If you’ve ever gone on a safari in Africa your guide has probably gone to great lengths to make sure you see “The Big Five”. They are a lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and Cape buffalo. Somehow that phrase took off years ago and has caused many a giraffe, zebra and hippo to suffer from self-esteem issues. Some say The Big Five refers to the animals people used to prize the most when they went hunting and others say it’s just a clever marketing slogan. We don’t care who’s right.
But in the Bedouin culture of Arabia they have their own Big Four which are less sought after by eager tourists and who don’t even seem to employ a marketing firm so we’re here to present them to you.
If you aren’t familiar with Bedouins they are ancient nomadic desert-living tribes in the Arabian Peninsula. They lived, and still do in some cases, in harsh environments with few resources, little education and no iPhones. OK, chances are they have iPhones but the rest is true. Bedouins date back as far as 5,000 to 7,000 years B.C. and have long-held traditions that were basically all born of necessity.
OK, yes, these are also pictures, of photographs this time, taken by Peter Samuels but they show the beauty of the dogs better than our attempts did.
Salukis, back in the early times when Bedouins all lived in deserts and did not have Whole Foods or even Carrefours they had to try to find meat in an environment that was not exactly conducive to that activity. But they soon discovered that Salukis, one of the oldest breeds of dogs in the world, could go out and catch something for dinner. For the most part the Salukis brought home hares, gazelles, rabbits, deer and the male Salukis sometimes also brought home a bag of Doritos.
Salukis hunt their prey using sight, not scent, which is unusual and makes it important you don’t get a Saluki that needs glasses. (All that dust in the desert…). In our exhaustive research on Google we learned that supposedly the Holy Q’uran frowns on having dogs in the home. But Salukis are the only breed that has been given a tacit, if not actually written legal document, granting an exception.
When in Abu Dhabi we went to the Saluki Center which is near the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital. While in the waiting room we saw quite a few posters for Saluki beauty contests! Apparently in a culture where you can’t tart the women up and parade them around like in Western countries you can show off your dog. These are major events as are the races some of the Salukis participate in. The ones in the beauty contests must be Arabian pure-bred Salukis – this is not a diversity program!
The center actually has a small swimming pool for the dogs to enjoy and an area where dogs are trained and taken to be exercised. They’re fed a diet that consists mainly of milk, water, olives and dates so we didn’t stay for lunch.
You’ve surely heard the old real estate mantra of “location, location, location.” The Bedouins hadn’t heeded that so they needed an animal who could deal with the situation. Camels got the job! They were used as beasts of burden to carry goods or people, as sources of milk (often a family’s only source of protein for long periods of time), as dinner at weddings and as hide used to make bags and tents. It must have been nerve-racking being a camel and not knowing if you were going to be providing a glass of milk or the hide for a tent but they aren’t animals who seem to spend much time pondering their fate.
In present day Arabia camels have remade themselves with new careers much like Salukis – they enter beauty pageants and races. Seriously.
Falcons are very high-ranking members of society in Arab cultures. We had a fascinating visit to the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital and wrote a post to tell you all about it so won’t repeat ourselves here.
The main point is that once again Bedouins needed to outsource their food gathering and discovered that falcons are fast, powerful hunters. The falcons were captured when making their annual winter migration across the Arabian peninsula, kept and trained for hunting and then released again before the summer months so they could migrate and survive. For thousands of years falcons brought food to families, now they mostly bring status.
Falconry is “the sport of kings” (read that somewhere) and literal fortunes are spent on falcons, their medical care, their housing and even their air travel where they have their own passports and seats on the planes! They are especially prized in the United Arab Emirates. It is no longer legal to use them to hunt there so they’re flown to Pakistan or Morocco or Jordan for hunting outings.
The last of the Big Four is also an ancient breed. They were bred by Bedouins for thousands of years and all pure-bred Arabian horses have lineage that can be traced to one of 5 bloodlines. (There’s a lot of that sort of thing in Appalachia too but it isn’t viewed as favorably.)
Once again even though these are beautiful animals they were chosen for other qualities. They have a lot of stamina and endurance (as did the character Dirk Diggler portrayed by Mark Whalberg in Boogie Nights). The Arabian mares in particular were great for riding into battle because they didn’t “nicker” which is apparently a horse way of shouting “Here we come” and alerting horses on the side of the bad guys. (Note that only the mares could keep a secret.)
The Arabian horses would ride into battle so Bedouins could attack enemy tribes, capture their herds of animals and add to the conquering Bedouins’ wealth. Makes you wonder if that horse Vladimir Putin rode bare-chested (Vladimir, not the horse) was an Arabian horse. (You can research that question.)
We hope this information proves useful if you get on Jeopardy and pick the category “Bedouin Animals.” Be sure to give us a shout-out if you win!
Otherwise go on pretending as if you don’t know we exist. We understand.