Desert-bred Saluqis

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My Saluqis

Tayra in her prime in Oman

Tayra Al-Maltah

My driver in Baghdad was a Kurd whose family came originally from Khanaqin on the border with Iran but had been displaced to the small town of Kalar at a safer distance from the border. He said that his family had many Saluqis and I could easily find one there. The problem was how to get there, as the area was often under attack from Iran. However one day we managed to get permission to travel there and we visited the small Kurdish settlement that had grown up on the outskirts of Kalar.
Imagine my surprise and delight as we drove into the settlement to see Saluqis bounding out to greet us from all directions. My driver's brother-in-law invited us into his house where in the courtyard were Qaysar, a majestic cream feathered dog and Tayra, his five-month-old smooth red daughter. We fell for Tayra immediately but her owner did not wish to part with her. He went off to find another puppy in the settlement but came back empty-handed. In a generous gesture he said that we could have Tayra and she became part of our life for the next ten years.
We registered her first with the Bahrain Kennel Club as Tayra Al Maltah and later with the Kennel Club when I brought her to Britain.

Tayra aged 5 months in November 1985

Tayra developed into a fast, powerful hunter and she coursed hare and fox in Iraq and later in Oman before we brought her back with us to England. She was also a fierce guard dog and once saved me from attack by a mugger. She measured 25" by 25" (63.5 cm) and weighed 44 lbs (22 kg).


We tried unsuccessfully to breed her in Oman, once with a Saudi hound called La'iq, but she was a very dominant bitch and she refused all her suitors over the years, much to our disappointment.

Tayra at the Saluki or Gazelle Hound Club's Open Show in1995

At 9 years old Tayra won first prizes for Special Open Bitch (Smooth) and for Special Open Dog or Bitch (imported from country of origin) at the Saluki or Gazelle Hound's Open Show on 24 June 1995, the only time she was shown. She was also awarded the Amherstia perpetual Trophy and the Ajman Trophy. In February 1996 she won the prize for the best course of the day at a SGHC Coursing Section meeting in Norfolk, competing with a hound 6 years her junior.

When do we get out of here?

Tayra & Najma in quarantine in June 1994

Tayra ran in her first coursing meeting on the moors in Scotland one month after coming out of 6 months' quarantine. Although long past her best, she was always a joy to watch, as she remained a keen and strong hunter right up to the day before she died from mammary cancer at the age of 10 1/2.
Her obituary appeared in Roberto Forsoni's Baraka Book No.7 of 1997 in Italian and English as 'Tayra: A tale of a desert-bred Saluki'.

Bint Ziwa

Ziwa aged two months

Qaysar, Tayra's sire in Kalar

Tayra's brother 3 years later in Kalar

Tayra's half-sister by a different sire in Kalar in 1988

It is not uncommon to use more than one sire on a good coursing bitch with the result as seen here that siblings may look quite different from one another.

The reason for this practice is to make use of two good dogs in one breeding rather than wait for the bitch's next season, by which time either the sire or the bitch herself may have met with an accident.

The life expectancy for these hunting hounds is never very long. They are usually  past their best for hunting at the age of 4-5 years and their future then becomes very uncertain in a society where the people themselves are living only just above subsistence level and there is no room for unproductive luxuries.

On a return visit to Tayra's village outside Kalar about 6 months later we were taken to see a litter of 6 puppies only 4 weeks old. Their dam was a grizzle called Ziwa, which means 'silver' in Kurdish. The sire was a powerfully built red and white particolour called Qais. The puppies were two cream bitches, a silver grizzle dog and a bitch and a red and white particlour dog and a similar bitch. The owner said we were welcome to take our pick and, although we had doubts about their survival away from their dam at so early an age, some friends took the silver grizzle bitch and I took one of the cream bitches. For the first 2-3 days, my friends fed them on babies' powdered milk from a bottle but, just as the breeder predicted, they were soon lapping milk on their own. At 6 weeks they started eating minced meat and then made rapid progress.

Ziwa at one year old

But it was not all plain sailing with Ziwa. Tayra was not at all happy to have this small fluffy thing brought into her life and from the beginning would never leave Ziwa alone for a moment. As soon as the puppy moved, Tayra would pounce on her. Once when Ziwa was about 3-4 months old she ran into a glass door in an attempt to get away from Tayra and banged her head so hard that a large lump appeared. Whether this was what affected her later in life is difficult to say but the fact remains that she gradually grew into a nervous hound. Even her appearance changed and her ears, which had been normally pendant, became turned back.

Ziwa's turned back ears

We tried finding a new home for her with friends but Ziwa only pined and was even more unhappy. So when we were transferred to Muscat, Ziwa came too. However she then began to suffer repeated skin infections, something like eczema, and the vet said in the end there was nothing more that he could do for her. He thought the problem was psychological. So we had to put her down.

Sami of Samarra

Sami at home with us

While we were still living in Baghdad we often visited the ruins of the former Abbasid capital at Samarra. One day while running Tayra and Ziwa through the site I came across some Saluqis belonging to a war veteran living near the Tigris. Hatim became a friend and over the years we had some good times on his farm with his pack of hounds and his Arabians. His family had bred smooth Saluqis for generations and even as recently as the 1950s used to hunt gazelle with them on the plains around Samarra. On one of my visits his smooth grizzle bitch had had a month before a litter of five puppies by two different sires - a feathered brindle grizzle and a feathered white. I was interested in acquiring a dog as a potential mate for my two bitches. I liked the look of the two silver grizzles but they were both bitches and, in any case, all the pups were already promised to others.

Sami's dam

One of Sami's sires

Some months later I returned to Samarra to see the pups again but found they had all gone to their new homes. The two white dogs had gone to a nearby farm so I drove over to see them. They had grown into robust little hounds with the freedom to roam on the farm and were well fed on cow's milk. One struck me as particulalrly well-made and I asked the new owner whether he would be prepared to part with him. After a long discussion he agreed to do so but on condition that I gave him Ziwa in exchange. I said I would think it over and would meanwhile borrow the dog to see how he was at home.

Sami and his siblings

So I brought home Sami of Samarra, as we called him, while we considered what to do. He settled down very quickly and got on well with Tayra, but Ziwa took a dislike to him (perhaps she sensed her future was linked to him?). Sami made a good impression and promised well in the weeks he stayed with us. He would undoubtedly have made a good mate for Tayra, but in the end we could not reconcile ourselves to a swap and sadly we had to return Sami. It was quite touching when we arrived at the farm to see the farmer's son pick up Sami and give him a hug, obviously overjoyed to have his puppy back.

Sami reunited with his owner

Negma Jaidan Al Murra

Najma in Oman

Without Ziwa, Tayra seemed lonely, so we decided to find her a companion. We searched high and low in Oman, which was once noted for a distinctive type of Saluqi. According to the Hon. Florence Amherst in 'Oriental Greyhounds', the Omani Saluqi had 'not much feathering on ears and tail'. I questioned the Bedouin in the Wahaiba Sands, the Jiddat al-Harasis, the Empty Quarter and the Buraimi oasis, but the answer was always the same. The older men remembered hunting with Saluqis in their youth but, following the introduction of the ban on all forms of hunting in 1976, they had been obliged to dispose of their hounds. Some added that in any case game had become very scarce and fresh meat was available more easily from shops. Some Bedouin of the Al bu Shamis tribe near Buraimi and the Duru' in the Wadi Aswad, who were famed hunters in the not so distant past, recalled wistfully the good old days when virtually every tent had a Saluqi and they would ride out on their camels with their hounds and their Saker falcons to hunt gazelle and hare in the desert. They were able to show me only one old male grizzle and a black and white puppy, which they said were used only as guard dogs. Later on I found two more, a lightly feathered cream dog and his smooth sister, which were apparently only house pets.

Old Omani Saluqi
Omani puppy
Saluqi in the Sharqiya

So it was clear I would have to look elsewhere. One day we were visiting an oasis of the Al Murra tribe on the northern edge of the Empty Quater in Saudi Arabia, where I had seen some fine Saluqis on a previous visit. The Al Murra tribe are renowned in the whole region as breeders of camels and hunters with Saluqis and falcons and they range across a huge swathe of territory from the Gulf to the border with Yemen. The population of the oasis constantly fluctuates as the nomads come and go. On this occasion there were only two puppies there. The Headman took us round and peeping under the flap of one of the tents was an endearing face of a feathered gold and white bitch about 8 months old, but the owner was not there. We were then shown a slightly younger feathered red bitch, but the owner was also away and his wife could not discuss the matter. We went back to the first puppy to find the owner, an ex-policeman who had coincidentally worked for my daughter's godfather in Qatar, was back and after some haggling he agreed to swap Najma (Star) for my binoculars. He gave me the details of her parents, who were good hunters, and maintained that her siblings had been sold to the Ruler of Abu Dhabi for a large sum and he was letting me have her only because of my connection with his former much-respected boss!
We subsequently registered her with the Bahrain Kennel Club, where, as they already had other Najmas, they entered her as 'Negma Jaidan Al Murra', by which name I later registered her with the Kennel Club in Britain.

Najma and her breeder at Anbak
Najma in the desert in Oman

Najma proved to be an exceptional hound from the very beginning. At that stage of her life she had never walked on a leash before and had never been in a car, yet she adapted to both without any hesitation. We drove her home to Muscat and she made the transition from Bedouin tent in the desert to ambassadorial residence by the sea as if she was born to this life style. More importantly she stood up to Tayra and there was never any trouble between them. She was amazingly obedient and walked at my side without any command and had the most equable temperament. She was good-natured with small children and was never fazed by unexpected noises, though she was a good watchdog. At the same time she was a ruthless hunter and brought to coursing an intensity of concentration that was sometimes almost frightening to behold. She was only 24" x 24" but was robustly built with a very broad chest. She excelled at working the hare at close quarters, when her small size seemed to help her turn quickly.

Cream Cracker
Najma and her puppies

Najma in England
Najma was already past her best by the time she and Tayra came to England and had passed 6 months in quarantine, but from time to time she showed much younger hounds how to catch a hare quickly and efficiently. As she grew older she found it easier to catch foxes and once, to my amazement, she also dealt with a badger before I could intervene. 
When she was seven, I decided to try to have a litter from her. A friend had bred some years before an exceptionally good litter of coursing hounds, albeit from a brother/sister mating, which the Arabs would not normally encourage. So Najma went off to Cream Cracker and the deed was done. Two months later she produced seven puppies: 2 grizzles - a dog and a bitch; a red bitch; a cream bitch and 3 cream dogs, each with some red markings on the head. Cream Cracker was smooth, with a hint of feathering in the tail and the puppies turned out to be 4 smooths and 3 feathereds. I named them after the 7 days of the week in Arabic and kept the cream bitch - Thalooth Al-Thalaatha (The Three Graces of Tuesday).
Najma proved to be an excellent mother and passed on to all her offspring the same qualities of gentleness as a companion and ruthlessness as a hunter. She lived on until she was 11 when increasing lameness as a result of an old coursing injury meant that we had to put her down.

Najma in single slips
Najma in double slips

Thalooth Al-Thalaatha

Sally with some of her coursing trophies

I knew I could keep only one bitch from Najma's litter of seven and it was a difficult choice. As they began to develop and to show individuality I felt the choice lay between the feathered cream and the grizzle smooth. I chose the cream but as it turned out both of them were to go on and win in successive seasons the highest accolade of the Saluki or Gazelle Hound Club: the Victor Henderson Memorial Trophy for the Saluki winning the most courses in a season. But my experience of coursing in Britain Tayra as a smooth and Najma as a feathered led me to believe that the feathered hound withstood better the rigours of our climate, so I kept Thalooth Al-Thalaatha (aka 'Sally') and had no cause to regret it.

Sally as a puppy

Although I showed Sally a few times and she made it to Crufts twice, first in 1998, when she won a Very Highly Commended in Special Puppy Bitch and again in 2000, it was on the coursing field that she made her mark. She won her first course as a year-old puppy in Norfolk on 7 February 1998. In the following season she won nearly every event of the Coursing Section of the Saluki or Gazelle Hound Club for which she was entered:
29 September 1998 - winner of the 8-dog Beaufort Stake in Gloucestershire 
13-14 November 1998 - winner (from her sister) of the 20-dog Moray Trophy in Scotland
28 November 1998 - winner (from her brother) of the 8-dog Michael Lyne Trophy in Wiltshire
16 January 1999 - winner of the 16-dog Yorkshire Wolds Trophy in Wiltshire
6 February 1999 - runner-up in the 16-dog Cleve Cup in Norfolk
She then cut her foot badly but had already accumulated enough points to win the Victor Henderson Memorial Trophy
She also won the Bait Shahin Trophy.

Sally with her brother Thani, semi-final of the Cleve Cup, 6/2/99
Sally with her sister Molly, Borders Trophy, 24/11/00

In the last season (1999-2000) before the suspension of the Coursing Section of the SGHC and the formation of the new Saluki Coursing Club, Sally was not as successful, though she still finished third in the points table behind her sister, Rabbaa Jarbou and her brother, Thani Al-Ithnain of Chayim:
19-20 November 1999 - runner-up to her brother in the 24-dog Moray Trophy in Scotland
12 February 2000 - joint winner of the Beverley Cup 16-dog stake in Wiltshire
26 February - runner-up to her brother in the 16-dog Kerrison Trophy in Gloucestershire

Thani leading Sally in the heather

In the first season of the new Saluki Coursing Club she was still in the top flight of coursing Salukis:
4 November 2000 - semi-finalist in an 8-dog stake in Norfolk
24-25 November - quarter-finalist in the 22-dog Border Stake in Scotland
13 January 2001 - winner of the 16-dog Holkham Hall Bitch Stake
10 February 2001- runner-up (to her brother Sabti Al-Sabt) in the West Wilts Stake

Molly leading Sally

Perhaps her greatest challenge and success came at Greyhound 2000, a celebration of Greyhound coursing held in Norfolk on 10-14 December 2000. Enthusiasts from all over Britain and many other countries gathered in their hundreds to see a parade of the participants, a pedigree Greyhound show and Greyhound racing, while the preliminary courses were run of a 128-dog coursing stake for the Millennium Cup, the biggest event of its kind since 1887. On the last day in order to give the Greyhounds a break between the final rounds, the organisers had invited the Coursing Section of the SGHC to put forward their top Salukis to compete in an exhibition 4-dog stake. The Coursing Section Committee accepted the invitation and decided to run the top four Salukis from the 1999-2000 season:
1. Rabbaa Jarbou (Negma Jaidan Al Murra x Cream Cracker) (aka Molly) owned by Mrs Joanne Sagar
2. Thani Al-Ithnain of Chayim ( Negma Jaidan Al Murra x Cream Cracker) owned by Mrs Lynn Ingram
3. Thalooth Al-Thalaatha (Negma Jaidan Al Murra x Cream Cracker) owned by me
4. Salamara Girl (Kenine Tarazed x Kenine Tanoda) (aka Sandy) owned by Mr Ian Charlton
Although the Coursing Section was suspended by the time the event happened, the invitations had already gone to the above owners and they decided to take part. The Whippet and Deerhound Clubs were similarly invited and took part.

Sally in slips with Molly, semi final of the Millannium Cup
Sally leading Molly, Millennium Cup

It was a beautiful day and the coursing ground was in perfect condition, with a good supply of hares, driven in towards the Slipper by beaters. By the time it came to the Salukis' turn the sun was already going down. Sally and her sister Molly went into slips and Paul Sagar and I knew from previous encounters that it would be a hard contest between them. A hare came through, the Slipper gave it a long start before slipping them in perfect unison and away they went up the sloping field. Sally soon opened up a gap which she turned into a three-length lead as they went in a straight tail chase about three-quarters of the way up the field. As Sally closed on the hare it bent left and Molly came in, but Sally took the lead again and put in another bend or two before the hare escaped into some rough grass. It was Sally's course.
Her brother Thani then took on Sandy and kept the lead before they lost the hare in the far corner of the field. So he went into the final with Sally.
After a long wait with the sun almost disappearing, Sally and Thani went into slips. A hare came through and it was almost a repetition of Sally's previous course, as she took the lead and opened up a gap of a couple of lengths before the hare made its first turn. She kept ahead as they forced the hare to make a few more turns before Sally pulled it down right in front of the commentator's box and the huge crowd of spectators. She had won, but the contest with her brother was not over! As we went forward to collect the hounds, another hare came racing down the field and the pair gave chase. To the delight of the crowd they put on in front of them a great exhibition of Saluki coursing as they worked the hare this way and that. The hare was edging all the while towards a hedge but though it went through the hounds did not let up. They went through and across another big field and were lost from sight until they reappeared with Thani carrying the hare. It was an amazing show of speed, skill and endurance.

Receiving the Millennium Cup for the Champion Coursing Saluki

By the following season Sally was beginning to show her age and although she was still winning courses, some younger hounds were now starting to come to the fore, with a crop of Najma's grandchildren among them.

Walking up in Portugal, autumn 2007

Despite the hunting ban imposed on coursing in 2003, Sally was still competing in 2007 at the age of 10 when she ran in the SCC's annual series of coursing meetings in Portugal and Spain, but the following year she began to show signs of illness. Cancer of the spleen was diagnosed and in July 2008 we had to bid  farewell to this most remarkable and most lovable of hounds.

The gang of three,: Najma, Sally and Filfil

Skidaw Filfil Al-Hamra

Filly at one year old

We never meant to have Filly at all. We were visiting the Lake District and went to stay with some coursing friends, Ian and Susi Charlton, whose bitch, Salamara Girl (Kenine Tarazed x Kenine Tanoda), had a litter of six month-old puppies by Thani Al-Ithnain, brother of my Sally. Two of the puppies were not yet spoken for, we weakened and chose a feisty little bitch, which we called 'Red Pepper' or Filfil Al-Hamra in Arabic.

Salamara Girl and puppies
Filly at 3 months

I took collection of her at a coursing meeting when she was three months old and to my amazement she walked with us the whole morning in the field. As I soon discovered, she was a dynamo of energy and quite a handful to control. Our twice daily walks with Najma and Sally often developed into mini courses as they sorted out the wild life and not a few canines! When full grown she was quite small ( 24 1/2" - 61 cm) and light (36 lbs - 18 kg) and was sometimes knocked over by the heavier hounds, but what she lacked in size she more than made up for in determination. When coursing she would stop at nothing. 

Filly and her sister Fizz in the Puppy Stake, 16/2/02
Filly & her brother Shiraz in the final of the Puppy Stake, 16/2/02

It was typical of her that on the day before she was due to run in the annual SCC Puppy Stake in February 2002 she flew over a barbed wire fence in pursuit of a hare and slit open the skin on her chest. The vet put in 6 stitches and I thought that was that. But the vet thought she could run the next day and she did, losing only in the final against her big brother Shiraz.

Filly and Sally in the Scottish heather

The next month up in Scotland she won her first trophy but it was the following season 2002-3 when she really triumphed and was awarded the SCC's Knightellington Jacket for the Saluki winning the most courses:
12 November 2002 - winner of the 8-dog Nelson Stake in Norfolk
14-15 February 2003 - Winner of the 12-dog Valentine's Stake in Wiltshire
21 February 2003 - Winner of an 8-dog stake in Gloucestershire
22 February 2003 - winner of an 8-dog stake in Gloucestershire

Filly & Dakhilak Shalm in Wiltshire
Filly & Shim El Howa in final of an 8-dog stake, 22/2/02
Filly in the Knightellington Jacket 2002-03

Filly was also successful at lure coursing and in June 2003 she achieved the then rare distinction for a Saluki to be named a Lure Courser of Merit by the British Sighthound Field Association for scoring over 200 points and going Best of Breed more than three times.

Filly lure coursing

As younger Salukis began to make their mark and the SCC grew in size, Filly had fewer runs and less success in the 2003-4 season:
12 October 2003 - runner-up in the 8-dog Wash Stake
19 November 2003 - Runner-up in the 8-dog Bus Stop Stake
Then she had a bad leg injury and I needed some surgery too, so we were both out of the field for a while. In the next season, the last before the ban on hunting with dogs came into effect, she was again hit by leg injuries and managed only:
18/12/2004 - finalist in an 8-dog Christmas Stake
8/1/2005 - Runner-up in the 8-dog New Year Stake
Then injury struck again but she ran officially for the last time before the ban on 17 February 2005, winning her course in an unfinished 32-dog stake.

Filly and her rabbit
Filly cooling off after a hot morning's coursing

After the hunting ban with dogs came into effect, the Saluki Coursing Club, of which I was then Chairman, decided to change its name to the Saluki Conservation Club, as our focus moved to maintaining our Salukis' fitness and hunting qualities within the framework permitted by the law until such time as the law, which was shown to be largely unworkable, was repealed. Although the law effectively ended competitive coursing on live game, it did allow the use of two dogs at a time to drive game to guns or to falcons and we were able to use our Salukis in this role. Salukis could also continue as before to be exercised in the pursuit of the artificial lure or on the race track. However there was nothing to prevent us running our Salukis competitively abroad and we established an annual two-week series of meetings on some of the large and beautifully appointed hunting estates in Portugal and Spain. In the ideal conditions of the largely flat terrain of these huge estates our Salukis were able to exercise their full potential, while their owners could additionally enjoy many of the cultural and gastronomic delights of the region.

Walking up in Portugal in 2003 with Shiraz v. Galgo (with a debutant Galgo behind)

She enjoyed her retirement to the full and defended our garden against the depredations of the local foxes and squirrels right until the end. Soon after her 1oth birthday she stopped eating because of a large tumour in her stomach and we had to have her put down to spare her the pain.

Preparatory design by Taha al-Hiti