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The Gentrification of Working Breeds

Reprinted from the K9Genes List with permision from the Author
Mr. Burchard is a well-respected breeder and owner of Salukis who has lived in the Middle East and Turkey.

by John Burchard, Ph.D.
of Tepe Gawra Salukis
As published in

Choban Chatter

List question:
I have a question: with these breeds that are very much still 'working' breeds, or 'landrace' breeds, are we doing any favors at all by collecting them, breeding and registering them apart from their working and/or land areas?
Mr Burchard:
IMO that's a good and legitimate question, and my first answer would be "probably not" if by "registering" you mean "bringing them into the show culture." I would be very happy to go on with our little group of Saluqis, bringing in "new blood" as needed from tribal sources. The way things are now set up in this country, that makes registration and showing impossible. That doesn't bother me, but it does bother a number of other people who breed registered stock and would like to be able to use our blood lines for their performance and personality traits. In a good many other countries this would not be a problem, since they make provision for registering native- import stock, but I happen to live in the U.S. where that is impossible.

The rub is that in the regions of origin the breed is declining in numbers and it is not clear how much longer good tribal stock will be available. Wildlife management in those countries is often guided by foreign advisers who are unsympathetic to hunting and to the traditional nomadic culture. The human populations are increasing very rapidly and pastoral nomadism is being phased out for multiple reasons ... "progress," because nomads are independent minded and politically unreliable, because of overgrazing and competition between livestock and wildlife, etc. The game *has* been severely overhunted in most of those areas and the scope for traditional hunting practices is increasingly limited, both by prohibitions and by a real shortage of game. I don't think a great decline in *quality* of the tribal stock has yet taken place but it will be more or less inevitable if traditional hunting practices are phased out entirely. The people charged with conservation of vanishing wildlife are often opposed to hunting and not interested in preserving domestic dog breeds or antiquated lifestyles. The nomads themselves, quite understandably, don't want to be left out of progress and prosperity. The Bedouin cling to their freedom, but not to the very real hardships of their traditional life. There's nothing romantic about starvation.

Most of the people in our breed think it can be conserved adequately by paying careful attention to "pure breeding" (which means excluding "native" stock whose ancestry is not documented by a recognized registry) and to "correct type" as defined and maintained (supposedly) by the show ring and the written standard. Most of those people pay a certain amount of lip service to the original hunting function of the breed and cherish more or less romantic notions of how that was carried out ... supported by a certain amount of "historical" literature not unlike that surrounding the Arabian horse. Only a very small minority have actually been in the hunting field with their hounds. Those who do go into the field commonly experience a radical change in their ideas about the breed and even about points of conformation. It is, however, a sign of the times that all mention of hunting has been expunged from recent revisions of the standard.

Coursing competition, Western style (i.e. coursing live game, mainly hares) is a function test of sorts, but I would be the first to agree it is not equivalent to, nor a proper substitute for, the native practices. Like the show ring it fosters a competitive attitude and the desire to have the "best" hound or the most points, etc. There is of course rivalry among native hunters but it has a very different flavor from what we encounter in American coursing competition (I cannot really speak to the British version). At any rate the hound which truly excels in this context might or might not be the same one that would stand out after five years or so of hunting in the native context. The subset of hounds exposed to such testing in the Western world is, furthermore, a tiny fraction of the total population - at a guess around one percent.

There has been a recent upsurge of interest in coursing on the part of the "main stream" Saluki fancy. Along with others, I have done what I could to encourage this development, by persistently advocating function testing. I have run "coursing camps" for novices in the New Mexico desert. Actual participation is, however, still a drop in the bucket. The future of this activity is, moreover, threatened by animal rights activists who want to put an end to all hunting in the U.K. and to any use of dogs in hunting in this country.

So perhaps it is totally quixotic of me to attempt to maintain our breed in a foreign country, under circumstances so different from those under which it arose and persisted for so long. I do not see any reasonable alternative to trying, however. Perhaps more than any other, this breed has persisted in very different climates, in the hands of very different groups of people, and used for the pursuit of many very different kinds of game. In spite of all the diversity which has arisen during this long and variegated history, the basic type has remained stable and recognizable. So perhaps it is not, after all, utterly unreasonable to hope it will also survive on these foreign shores.

The real best hope for survival of the authentic Saluqi would be for hunters in the native countries to band together and implement a game management program which included traditional hunting (but not Western-style shows or formal coursing competitions) as one of its objectives. The realities of most of those countries are, however, that only the government can take initiatives of that kind. The formation of private clubs or societies is actively discouraged, if not actually prohibited. Such a scheme has indeed recently been proposed to one of the most important governments concerned. They (or perhaps their Western environmental advisers) were not interested.

Realistically we can expect these things to survive as "folklore" ... there are already official organizations in some Arab countries charged with preserving cultural traditions, including falconry, hunting, camel husbandry... but whether that will suffice to maintain the genetic integrity of an entire breed population, is another question altogether. I have my doubts.

A footnote on terminology: "Saluqi" is a transliteration of the name by which these hounds are known wherever Arabic is spoken. The same hounds are called "Tazi" in regions of Turkish or Iranian speech, including the vast expanse of Central Asia. The Arabic name "Saluqi" has given rise to the Western names "Saluki" (used by the British for imports mainly from the Middle East) and "Sloughi" (used by the Dutch, French etc. for imports mainly from North Africa, but also from the Middle East) which in Western practice have come to denote slightly different "breeds." The Arabs make no such distinction and indeed the native hounds, in the respective regions to which these names are thought to refer, are not different enough that they could reliably be distinguished. Their Western derivatives have, predictably, become somewhat more differentiated from each other, although there is still a great deal of overlap in phenotype. Our own hounds are mainly of Saudi Arabian derivation and so wear the "Saluki" label in the West.

The hounds known to Westerners as "Azawakhs" represent a rather more distinctive Saharan phenotype. They are still called "Saluqi" by Arab tribes in their area of origin. In the non-Arabic language of their principal breeders, the Touareg, now scattered and decimated in the wake of a genocidal civil war, they had a complex nomenclature expressing both the quality of the hound and the degree of confidence in the purity of its ancestry. The name "Azawakh" is derived from a geographical feature (the Wadi Azouag) of their homeland and is not used by any locals, except those instructed by Europeans, to refer to hounds. The ones bred by Europeans are very striking, but this is due at least in part to selection of particular, extreme phenotypes among the range found in the region of origin.

It is to be expected that the Russians will insist on having the "Russian Tazi" (phenotypically indistinguishable from "Salukis" of the northern parts of the Middle East) recognized as a distinct Russian breed, although these hounds are not native to Russia at all, but rather to several of the former Soviet subject states in Central Asia, especially the now independent countries of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.

The enthusiasts of these various breeds maintain fervently, of course, that each is entirely distinct and could never be mistaken for any of the others. Some of the more fanatical even claim there is no historical or genetic relationship among them, or that the presently observable geographic variation represents the mixture of originally pure breeds by ignorant natives. In the next breath they will say their breed is defined by its written standard, forgetting that all those standards are products of the 20th century and the hounds have been around much longer than that ... several thousand years according to most accounts.

Whether all this fragmentation of the gene pool is desirable is, at least, open to some debate. There is merit in preserving the distinctive features of local populations, but doing so on the basis of very small samples from each one has obvious disadvantages, as also does (IMO) the application of the "pure breed" model of rigorously separated gene pools, as well as the general practice of "defining" each "breed" in terms of written standards, of questionable accuracy, which anyway are largely limited to describing the appearance of the animal.

This I believe was the core of Pat's original question. The most intractable aspect of the problem, for many if not most of the old working breeds, is that the original functions and circumstances which produced and refined them are rapidly disappearing. In an increasingly overpopulated and regimented world it is becoming more and more difficult to find opportunities to test their function in ways even approximating the original.

The other problems I touched on ... breed nationalisms, gene pool isolation, inadequate or biased sampling, conformation fetishes and myths, mystical belief in the value of written standards, etc. ... could all be addressed by enlightened owners and breeders, but I don't see any great eagerness, on the part of the "pure bred dog" fancy, to tackle these issues.

I hope I'm wrong.

The AKC Saluki Parent Club has voted overwhelmingly in favor of opening the studbook to "desert bred" imports.

The AKC has followed up by recognizing the SPDBS (Society for the Perpetuation of Desert Bred Salukis) as a Domestic Registry.  John Burchard, Ph.D. serves on the board of Directors of the SPDBS.

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