La vie des bêtes 

September 1974

Written by Jacques Hameline

(Translated by Susan Bamford, June 2006)

 

THE SLOUGHI

 

This noble sighthound of Asiatic origin is the traditional companion of the nomads of North Africa

 

The Sloughi rightly deserves its reputation of being the most intelligent of the sighthounds. Alongside the Afghan and the Persian, it is one of the three sighthound breeds originating from Asia; however it was the Arabs who turned it into that masterpiece of beauty and efficiency, bringing it with them when they conquered northern Africa. The Sloughi, in these areas therefore, little by little took the place of the local lupoid sighthound breeds with their pricked ears and upturned tails that we find portrayed in Saharan cave paintings from the Neolithic age and in the iconography from ancient Egypt. A dog built for speed as well as stamina, thoroughbred in outline and aristocratic in movement, the Sloughi – a smooth-coated and generally sand-coloured sighthound – is first and foremost a hunting animal, made for chasing the gazelle – hence its typically functional morphology.  Independent and proud, it is neither submissive nor docile.  In order to love it, one has to recognise and accept its free spirit and the need for independence that it has acquired as a result of being accustomed to living in wide open spaces.  Indeed, for many centuries, it has been the traditional companion of the nomads of Saudi Arabia and North Africa, who consider it to be "noble" ("el hor" in Arabic) as opposed to dogs known as "kelb" and considered despicable.

 

However, it so happens that this dog born to hunt is also excellent at guarding.  Mr. Robert Mauvy, current president of the Sloughi Club, tells how he has many times had the occasion in Africa to see Sloughis leave a choice spot that they were occupying under the tents to join in with the "kelb" and, alongside them, face up to an intruder, whether human or animal, who might be approaching the campsite, and then return in a dignified manner to watch over their masters again once everything had returned to order.

 

It was in the Middle Ages, at the time of the Crusades, that the Sloughi was first introduced into France. One can read that the Sloughi was frequently to be found, sculpted in marble or granite, at the feet of the reclining figures on tombstones although, in fact, these sighthounds resemble Greyhounds far more closely than Sloughis. It is a strange thing, but the Sloughi is relatively little represented in France where, however, it has no problem in becoming acclimatised. In fact, there is no doubt at all that a good number of breeds in existence today owe a fair amount to the Sloughi for their speed and for certain morphological characteristics. It can be found today in all areas of Islamic civilisation – from the Atlantic to the Persian Gulf, and in particular in sub-desert areas such as the Saharan borders of North Africa, Tripolitaine and Libya. It is also encountered in the Middle East, where it coexists with dogs of a similar morphology, but with longer hair and fringes on ears and tail – which are in fact Salukis. Showing itself affectionate only towards its master, indifferent towards strangers, terrible towards those whom it believes animated by bad intentions, it is in effect an excellent guardian. Although they adore the chase and wide open spaces, they also appreciate their comfort and adapt well to life in an apartment. The Sloughi is clean, quiet and above all superbly decorative.

 

exceptionally aristocratic

 

The [French] Sloughi Club (1) was founded in 1935, in Toulon, by Miss Turcot, a relative of the Concorde pilot. She was active in looking after it until the war in 1939, date at which Mr. Sénac-Lagrange took over from her as chairman, followed by Mr. Charles Duconte. At the club's last annual general meeting, there were one hundred and seventy members. According to the file of all dogs listed by the club, one will find no more than four hundred and fifty Sloughis in the whole of Europe, three hundred of which were in France. Only one hundred and fifty six are recorded in the stud book. Mr. Robert Mauvy, the club's chairman, has this to say: "The Sloughi's general appearance is that of an exceptionally aristocratic looking dog in its stature, its profile and its gait. Its musculature is lean and its tissues are extraordinarily fine. The head - long, fine and chiselled - is in proportion to the slenderness of the animal. Seen from the front, it widens outwards from the nose to the occipital bone. The cranium is harmoniously rounded where it falls towards the first cervical vertebrae between which is found a relatively pronounced depression as in all such elegant breeds. The parietals follow the line that curves away from front to back. The lips are fine and slanted, although covering the slight bulge of the canines. There must be a correct scissor bite as behoves an animal that grasps its prey while running. The eye is very beautiful, very dark, well framed in the socket, not bulging. Depending on the dog's feelings, its expression at rest can be distant, nostalgic just as much as it can be affectionate or indeed terrible. It is the contractions of the muscles that give this face its expression rather than the eye itself."

It appears alas, as deplored by Mr. Jean-Marie Devillard, the Club's secretary, that this magnificent breed is threatened with disappearance. "Sloughis, and above beautiful Sloughis, have become extremely rare, in Europe as well as their countries of origin. In France, for example, out of the some three hundred specimens that can still be found there, only a hundred or so are worthy of reproduction." The Sloughi's decline in North Africa is explained by the loss of its prestige status (it was a prerogative of noble families), but above all by the loss of its use for hunting. Indeed, hunting with Sloughis is in theory prohibited across North Africa. Such dogs are no longer jealously guarded as they were in earlier times - any that were seen roaming were slaughtered while any that escaped that fate tended to reproduce haphazardly, out in the wilds... Hence an impoverishment and inevitable degeneration of the breed.

There are however a few kernels of pure Sloughis still remaining in North Africa. That is the reason why the Club has just set up a network of correspondents in the three North African countries and in the Middle East. This network of correspondents makes it possible to collect observations made on Sloughis in these countries, on the different types encountered, on breeding methods, on types of food, on selection criteria. As Mr. Pérignon, member of the Club Committee, points out: "Such contacts and exchanges of information with the Sloughi's countries of origin are of fundamental importance since it would be aberrant to want to conduct French breeding in an autonomous manner - without organising exchanges of animals with such countries and without regularly replenishing the European population."

 

long distance runner

 

Deprived therefore of its atavistic activity - hunting - in the three North African countries that make up its area of dispersion, the Sloughi has maybe found a replacement activity in the form of competitive sports. Basically a long distance runner, the Sloughi can maintain a speed of 55 to 60 km/h. Sighthound racing enjoyed a certain vogue in France during the period between the two world wars. Although such events are still disputed, they do not provoke the same infatuation as then - plus it is now mainly Whippets and Greyhounds that take part. In Germany, however, Sloughis can still take their chances. They are much used on racetracks and have just been awarded their licence. However this is really only a replacement activity, since the sloughi is more a hunting dog than a racing dog. Still very close to nature despite thousands of years of domestication, the Sloughi - however noble he might be and totally devoid of servility - needs to survive. That is why the Club that watches over the breed is looking out for any well-intentioned people likely to help it in its task.

 

(1) [French] Sloughi Club, the only club affiliated to the Société Centrale Canine (French Kennel Club). Chairman: Mr. Robert Mauvy, Nueil-sous-Faye, 86200 Loudun. Secretary: Jean-Marie Devillard, 46, boulevard Desaix, 63200 Riom. Telephone Secretary's Office in Paris: 288.83.40 et 847.04.97.

 

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