Desert Bred Salukis in Israel

Salukis in the Negev desert 2001

Written by Dr Zafra Sirik, The Israeli Sighthound club's chairman since 1997. All -Breed international judge (F.C.I.) since 1986, judged a lot in Scandinavia, Also in Europe, South America, Australia and Russia. Greyhound breeder (Tigi's). General Surgeon, Ex Lieutenant - Colonel in the Israeli Medical Force.

The latest version of the saluki standard defines very well, in my opinion, the variation of the saluki breed as being one of its main characteristics.

The desert bred variety in the Israeli desert is unique in type, performance and health and will be presented in this article, based on the presentation at the World Congress of Sighthounds held on 10/5/2002 in Belgium.

The Middle East is the original home of the saluki. It is well documented that the first salukis in the UK arrived from the Middle East. The "Amherstia" salukis were founded on salukis brought from Egypt by Florence Amherst in 1897.

The "Sarona salukis" were brought from Syria by Brigadier Lance in the early 20's, as were the "Nablous salukis" which arrived in England from British-ruled Palestine with Miss Mitchell who served as a nurse in the Nablus hospital.

The Palestine Kennel Club (PKC) was established in 1939 by Prof, Rudolfina and Dr Rudolf Menzel and their friends. An immigrants from Nazi Austria, the Menzels arrived in Palestine with their boxers. She was a well known cynologist and a unique personality, and she laid the foundation for the dog hobby in Palestine and later in the state of Israel.

The 4th show of the PKC was held in Jerusalem at the Y.M.C.A. grounds on the 19th of June 1942 , under the patronage of Lady MacMichel, wife of the British Supreme Commissioner. Four registered salukis were shown, one of them in the veteran class.

Propatria salukis in 1940's

The next show was held in Haifa, on the 23rd of October 1943, under the patronage of Brigadier General I.C. Cameron, In aid of the British Red Cross. The salukis shown there were from different kennels - "Beit Habar" and "Transjordania". We also know the "Propatria" kennel from those years.

The few photographs that I have managed to collect from those years show the same type of dogs that arrived in the UK, elegant, feathered coat, all known colours.

Sheikh Suliman El Huzeil was one of the most outstanding of the Bedouin leaders in the Israeli Negev desert in the 50's and 60's. His tribe "El Huzeil" lived a bit north of Beer- Sheba where the Bedouin city of Rahat is located today. He was a colourful man known especially for his pure Arabian horses, hunting Salukis, and more than 30 wives…. It was difficult to count his offsprings. One of his wives was a blue eyed Danish girl who converted to Islam.

Sheikh Suliman was well connected, and during the 50's, despite the closed border he got some royal salukis from Jordan. Some of the dogs he bred were gifted to Israeli police and army officers and they were shown in the IKC shows.

The Israel Sighthound Club (ISC) was established in 1968. Only 2 breeds of sighthounds were represented in Israel at that time. The Turkuman Afghans that arrived with the famous herbalist, Juliette Barcaly De Levy, and the local Salukis , mostly from El Huzeil , but some came from Jordan and some from Persia (Iran of today). The most famous of them was a black well feathered dog called Mobi.

Isr Ch Argos, Hoki

Hoki was one of the first local Champions of the breed, bred from the Persian Mobi and the El Huzeil's Rina. A strongly feathered dog that was also a champion in high jump.

The year 1967 was the turning point for the Israeli salukis. The Sinai desert was occupied in the swift Six Days War, and a new era began for us, Salukis lovers. Most of the Israelis, including myself and my friends, fell in love with this desert terrain. The magic of Sinai is the breathless combination of high granite mountains, majestic canyons, peaceful beaches and for us, sighthound enthusiasts, there were salukis! Plenty of salukis. With every camel caravan that moved along the trails there were a few salukis..

Salukis in Sinai 1969

We traveled often to Sinai, until it's return to Egypt in 1982. Igal Sella was the one who travelled most as he worked as a guide in the Society for the Preservation of Nature in Israel. He made a lot of contacts among the Bedouins, especially among the Tarabin tribe. Thanks to his contacts he recieved his first bitch, called Ruach (wind in Hebrew).

The first litter in his "Tarabin" kennel was born in 1970, Sired by Lobo El Huzeil out of Ruach. Igal acquired many salukis from the Tarabin Bedouins but he also returned them numerous puppies born in his kennel in Bustan Hagalil. Igal was not the only one who got salukis from Sinai, the Israeli Bedouins also exchanged dogs with the Sinai Bedouins and used them in their breeding.

Tarabin Salag 1972

Thanks to Igal's initiative the salukis were allowed to participate in an official hunt in order to cull the gazelle population in the north of the country during 1973. One of the best hunters and coursers was Tarabin Salag, owned by Aviva Neeman, the ISC's secretary on those days.

The Sinai Salukis were a bit different from the few European imports to Israel in those days. They were stronger, somewhat coarser, and usually short coated. They had endurance and stamina and very good hunting qualities.

The few European and Scandinavian judges who came to judge in our shows increased the discussion around this variety and led the way to the ISC's decision to split the breed into Salukis and Sloughis in 1974.

We have to bear in mind that during the early 70's Sloughis were not as common as they are today in Europe, and now we can look back on this decision with a bit of forgiving criticism.

The IKC breeding regulations allow the registration of only two breeds born in desert origin - the Dog of Canaan and the Saluki.

Outside Jumaa's tent

The 70's were the golden time for the Israeli Salukis. They were attractive to many people, numerous Israelis who worked in Sinai got themselves a Saluki, new breeders joined, the entry in shows grew and many salukis participated in the coursing organized by the ISC.

The decline of the salukis took place in the late 80's and the beginning of the 90's. The fact that Igal Sella stopped breeding had great influence on the activities of the breed. Igal found it more and more difficult to let the salukis perform their hunting skills due to legal restrictions and a shortage of open spaces.

New registrations in 1976 were 27 Salukis and 18 Sloughis but in 1986 there were only 21 Salukis and no Sloughis. During 1994-1996 there was no registration of any litter and real decline in show entries for the breed was noted.

In 1997 when I was elected to the chairman of the ISC, I puzzled myself with the mystery of where all the beautiful salukis had gone. I decided to conduct a mini survey. We went south several times, met the Bedouin Saluki breeders and looked around. What we found was quite amazing.

Regab with pups at Tel Sheva 1999, Farha second from left

The Bedouin population in Israel is rather small, only some 130,000 out of a total population of close to 6 million people. Most of them live in the Negev, more than half of them live in villages, and the rest in 7 Bedouin cities built specially for them by the government. The Bedouin society in Israel has gone through dramatic changes. The house replaced the tent, the Subaru replaced the camel and the city replaced the village.

The best surprise was to find so many good Salukis bred by some of the Bedouin breeders. Although they have no written pedigrees they know each dog's lineage by heart.

Although hunting with dogs is illegal in Israel they do practice active hunting and their Salukis hunt everything, hares, gazelles and ibex. This illegal hunting causes them endless collisions with the wardens in charge of the protection of wild animals who, at times hunt and kill the Salukis, although sometimes they just catch them and deport them to boarding kennels.

Rasas of Rahat

We found Saluki populations in different areas, in Rahat, Tel Sheba, Kalansua, El Huashla, in the Arava, and also in some non-Bedouin Arab villages in northern Israel. All of them are bred for functionality and performance and not for shows so the best hunter is the most popular stud. And the Bedouins still follow ancient traditions today, and sit for hours, drinking coffee relating stories about the famous dogs and their hunting prowess.

The poor socio-economic status does reflect in high puppy morbidity and mortality, but once the puppy has survived, he is very healthy with good bone, good bite and extremely light movement. The natural selection makes these dogs suitable for their job which is to hunt. This is really the survival of the fittest. No artificial insemination, no defective bites or dentition, no other hereditary problems.

The findings were very encouraging and we decided that the preservation of the Negev type Saluki will be the main goal of the ISC, along with other goals to promote the sighthound breeds. We adopted a strategy of close follow up and direct support of the Bedouins breeders without interfering in their breeding program. Here is how we do it -

1. We tattoo & photograph all puppies and adults brought to us during regular visits.

2. We selectively register some of the dogs in the IKC stud book. Only one variety is registered - Saluki. The Bedouins are not keen to have pedigrees and cannot pay the expense, the IKC is very cooperative in this matter.

3. We provide food and vaccinations at our own expense.

4. We try our best to convince them, especially the young breeders - not to mix the Salukis with other sighthound breeds like greyhounds or whippets.

5. We try to educate them not to overuse their bitches.

Jumaa el Abied, Rahat -00

It took a long time to build up the trust between us. Some of them still expect a greyhound puppy from me… but most of them have a lot of fun and take much pride in being Saluki breeders. The interest and curiosity that our guests in their dogs - most of these guests being foreign judges and "experts" - make them feel proud and important. We also share with them every bit of copy published - whether in the Sighthound Review, the Finnish Koiramme ETC, and give them copies of the photos I take. All this build strong relations.

After almost 5 years of work with the Israeli Bedouins' Salukis we are beginning to see some fruits. The stud book registrations have increased and we now register over 30 puppies each year. Show entries have grown slowly and now are almost parallel to the Whippet entries and Whippets are still the leading breed in our club.

Farha al-Faifa in Israel 1999

Due to the published articles about our salukis on the Internet and professional magazines we exported 3 puppies, 2 to Finland and one to Germany. We keep contact with their development and so far they have given us a lot of pride and satisfaction.

But most rewarding of all is the new interest in desert bred Salukis awakening among Israelis themselves. Along with Shalom Shtokelman and his 30 years old kennel, "Arava", some new Israeli breeders have joined the scene. Kuti Aharon and Tzviah Idan recently established the "Idan Atiq" kennels and work very closely with the leading Bedouin Saluki breeder, Jumaa El Abeid. Shai Spector's "Spector El Razal" kennel combine desert bred and Scandinavian imports of the breed.

Without the help of those I've mentioned and others like Andrea Diaconasa our mission, of preserving the 'Negev-Type' Saluki could not be accomplished.

Arava Ranya