Desert-bred Saluqis

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Saluqis on the periphery - North Africa

Egypt

For the Saluki fancy in the United Kingdom, Egypt holds a special position as the country from which the Saluki as we know it derives. The Saluki historians have described the deep roots of the breed in Ancient Egypt and in 1895 the Hon. Florence Amherst imported her first two hounds from Egypt to establish the breed here.  So it is all the more disappointing that there appear to be so few Saluqis left in Egypt today. Reports about them have been rare in recent years and on a visit that I made to the oases of the Western Desert in March 2007 I could find only a few indications of their existence at all. The reasons are not so hard to find: a human population explosion in the cultivable areas, pressure on the land everywhere and an official ban on hunting.

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Stuck in the Western Desert
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Reproduction of the relief sculpture of Rekhmire, Luxor

Libya

At this point, the transition from Egypt into Libya, the Saluqi is, according to some Western fanciers, suddenly transformed into a different breed, which they call the Sloughi but which the local inhabitants doggedly call Saluqi. How different they are genetically remains to be established beyond all doubt.
I spent two months in Libya in 1980 without seeing a single Saluqi, but I was mainly on the coastal strip and did not penetrate into the Sahara where they are more likely to be found.

The Maghrib

Tunisia


However I did make a tour of neighbouring Tunisia in 2002 and was able to form an impression of the hounds there.
The wealth of archaeological evidence of their existence in the early centuries of the first millennium suggests that a Saluqi-like hound was used for hunting by the estate owners, who commissioned the replication of their hunting practices in beautiful mosaics to embellish their homes, many of which survive in museums and in situ. However these mosaics were often created by travelling groups of artists and you can find similar images of such hounds in other parts of the Roman Empire, even as far away as Syria and Jordan, so that it is difficult to say with certainty whether they reflect actual hounds or merely a stereotype. 



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Dionysius coursing, Oudhna 3rd century AD, Bardo Museum
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Hunting scene from El Djem, mid-3rd century AD, Bardo Museum
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Bardo Museum
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From the Seigneur Julius mosaic, Carthage 4th century AD, Bardo Museum
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Hounds working with a falcon, Carthage 4th century AD, Bardo Museum

With such a start at the Bardo Museum to our tour I looked forward to seeing some hounds in the flesh, but though we looked diligently it was not until we got into the desert near the border with Algeria that we found the first examples. They were in a most unexpected situation - the zoo at Tozeur! Here in a pen clearly marked with the Arabic letters for Saluqi was a collection of four very odd looking hounds; they were small and squat, with a broad head and one had close cropped ears.

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Saluqis in Tozeur Zoo

These hounds were but a foretaste of what we found in Douz, a small town on the edge of the Sahara noted for its huge date plantations and its annual camel and Saluqi festival. We arrived in a sandstorm but were guided in by some camel drivers. They also told me where I could see some Saluqis. The first was a very substantial cream dog which would not look out of place among some the Peninsular hounds of the Gulf.

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A strong hunting hound in Douz

We called on one of the best known breeders in Douz who showed us his favourite brood bitch, called Mania. She was 4 years old and measured only 24" x 23". She was typical of others we saw: very small, often with cropped ears and a sandy colour.

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'Mania' in Douz
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Tiny bitch measuring only 20" x 19" in Douz

At the house of another prominent breeder we saw another of the local strain, though this bitch not only had cropped ears but also the 3 branded stripes on the inside of the forelegs 'to prevent cramp'. She was highly regarded in the household and made herself comfortable on the cushions around the room where we sat. Other more varied hounds were brought in for us to inspect but the one that stood out both for its colour and its size was fawn brindle. However it tuned out that the sire of this hound had been raised by Germans living in the north of Tunisia, so it was really an exotic.

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Exotic brindle in Douz
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More typical Douz hound

Despite the small stature of most of the hounds, they were, according to their owners, excellent hunters even for gazelle in the Sahara. They certainly have something in their appearance that reminds me of the old drawing from 1890 by Pierre Megnin, which I reproduce here.

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Drawing by Pierre Megnin

Algeria

Sadly the security situation in Algeria for so many years has meant that I have not yet managed to visit this large part of the Maghrib, but both from the historical record and personal information from Arab hunters and other visitors to the Sahara it is clear that the Saluqi continues to survive, though whether the feathered variety, reported by the Swiss cynologist Max Siber in his book 'Die Hunde Afrikas' in 1899 as existing around Tlemcen which he illustrated with a painting by Gaston Casimir Saint-Pierre (1833-1916), is still to be found there, would be an interesting matter to explore.

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Algerian hound by Heidi Eyers
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Saint-Pierre's painting of a feathered Sloughi from Tlemcen, Algeria

Morocco

I lived in Morocco for two years in the early 1960s and travelled widely in the country but I returned only in June 1992 to begin a study of the Saluqis there. My basis was the doctoral thesis made by Dr Ali Miguil in 1987, a copy of which he kindly gave me with some of his research material, including photographs. It quickly became apparent as I began a circular journey around the country that just as in the Mashriq (as the Arabs call the eastern end of the Arab world) so in the Maghrib the hounds show a number of different strains. One of my earliest encounters was literally a shock as I was confronted by a very fierce dog called Jinah [Wing].

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Jinah, Sidi Qasim
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At Ouled Salem, near Marrakesh

In the villages around Chemaia, which I visited with a Moroccan vet, we saw further examples of the variety. A particularly handsome pure white hound actually came into the veterinary clinic while I was there. In a nearby village I saw a very large dog, said to be 14 years old, of a type used for hunting boar. He made quite a contrast with this small, short-coupled bitch in another village.

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Handsome hound in Chemaia
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Old boar hunting type
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Small short-coupled bitch

In January 2001 I went back for about a week as technical adviser to the film crew shooting footage for a film that was released by National Geographic in 2003 under the title 'The Hunting Hounds of Arabia'. This was a marvellous opportunity to spend time with the villagers and their hounds in their hunting role. We saw how the hunters would walk up a field, just as hunters do in the northern Mashriq and how the hounds coped amazingly well on the hard, stony ground.  

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Walking up over the stony ground
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Some of our hounds
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A compact young bitch
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Strongly built dog

At times we were surrounded by dozens of hounds as people came in from different villages for a chance to appear in the film. So we had a good cross-section of the local population of hounds and again there was plenty of variety. The hang of the ears, for example, varied from close to the head to airplane to turned back. Dr Miguil found that nearly 60% of the Saluqis that he studied had turned back ears. The width of the head between the ears went from extremely broad to the normal 4-finger width and varied from domed to flat. Some hounds had rather short, thick necks, while others had long, elegant necks.

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Turned back ears
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Normal hang of ears
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Thin, elegant hound
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Squat, thick-knecked bitch, heavily hennaed with a tree of life and the hand of Fatimah
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Exceptionally broad head
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Elegant head

Among all the many hounds that we saw one stood out from all the rest by virtue of its large size and the unusual shape of its head. From what I understood in the village this dog may have been an exotic with German breeding behind it.

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Exotic dog

As in Tunisia, it was great to see at the end of a long day how the hounds were allowed to relax with the hunters.

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At the tea ceremony

I went back again in March 2004 and visited some of the same villages, where it was interesting to see a whole range of new hounds but with noticeably greater homogeneity among them, which made me wonder whether the annual Moussem, where the hounds are judged according to the FCI standard, was beginning to have greater effect on the breeders, who had previously been guided purely by the needs of hunting rather than showing. I had already been given some indication of this before, when breeders told me that they would breed for a particular colour if that was what was winning at the Moussem and would not run a dog for fear of injury if it was entered for the Moussem, with its monetary prizes.  

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Taller, longer hound
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The older school

In September 2010 I returned to Morocco to attend the first international Festival of Traditional Hunting, with Saluqis and falcons. It was an excellent occasion to see a large number of hounds from different parts of Morocco, as well as some from Qatar and France, and, as was to be expected, they showed quite a range of quality and type.
All of the local hounds that I measured were slightly taller than long by between 2 and 6 cm, so they gave the appearance of being short-coupled and manoeuvrable. However some of the males were over 72 cm at the shoulder and, when it came to the demonstration of live coursing on fox, they proved to be very fast on the straight but required a much wider turning area than the Qatari hounds, which were much smaller (only 61 cm) and square. Many of the local hounds had turned back ears and some, particualrly the males, had rather broad skulls and thick necks. However there were also some very moderate hounds of size and shape that came quite close to the Saluqi of the Arabian Peninsula.
The falcons there were Peregrines (shahin bahri) and came from the coast near El-Jadida. They were well-trained to the lure and put on an excellent display.
The Festival achieved its objective of encouraging the visitors and the wider public through the media coverage to support traditional hunting as part of Morocco's national heritage.

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Moderate hound in front of a Festival tent
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Sloughi puppy with its own tent
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Shahin bahri (Peregrine)

In September 2011 I returned to Morocco, this time for some fox hunting with Saluqis. It all started most unusually, as the landscape was shrouded in a heavy mist, so that it was difficult to see very far.

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Sloughia in the mist

As the morning wore on, the mist was burnt off by the sun and we could see the way the beaters beat out the thorny coverts in the wadis in an attempt to flush out any fox to the waiting hounds. Eventually a fox did break covert and was quickly taken by one of the experienced hounds. It was quite a big red fox like those found in Europe rather than the small Fennec of the desert. Foxes do a lot of damage to local farmers' livestock and poultry and they welcome the hunters.

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In at the kill

We did a lot more walking up and beating out coverts and flushed out another large fox, which promptly went to ground in a foxhole. After some hard work in the mid-day sun the beaters managed to force the fox out but it cleverly evaded the waiting hounds and made its escape down the wadi in great bounds like a gazelle. We had a few more thrills that morning but no more kills. It was certainly different from fox hunting at home!

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The fox makes its escape
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Festival of Traditional Hunting

In September 2013 I attended the second Festival of Traditional Hunting in Sidi Mokhtar, about 100 km west of Marrakesh, organised by the Moroccan National Association for Traditional Hunting (ANMOCT) with the local authorities. Like the Festival in Meknes in 2010, it was a very colourful occasion and an excellent opportunity to see well over a hundred Sloughis from different parts of the country.

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An unusual chocolate Sloughi
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A compact hunting hound
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Typical hound of the area

There was also a lot of activity on the side, with a fine display of falconry, a fox hunt and a traditional Fantasia at the end. The whole event was well publicised by the Moroccan and Qatari media and the organisers could be well satisfied with the results of an event to foster Morocco's ancient traditions,

Falconer with a peregrine
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The competitors
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The prey
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Fantasia

Other articles:

1. The hounds of the Blue Men... the Tuaregs' coursing hound - Saluki Heritage, Vol. 2,Issue 4, Spring/Summer 1994
2.Coursing hounds in Tunisia - Saluki International, Vol.8,Issue 16,Spring/Summer 2000
3. Sighthounds in Morocco - Sighthound Review, March/April 2001
4. North African Mystery - Saluki International Annual, #1, 2005; also translated into German as Nordafrikanisches Raetsel in Der Windhundfreund, February/March 2009
5. Fox hunting in Morocco, ASLA Newsletter, November 2011