Abu Dhabi: There are 800 pure Arabian Salukis (tall slender dogs of a silky coated breed) across the UAE that continue to grow in number with the help of one man whose passion and hobby towards the desert hounds was inherited since birth.

The hunting hounds have been around for more than 7,000 years BC; their country of origin is the Arabian Peninsula, Egypt, Syria and Jordan.

Salukis come in two varieties - the smooth, known as Al Hess, with short silky fur all over its body - and the Feathered, known as Al Reashi. This refers to the long silky fur fringes on the ears, tail and rear of the limbs.

Hamad Ganem Al Ganem opened his eyes to find salukis in his home. His admiration towards the hound kept increasing, till he decided to devote his whole life to salukis through putting together a saluki family tree.

Great loyalty

"I register a pedigree, give advice to saluki owners regarding breeding and add original saluki breeds onto the family tree. I make sure there is no other mix or breed so that we know who the hound belongs to - the mother, father and grandparents. Anyone with a saluki across the UAE must register through our centre first," stressed Al Ganem, Director, Breeder and Registrar General of the Arabian Saluki Centre.

Statistics show that ten per cent of salukis are owned by expatriates living in the UAE, 70 per cent are owned by Emirati families and 30 per cent of people show no interest or knowledge towards the hound, said Al Ganem.

Salukis play an important role in the Arabian hunting cultural heritage. "Bedouins in the desert have been breeding salukis for thousands of years due to their exceptional stamina, intelligence, loyalty, and would never hunt unless accompanied by their master. They catch rabbits, jerboas, wolves and deer."

Before the inauguration of the Arabian Saluki Centre in the year 2000, Al Ganem used to raise the hounds in his own farm house.

"Saluki owners used to come over to my farm and ask for my advice about breeding and registering their hounds. I decided to open a centre to offer them more guidance and care. I don't consider this my job, it's a hobby and my life, I spend all my time with those hounds and helping advising owners on how to handle them," said the hound expert.

A saluki is ready to start practising hunting and exercising after turning 12 months. At four years, the hound can start to hunt. "We don't train salukis to kill, even though they are capable of that. We train them to catch their prey and let it go. They have a great temperament, and are patient with children," added Al Ganem.

Sumaya Viethen, Personal Assistant at the centre feels that salukis can be compared to cats more than dogs. "Salukis walk like cats, are smart like a fox, have a sharp eye and a fast reaction like a gazelle, yet are gentle and warm," she said.

The first saluki left the Middle East and reached the West during the 19th century after an English gentleman took home a saluki with him.

"Salukis are desert dogs, I don't believe they survive very well in the west; instead of living up to 21 years, their maximum age span is around 13 years in the Europe," said Viethen.

Plenty of exercise

Gulf News recently spoke to a number of saluki owners at the Abu Dhabi Exhibition Centre, during the Saluki Beauty Competition. We learnt that saluki owners agree to a standardised lifestyle for their hounds.

Most saluki owners pick out an Arabic name for their hounds; make sure their salukis stay in shape and exercise daily; and are taught to hunt their prey without harming it.

Mohammad Ahmad's two salukis took part in the beauty competition. Four-year-old Lahag (black and white coat) won first prize and Sarab (sandy coloured coat), four, even though won in previous competitions got forth place this year.

"There were so many beautiful salukis this year so the competition was fierce. I do all I can to train my three salukis so that they stay in good shape and compete in the yearly saluki beauty competition," said Ahmad who is a university student.

Ali Awad Al Badi's hound Qanas won second place. "I have two other salukis but Qanas is the closest to my heart, he's very smart and is extremely fast while hunting for rabbits," said the owner, who makes sure he walks his dog long distances on daily basis.

"We walk after sunset every day, and sometimes I make him run behind my car. Gaining muscle for a saluki is vital." Mohammad Masood trains Abla, a three-year-old saluki everyday.

"I feed Abla twice a day, once in the morning, once in the late afternoon. She eats biscuits with milk, eggs twice a week, chicken once a week and meat once a week," said the trainer. Abla has won second place in the competition during the past two years.