Feathered North-African Sloughis
Mr. Clark’s fantasy or a fact forgotten by everybody else?
Dr. Bernd Fritzsch
© Fritzsch 2008

 A friend forwarded to me the 2007 issue of the Society for the Perpetuation of the Desert Bred Saluki’s Newsletter in which I found an amazing article by Mr. Clark. 
 Mr. Clark presents a painting of what is clearly a feathered hound but accompanied by a person dressed in such a way that a tribal association with North-Africa or any other tribe is next to impossible.  Mr. Clark goes on to present some text translations suggesting that the author of the book with this image, Mr. Siber, may indicate that Sloughi and Saluki coexisted. For example it is stated: “The breed of feathered Sighthound (Sloughi)* that is widespread in the whole of the Maghrib and in Morocco, namely with the Arabs in the southwest of Beled-el-Machsin, is not found among the Berbers.” Perhaps important to remember here is that the Sloughi is the hound of the Berbers, and the Saluki the hound of the Bedouins. Obviously, in my interpretation, Siber indicates that Berbers, which are the native people of North-Africa, do not have the feathered variety.  This is consistent with numerous publications around that time.

 Mr. Clark presents also the well known drawing by Pierre Mégnin (a better reproduction can be found in a recent book by Dr. D. Crapon de Caprona (The Sloughi: “1852-1952”) which shows a much more substantial hound as appropriate for the Sloughi around 1900.  Clearly, these hounds were as different then as they are now and ear feathering is not needed to make a distinction except for lay-people unfamiliar with hounds.

 Despite these textual inconsistencies and the obvious structural differences, Mr. Clark has a different interpretation of this text and concludes: “So, if the feathered variety was a commonplace, how has it apparently become extinct in a little over a century?” I presume that the question properly phrased should be:  Why has the feathered variety of the “Sloughi” that was so common in North-Africa until late in the 19th Century disappeared very fast leaving only the now well recognized smooth Sloughi by the early 60's, at the time Przezdziecki wrote his book about these hounds.  Mr. Clark goes on: “Przezdziecki had a very simple explanation for the disappearance of feathered hounds from North Africa after the Arab migrations: “under the African sky, within a few generations, all Salukis had opted for the shorter coat.” That strikes me as improbable. If climate should have such an effect, it should also apply to other parts of the Arab world such as Arabia with a similar climate, but feathered hounds exist there quite happily to the present day.

 As a Sloughi owner, breeder, handler for over 20 years I was dumbfounded that in all the serious books I have read about North Africa and the Sloughi none of this was ever mentioned.  I was gratified to learn how nicely Mr. Clark debunked the apparent logical flaw in Mr. Przezdziecki’s argument:  same temperature, same selection pressure.  I fully agree with Mr. Clark that the idea of Mr. Przezdziecki has no explanation value.  However, Mr. Clark goes on to provide what he believes is an explanation for his problem: “Thus, if a bitch carrying the recessive feathered gene were mated with a carrier of the same gene and threw a feathered pup or if she threw a mutant feathered pup, it was clear that the breeder would cull it.”  Further, Mr. Clark concludes that: “it is possible that if there were any remnants of the feathered variety they would have been bred out or eliminated.”  As a trained biologist I was as surprised by this “explanation” as Mr. Clark apparently was by Mr. Przezdziecki’s explanation. 

In order to understand my surprise let us assume that the total number of Sloughis given by Mr. Clark as populating the area of Morocco (210 in 1970) is correct. We would need to increase this number to include the Sloughis of the countries of Algeria, Tunisia and Libya.  So, a number of approximately 1000 might be appropriate.  Of these, according to Mr. Clark’s belief, about 500 were feathered at the turn of the 19th century.  It is nearly impossible to completely eradicate such a high frequency of feathering in such a short time (say 70 years or 35 generations) even if every feathered pup was killed.  Apparently Mr. Clark uses the words ‘recessive gene’ but does not understand the Mendelian inheritance that comes with it.  For example, if one crosses a feathered “Sloughi” with a smooth that carries the recessive gene for “feathering”, 50% of the offspring would be feathered and culled, the other 50% would be smooth and be retained.  All of these smooth dogs would, however, be carriers for the recessive gene for feathering.  If one now crosses two of these smooth offspring, about 25% of their pups would be feathered and 75% would be smooth.  Unfortunately, 2/3 of those smooth Sloughis would again carry the recessive gene for feathering and thus, in effect, not much would have been achieved in terms of eradicating the recessive gene for feathering by culling for two generations.  Continuing along that line would simply not result in eradicating the recessive gene in such a short time as recessive carriers would only become apparent in hindsight (cross of two carriers lead to feathered offspring).

Could the feathering gene have been diluted out by crossing non-carriers with carriers?  That is an outside possibility, but very unlikely because if a carrier had pups with a non-carrier, those pups would have a 50% chance of being carrier without showing a single feathered pup in their offspring.  Clearly, culling feathered pups would hardly affect the gene frequency for feathering in such a population as it would be a rare event.  Such an approach would dilute feathering only to the extent that a mating of two carriers would be fairly uncommon.  However, the remaining carriers would not be discovered or eradicated unless they happen to breed to each other to generate feathered offspring and losing a feathered gene just by chance in every pocket of the geographically widespread population of Sloughis across the vast space of North-Africa is a nearly impossible scenario.

Further, one wonders how such a consistent slaughtering of Sloughis would be orchestrated, assuming that indeed somehow the Berbers of entire North-Africa have changed their attitude to their endemic hound within a short time?  After all, according to the story told by General Daumas in 1852, the Sloughi was and is the pride of these people and virtually all serious images published of the North African Sloughi in France over nearly 100 years (1852-1952) show a smooth hound.  So, what could have happened, and when should that have happened, to change across a vast area of land the size of all of Europe the attitude of all people and forced them to cull all feathered hounds?  Given that these areas were during that time frame in rather different political situations (occupied by France or Italy or having their own king), Mr. Clarke should at least provide a plausible rationale why the Berber should have had such a radical shift in their attitude toward their hound across very different societies.
In the absence of any plausible explanation why this attitude change happened in the Berber people and in the light of plenty of data showing only a smooth hound as the North African Sloughi one should perhaps explore the alternative scenario: feathered hounds, if at all present in North Africa, were a rarity recognized as foreign by the native Berber tribes throughout the known history of the Sloughi and likely never contributed substantially to the Sloughi gene pool.  Indeed, when one extracts the data of the supplemental volume of Dr. Savolainen’s recent paper, it clearly shows that there is no close genetic kinship between Sloughis and Salukis (see  Mitochondrial DNA Sloughi versus Saluki   for details).

In light of all of these already existing genetic data that debunk Mr. Clark’s ideas, one wonders where Mr. Clark and Mr. Przezdziecki’s obsession comes from that Sloughis should be as feathered as Salukis?  Maybe this issue did not start at all in North Africa but in Europe?  We do in fact know that a Saluki import from Saudi-Arabia was bred into Mr. Przezdziecki’s Sloughis and, given the high level of inbreeding in this specific line, it is possible that indeed feathered pups were born and selected against through culling.  However, if this story which has been told for a long time in Europe is true, it is certainly a problem limited to a very small group of “Sloughi” breeders (for more detail on this please visit  The Sloughiman's website, Understanding Sloughi Pedigrees ) and generalizing this to include the traditional breeding by the North African Berber people is clearly wishful thinking that is not based on any tangible evidence. 

It would perhaps be appropriate if Mr. Clark bounced his own, scientifically dubious ideas off somebody who is more familiar with genetics and can help him understand the Hardy-Weinberg and Mendelian rules taught today to junior Biology students.  Even reading the remarkable insights published by Mr. Clark’s fellow countryman, Charles Darwin, 150 years ago would have helped Mr. Clark understand the implausibility of his idea.  In addition, a simple mathematical exercise could have exposed the limitations of his idea as clearly as Mr. Clark exposed the limitations of Mr. Przezdziecki’s idea. 

In conclusion, it appears that the many books I have read were indeed right and the North African Sloughi has been and is always smooth without any need for culling non-existing feathered pups throughout North-Africa.  I love my Sloughis and would have never been able to cull a puppy and those people we know from North-Africa feel the same way.  Fortunately for me, the lines of North African Desert Bred Sloughis and European Sloughis we have do not carry the gene for feathering as we have known from the beginning of our breeding program where this gene came from and have stayed away from these mixed breed hounds proposed by some to present “Sloughis.”


M.-D.Crapon de Caprona (2007) “The Sloughi 1852-1952”, Signature Printing, USA. 

* Note: the words sloughi/saluki mean Sighthound in Arabic. They have been given to two different breeds by the Europeans, the Sloughi being the smooth north african Sighthound, the Saluki being the feathered persian Sighthound.


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