Ancient Gazelle-Hunting Dog Breed Hangs on in Arabia

By Maryann Mott
for National Geographic News
February 21, 2003

For thousands of years nomadic tribes of the Middle East have bred a hunting hound called the saluki. The slender, silky coated canine is known for its hardiness, stamina, intelligence, and speed. A fearless hunter of hare and gazelle, the dog is thought by historians to be the oldest breed in the world with archaeological evidence dating back to the 6th millennium B.C.

Modern times have taken a toll on the saluki. A new National Geographic EXPLORER documentary (see picture caption for details) raises questions about the breed's long-term survival in the Arab world and how it may, at some point, be left in the hands of Western fanciers. That's because tribal members are moving out of the desert and into villages and towns. The dogs are no longer needed as providers of food for their masters.

But for now, many salukis are still kept for hunting as a sport in Arabia.

Salukis in North America

In the United States, salukis are successful competitors in the show ring, and agility and field trials. Still, they are not a common breed, ranking No. 109 among 150 recognized American Kennel Club breeds, with only 401 dogs registered in 2002.

Cathy Chapman of Simi Valley, California, breeds salukis and owns six ranging from one to 12 years of age. Before adopting one, she advises that people learn about this quiet and calm breed.

"Salukis are definitely not for everybody," said Chapman, who is a member of the California-based San Angeles Saluki Club. "Their temperament is more like a cat than a dog. They want to be friends, but on their terms."

Salukis show great affection toward their owners, she said, but can be standoffish with strangers. The dogs thrive in families where they are the focus of attention and live indoors.

"They are [an easily controlled] and exotic companion for the knowledgeable dog owner," said Ingrid Romanowski, public education chairwoman for the Saluki Club of America. "They are not a breed you can treat badly…mishandle [or] subject to boring kennel life."

Live-Game Hunting

The saluki is an active breed that likes the outdoors. To keep the dogs' hunting skills sharp, open field coursing events were established in 1964 and are organized throughout the western United States. It is the only venue for competitive live-game hunting in the country, said Romanowski, and it is popular among breeders and fanciers. Last year 105 salukis were entered in hunts sponsored by the National Open Field Coursing Association.

Continued on Next Page >>


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