Desert-bred Saluqis

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Saluqis on the periphery - Central Asia and China


First it needs to be explained that in much of Central Asia the main languages are Turkic in origin. The word for the hunting hound over much of the region is the same as in Turkish, that is to say that it is pronounced like Taz-uh. However as the region was until comparatively recently part of the Soviet Union, the name of the hound was usually written in the Cyrillic orthography, which transliterated into English is Tazy. This is the form I shall use to describe it.

Carved door at the Kaf al-Sashi Mausoleum, Khiva, Uzbekistan

I first went to Uzbekistan as part of a tour in Central Asia and started appropriately in the deserted but beautifully preserved town of Khiva. It is only a short journey from here across the Oxus River to the great Kizil Kum desert, where I thought we might see some hunting hounds. However though I heard where they were to be found there was no time to get there. Hopes were raised when we visited the Gazelle Nature Reserve outside Bukhara, but though the first hound to greet us looked like a Saluqi, it was clear from his companions in a nearby pen that he was in fact a Hortaya (which means 'shorthaired' in Russian), originally a Tatar sighthound.

Russian Hortaya near Bukhara

Though I made enquiries in Tashkent I could not get to see an Uzbek Tazy of the kind that was imported into Germany some years ago and successfully registered as a Saluki. I was told they had become increasingly rare, but they are still seen from time to time among the rural population.

Uzbek Tazy, (C) V Ratcliffe

After my visit to Turkmenistan (see below) in April 2012, I went on to revisit Uzbekistan. I was particularly keen to visit the area around Nurata, where I had not been before, as I had heard that there were Kazakh nomads there with Tazys. On the way we turned off the road to see the amazing petroglyphs in the Sarmysh Valley, where I got the fright of my life! I was walking alone along a sandy path between luxuriant undergrowth, thinking that this looked like good snake habitat, when suddenly there was a loud hiss and a hooded cobra reared up about a metre in front of me. It was so close that the telephoto lens on my camera could not focus on it; but at least the whirring sound it made seemed to alarm the snake and with another hiss it turned away and disappeared. I ran back to my friends and learned for the first time that there are many different highly poisonous snakes in Uzbekistan, which surprised me as I had thought snakes could not survive the bitter cold of winter here. 


The landscape of Kyrgyzstan is dominated by mountains, to the north the Altai and to the south the Tian-Shan. In between lies the vast lake Issyk-Kul and roundabout are the pastures which support huge herds of horses and other livestock. The nomadic herders are often accompanied by robust hunting hounds called Taigans. 

The landscape of Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyz Taigan

My first sight of a Taigan was at Tash Rabat on the road that leads into China via the Torugart Pass. Even in September it was bitterly cold at night and this hound's coat was already quite thick. It had the tight ring at the end of its tail which is apparently a characteristic of the purebred Taigan. On the way down from the mountains I saw a somewhat slighter female, typically black and white Taigan, called inappropriately Tarzan, with a litter of puppies in a surprising range of colours from beige through sable to black.

Tarzan's puppies

In this mountainous area I found it interesting to observe a constant gradation or 'cline' with gradually changing gene frequencies producing various types of hounds from Tazy to Taigan to Afghan Hound. We saw such a variant walking along the road with a young lad. He called it a Taigan but it looked remarkably like the old type of Bell-Murray Afghan.

A variation on a Taigan

On a subsequent visit in 2002, I saw a whole kennel of Taigans near Bishkek which displayed some of these subtle gradations and high up in the mountains near the Chinese border I visited some nomads in their yurts with a further range of Taigans.

Taigan near Bishkek
Taigan bitch with new born puppies emerging from her underground den

But one of the most indelible memeories of Kyrgyzstan was not of hounds but of an eagle hunter with his wife in national dress standing with a Berkut by their yurt up in the mountains.

Kyrgyz Berkutchi


During a brief visit to Almaty in September 2002 I called first at the home of the President of the Dog Breeders' Federation of Kazakhstan where I was confronted with the maternal scene of a red sable Tazy feeding her puppies of all colours from cream through red to black. From there I went on to the Sunkar Falconry Centre, where they also breed Tazys and massive Tobet shepherd dogs.

Tazy with puppies, Almaty
Tazy at the Sunkar kennels
Puppy at the Sunkar kennels
Tazy in Almaty
Tazy in Almaty

Although the visit was short it was long enough to hear from the local breeders of their pride in the long history of these hounds, as indicated in rock drawings dated to the late second millennium BC. However Soviet cynologists attribute their presence to the arrival of Arab conquerors in 7th and 8th centuries AD when Saluqis were crossed with a local breed to give them greater resistance to the cold climate. In the post-Soviet era the breed suffered considerably from neglect and it is only in the past decade or so that great efforts have been made by enthusiasts in Almaty to preserve the breed.

Bored spectator at the Almaty Conference

I returned to Kazakhstan in September 2007 to speak at the first scientific conference on 'Aboriginal Dogs as part of Biodiversity and the Cultural Heritage of Humankind', which drew speakers from all over the world to discuss the threats to the existence of aboriginal dogs and measures necessary for their preservation. Within the framework of the Conference delegates also had the opportunity to see and learn about Kazakhstan's efforts in regard to the Tazy and the Tobet shepherd/guard dog. We visited the Sunkar kennels, where the highly selective breeding programme seemd to have produced some remarkably Saluqi-like hounds.

At the Sunkar kennels
At the Sunkar kennels

We also made an excursion to Nura and the Charyn Gorge with some of the local hunters and their hounds. Here once again several gradations were visible from the smooth Turkmen Tazy, which seemed identical to many desert-bred Saluqis, to a quite stocky hound and a taller more showy hound.  

Turkmen Tazy
A robust fox hunting Tazy
Elegant Tazy

But one of the enduring memories of the visit was the obvious close rapport between the Kazakhs and their hunting animals which will hopefully endure despite the pressures of modern civilisation.

Kazakh children with falcons and a Tazy puppy at Nura


I visited Turkmenistan in April 2012 and was agreeably surprised to find that in terms of the landscape of desert backed by mountains and the vegetation, notably green and abundant after heavy winter rains, and the flocks of camels and goats the scenery was very like that of parts of Oman. Turkmen friends took us one day into the desert to a shepherds' camp where we were honoured with fresh camel's milk on arrival and the slaughter of a goat for a traditional meal on the floor, also in typical Arab Bedouin style.

Milking the camel for our welcome

The shepherds hunt with Tazys and saker falcons in tandem as the undulating dunes and scrub make it easy for either hounds or falcons to lose sight of the Tolai hare. The Tazys were very fit and muscular from the past winter season and the falcons had already been taken back to the shepherds' village so that I had to make do with some of my friends' pictures of them.

Falconer and Tazy - A Eyeberdiyev
Tazy and falcon - A Eyeberdiyev
Troika at the kill - A Eyeberdiyev

The Tazys came in a range of common colours such as cream and grizzle but also in rarer colours such as chocolate, bronze and grey. Pelage also varied from smooth to feathered with some fuzzy hair on the shoulders and thighs, as on this 8-montyhs-old puppy Uchar.

Hunter with 'bronze' Tazy
Uchar, 8-months-old cream puppy, and Melegush, 3-years-old chocolate bitch share some camel's milk
Grey puppy with cream sibling - A Eyeberdiyev

Less than 100 Tazys are known to the Tazy Section of the Turkmen Falconers' Society but it is reckoned that there are many more good working hounds in the various settlements around the central Karakum Desert, from where from time to time the Tazy Section draws some of the best specimens for breeding purposes. Because of the different terrain, climate and hunting style, the Turkmen Tazy differs from the Kazakh Tazy in being of a lighter, less stocky build and generally has sparser feathering.


In May 2015 I visited Azerbaijan where I was hoping to see some Central Asian Tazys but in that respect it was a disappointment. The country is extremely beautiful, especially the northern area of the Caucuses mountains, with its  colourful small towns and villages, where time stands still. My enquiries elicited that there were hunting Tazys but never near enough to my route. However I did take some more DNA swabs from some of the aboriginal shepherd dogs which may prove useful for research purposes.

Hunting mural from the 18th century Khan's palace at Sheki
Ovcharka at Xinaliq, Caucuses

A real surprise was this bronze group in the grounds of the Nobel house in Baku. The Nobel family from Sweden made their fortune from oil in Azerbaijan and established a grand home to which members of the family still return every year. 

Hunting scene at the Nobel house, Baku


We know from the historical and archaeological record that a Saluqi-like hunting hound existed in China even before the Arabs conquered parts of Central Asia and it is possible that some may have been traded along the Silk Road. One of the early pictorial representations is in a painted mural in the imperial Tang dynasty tomb of Prince Zhanghuai (died 684 AD) near XiAn, showing a falconer in a hufu (foreigner's) robe with a falcon and a Saluqi-like hound with an unusual, rather banana-shaped nose. 

Falconer and hound

So, during a tour along the Silk Road through the Uighur Autonomous Provice of western China in September 2002, I made enquiries at various of the oasis towns such as Kashgar and Khotan around the Taklamakan desert, but though we were very warmly received by Uighurs and Han Chinese no one seemed to know about Xigou (pronounced See-gow) or 'slender dogs' as they are called in Chinese. A mural in the Khotan Museum of traders on the Silk Road did however include a hound in the foreground, suggesting that such hounds were there in the past.

A warm welcome in Kashgar
Mural in Khotan Museum

So I was surprised and intrigued when out of the blue in September 2009 a hunter in Xi'an, western China emailed me with information and pictures of 'slender dogs'  with what he described as a 'sheep's head' just like the hound in the Tang mural!

Shaanxi hound, courtesy of Chaoxian, Xi'an
Shaanxi hound, courtesy of Chaoxian, Xi'an

The correspondent sent me video clips showing how these 'sheep's head' hounds and others with a normal, straight nose hunted for hare in the vicinity of Xi'An airport. He said that on New Year's Day last year more than 100 hunters took part in hare coursing with more than 150 hounds! The hunting season lasts from October to February. The hare does not have much of a chance to escape as they usually slip any number of hounds at once. They do not run them in competitions but they do show them at the annual dog show in Xi'An. They produced in January 2009 a provisional breed standard but they do not yet maintain a registry. The hounds come in all colours but he said they preferred solid colours: white, black and deep red in that order, provided that they are tall and fast, but they also liked grey, brindle and grizzle, as these were all considered to be the colours of purebred hounds. Most of the hounds in his pictures were feathered but a few were smooth. Males measure 65-70 cm on average but he knew one measuring 78 cm; and females measure 60-70 cm on average. They are fed on chicken carcasses, corn meal and vegetables, with occasionally meat and bones. The hounds live outside in kennels as they also guard the house. They live 11-15 years and hunt until they are 9. They are kept until they die of old age as they are regarded as part of the family.

He said that in Shandong and Hebei provinces there were similar 'slender dogs' but the pictures he sent suggested a somewhat different strain, without the 'sheep's head' and often with a smooth coat. Kazakh hunters whom I met in Russia in 2005 told me that they had been selling their Hortayas to China for some years, so there could be a connection here.

Kazakh hunter in Russia with a Hortaya, October 2005

In October 2010 I paid a visit to Shaanxi Province, the heartland of the Xigou. I met many of the breeders there and went hunting with them in the vicinity of the Hua Mountains to the east of XiAn. I found that the Xigou is as diverse as the desert bred Saluqi, with a range of different types. Some had the sheep's nose, but others did not. Some had a slightly roached back and rounded hindquarters, but others had a straight topline with prominent huckle bones (ischia) like those of Saluqis. Some had rather rounded front feet, but most had typically long Saluqi feet with arched toes. All those that I measured were taller than long, often by as much as 7-8 cm (3"); one was very tall - 80cm (31 1/2"), but most were around 70 cm (27"). Most were pure white or self black, often with a tiny patch of white on the chest. A few others were red sable, grey, dark brindle and cream.  

Typical Xigou
Hunter in the field
A well-proportioned Xigou
Xigou in the field
Puppy amid the drying corn
Walking up the field
The chase by S R Hui
Kennel lined with straw bedding
This colour is also found in Central Asian Tazys

Other articles:

Central Asian hounds - Saluki International,Vol.10, Issue 20,Spring/Summer 2002
2. With the Kyrgyz nomads and their hounds - Sighthound Review, November/December 2001: also in Der Windhundfreund, April and June, 2002
3. More Central Asian hounds - Saluki International, Vol.11,Issue 21, Autumn/Winter 2003; and as Taigane und Tazys in Zentralasien in Der Windhundfreund, Nr. 254, February 2003
4. Sighthounds in Russia - The Performance Sighthound Journal, Vol.2, Issue 4, 2005
5. Hunting hounds along the Slik Road - which way did they go? - The Silk Road, Vol.4, No.2, Winter 2006-2007
6. Salukis in China - The Saluki, Crufts Edition, 2006
7. The Kazakh Tazy - Fact or Fiction? - Saluki International Annual, #3, 2007
8. The curious tale of the Uzbek Tazy  - The Saluki, Championship Show Edition, 2012


Central Asian Hounds - DVD made in 2006