens.


On the standard: I do not believe that standards, from whatever country or registration, are necessarily lacking in clarity, although some could doubtless be improved. The problem seems to be with judges and inexperienced breeders being unable to interpret the requirements of those standards. Standards written by those with a knowledge of Tibet and its dogs count more with me than modern assertions about the breed, especially since those assertions can sometimes be more to do with financial considerations than breeding dogs that would be recognizable to a Tibetan nomad.  

Ten-year forecast: Sadly, I fear that without a more general acceptance of what is a Tibetan Mastiff, Do Khyi or even Tsang Khyi, the breed will become even more fractured. Any acceptance of the grossly exaggerated dogs as being the norm will cause irreparable damage. Fortunately, and I believe this to be true, there are those breed aficionados who are keen to see the historically typical dog resume its rightful place, but overcoming ill-judged advice and inaccurate portrayals of the breed causes me to have doubts as to whether, in 10 years time, anything will have changed. It is for those who purport to have an interest in the future of the breed to ensure that they are doing everything possible to teach judges and to mentor those who are new to the breed. Only in this way, coupled with the opportunities to have open and frank discussions, will the future look brighter for our magnificent breed.  



Drakyi Tibetan Mastiffs

Acton, California  


Breed involvement: I have been actively involved in the breed since 1978. Dogs from my lines and breeding program have set and still hold the breed records in the world.  I co-founded the national parent club and served as a charter member for 20-plus years, and continue breeding my signature mastiff-type Drakyi line of Tibetan Mastiffs today, while judging the breed internationally.  


Multi-Champion Chenporewa Hum Harishankar (above), winning the 2010 Czech National Specialty under Rick Eichhorn (left).Multi-Champion Chenporewa Hum Harishankar (below), winning the 2010 Czech National Specialty under Rick Eichhorn (above).


Dogs of note: I judged the Czech Tibetan Mastiff National Specialty in 2010 with a record entry of 111 dogs. I had the privilege of putting up the best overall Tibetan Mastiff of modern times, and that is not a characterization I use lightly. He is multi-Champion Chenporewa Hum Harishankar, “Harish,” owned by Iwona Nowak of Poland, bred by Angela Tenderman. This is a dog who has it all, regardless of pedigree (proudly, he is linebred on grandparents I exported to Europe): the historic size and mastiff type, the sound and purposeful movement, the breathtaking breed type and the confident, yet stoic temperament of a guardian breed. Known as “The Conqueror of Europe” because of his unprecedented winning streak and assembling of titles in recent years, he has raised the bar for contemporary breeding programs.  

There is also a line of dogs bred and owned by Wang Zhankui of the Tibetan Mastiff Research Center in China. Mr. Wang, known as “The Father of the Tibetan Mastiff” in China, has turned his love for the breed into a line of dogs that have served as the foundation for the breed there.  The size, bone and authentic Tibetan breed type are inspirational to breeders around the world, proof that the breed did survive and thrive throughout the political turmoil that has defined those regions in our lifetime.


TM EICHHORN Harish stack


Finally, while not my own, I must mention a dog I bred and exported to the Czech Republic, Multi Ch. Drakyi Senge Sundari. Owned by Jarmila Bendova, this dog set a new standard with his upset BOB win at just 15 months from the Junior class at the 2003 World Show in Dortmund, Germany, under the foremost breed and Molosser specialist, former FCI Vice President Christofer Habig who mirrored my thoughts when he wrote his critique:   “Sensational. Authentic. Head-type excellent, movement exceptional, expression very intense, balance typical, with unusual [large] size. Simply marvelous, very pleased ... my World Show surprise.”  


This iconic head study of Ch Formosa-Drakyi Simba at one year was featured on the cover of the breed book The Tibetan Mastiff, Legendary Guardian of the Himalayas by breed pioneer Ann Rohrer.This iconic head study of Ch Formosa-Drakyi Simba at one year was featured on the cover of the breed book "The Tibetan Mastiff, Legendary Guardian of the Himalayas," by breed pioneer Ann Rohrer.


As for my own personal favorite of my own dogs, for many reasons: multi-Champion Formosa-Drakyi Simba. A singleton puppy, this dog was a game changer of a Tibetan Mastiff, a producer of generation after generation of top quality, and a dear soul as my beloved companion. He came along at the right time, and his influences remain the cornerstone for my breeding program. The truly great dogs of any breed are defined by their legacy in the whelping box. And with all four Westminster winners being his direct, linebred descendents, his greatness is affirmed time and time again.  

Overlooked by judges: Native, authentic breed type. Too many times we see inexperienced or novice judges putting up generic working-dog movement over proper breed type. It must be a proper Tibetan Mastiff before it can be a properly moving proper Tibetan Mastiff.  

Virtues and faults: The mastiff breeds are defined by recessive genes that require very selective breeding to maintain those breed-defining traits. Nature always wants to regress toward the generic mean, genetically speaking, so size, bone and type are fleeting in Tibetan Mastiffs unless they are carefully and thoughtfully preserved in breeding programs. Once a line has gone generic, it can take generations to get the mastiff type and consistent quality back.  


Multi Ch. Drakyi Senge Sundari, a very successful export to the Czech Republic.Multi Ch. Drakyi Senge Sundari, a very successful export to the Czech Republic.



On the standard: Different standards prefer, fault and/or prioritize the myriad of colors found in the breed. This is ludicrous in a breed with so many colors and variations, and by doing so, only serves to reduce valuable breeding populations and moves the focus to a cosmetic feature that has nothing to do with making for a correct, sound Tibetan Mastiff. Color preferences can be expressed in dogs owned or bred, but handicapping a standard to prefer this shade or that has nothing to do with the true breed.  

As for changing the standard, I would separate the breed into the historically documented mastiff and mountain dog varieties, with separate standards. And this may be happening sooner than you think!  


“A classic Mr. Wang dog,” says Eichhorn says of this dog from the kennels of Wang Zhankui of the Tibetan Mastiff Research Center in China.

“A classic Mr. Wang dog,” says Eichhorn says of this dog from the kennels of Wang Zhankui of the Tibetan Mastiff Research Center in China.


Ten-year forecast: I don’t see any consensus happening because there are at least two separate types/breeds within the “Tibetan Mastiff” moniker used today. The fracture has always been there because of the types documented in Tibet and camps devoted to and defending those separate types. Until the split happens, I don’t see any healing at all. Ten years from now? I see a thriving population of the Tsang Khyi/Tibetan Mastiff type and a separate breed known as the Dokhyi/Tibetan Mountain Dog type, and a lot more energy directed into positive contributions, rather than wasting resources trying to preserve the integrity of this type or that.  


Marta Kowalska

Mahatmala La

Wojewdztwo Dolnolskie, Poland  


Breed involvement: My Tibetan Mastiff kennel Mahatma La was founded in 1999 and maintains a pure type of Tibetan Mastiff, based on excellent European lines bred to pure India and American lines. We have never bred our females to China/Taiwan lines, because we insist they are not pure in terms of pedigree and the type they represent. The Tibetan Mastiff is a unique breed in the world, and since FCI recognition, dogs should be bred on full pedigrees, directly following the FCI standard with careful attention to health, character and instinct.  


Prince V. Altnaharra, Euro Winner 2004.Prince V. Altnaharra, Euro Winner 2004.


During 12 years, our dogs and those bred by us have been awarded many wonderful titles, including Vice and Vice Junior World Winner, European and European Junior Winner, and champion of Croatia, Austria, Poland, Luxenburg, Lithuania, Latvia and Bialorussia.  

Dogs of note: Kandshur Ni a Soehavati for coat, head and structure; Prinze V. Altnaharra for color, coat and overall impression; Falco Strazce z Tibetu for bone and structure. The best Tibetan Mastiff of my own breeding is Namseling Mahatma La.  

Overlooked by judges: Overall impression of the breed, head type, type and coat color.  


Falco Strazce Z Tibetu, an international champion and multiple club-show winner.Falco Strazce Z Tibetu, an international champion and multiple club-show winner.
Faults most difficult to eradicate: Health problems and primitive instincts – so typical. Such a big variety of “types” has developed in the breed in the last five years that it will be not easy to go back to the “comparative uniformity” that had been present in Europeans shows rings between 1999 and 2005.  
On the standard: I think the FCI standard is adequate. One point needs exact explanation – the variety of gold color.  
Ten-year forecast: I see a fracturing of the breed in the last two years, if not longer. Now that China is a full FCI member, we should make an effort to split the breed and keep our Tibetan Mastiffs pure.   


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