Updated: Jan 24, 2021
Azawakh, called Idi in their countries of origin, are named after the valley they come from. The Azawakh Valley is located in parts of Mali and Niger, the dogs can also be found in Burkina Faso.Particularly with the droughts and unrest the region has experienced in the past several decades, now their range is ever shifting. Azawakh are the dogs of thenomadic tribes of the area. The Tuareg people are the most famous for having azawakh. After the Tuareg the biggest populations of the breed reside with the Fulani, Hausa, and Bella. With the conflict in the region, the breed's population is shrinking, even as the population in the Western world rises. It's estimated that only a couple thousand still exist in the region.
Even today, there are still rustic type azawakh in the region. Some even have upright ears, but they also have the long legs and short body of the typical azawakh. There are no other breeds in the region for the dogs to have been mixed with, so while there is wide phenotype variation at times, they're all azawakh. I've spoken before about this being a land race breed with little human intervention and that truly is the case.
The format of the dogs has existed little changed for thousands of years. It's likely that as the region grew harsher and game became less common azawakh's primary role began to switch from typical sighthound hunter to camp and flock guardian. I wish we had more definitive information about the origins of the breed because the history of Azawakh cannot be separated from the groups of people with which they lived. Both their form and function is a product of their harsh environment and the wide variety of needs the nomads had.
The history of Azawakh in the west began with Renato Pairigi in the late sixties and early seventies. He bred several litters in Mali and then later more in France. In the seventies two other azawakh were imported to France. This resulted in a total of seven foundation dogs of the French lines. Around the same time that the French lines were being established, Dr. Pecar of then Yugoslavia imported a dog and a bitch he was gifted with from the Menaka region in Mali. Shortly after, they imported a third dog from Burkina Faso.
With this limited gene pool, it didn't take long before health issues and infertility began to rise. Coefficient of incest percentages were routinely in the forties and frequently higher. Initially when Azawakh were brought to Europe, there was a marked rise in the number of puppies in each litter. Most attribute this to an increase in overall nutrition for the dogs.
However, that increase in litter size quickly began to level off and then decrease with the high levels of in breeding. Additionally, epilepsy, particularly in the Yugoslavian lines, was running rampant through the breed. Even today, epilepsy is common.However, that increase in litter size quickly began to level off and then decrease with the high levels of in breeding. Additionally, epilepsy, particularly in the Yugoslavian lines, was running rampant through the breed. Even today, epilepsy is common.
Initially Azawakh were registered as Tuareg Sloughi, a variation of Sloughi. A few litters were interbred though this was uncommon and Azawakh were shown as Sloughis for a limited time. However, working a few years a separate standard was established for Azawakh.
Eventually, the French and Yugoslavian lines were mixed which temporarily revitalized the
breed. However, the gene pool was still extremely limited and these improvements in health were of a limited nature. Finally in the mid 1980s three additional dogs were imported to France, which create a larger gene pool and more long term improvements. However, problems still persisted. As with many other breeds, those dogs successful in the ring (particularly Kel Tarbanassen Firhoun) were bred many times falling prey to popular sire syndrome and creating a genetic bottleneck. Between Firhoun, his brother, and cousin they sired a dizzying 32 litters. Considering Azawakh were and still are a rare breed with a small population, this was a huge percentage of the population.
Some in Europe were aware of the dangers that these breeding practices were bringing to the breed and so the Association Burkinabe Idi du Sahel was founded. Their stated goal was to find useable breeding stock within the countries of origin to diversify and stabilize the Azawakh genepool. Between the years of 1995 and 2008 alone, ABIS brought over 50 dogs back to both Europe and the United States. Some of the imported specimens were of lovely type and were incorporated happily into various breeding programs, even by some of the skeptics. Other dogs had problems intype and while ABIS argued that the contribution of new foundation stock outweighed the problems of lack of type, there were many critics (and there still are to this day). In addition to ABIS, other European breeders went to great lengths to locate and bring back dogs.
ABIS also had fascinating findings in regard to markings and coloration of Azawakh within the region. The original founding dogs in both lines, with one the exception, were from the Menaka area of the Azawakh Valley. The colors those dogs represented were only red and sand/fawn. Over time, brindle came to be accepted within the FCI standard. It was thought for a long time that dogsoutside of those colors only represented 1% of Azawakh. However, ABIS' initial findings seemed to disprove this belief and their findings have only been confirmed further with each expedition.
These findings run parallel with the general beliefs and breeding practices for Azawakh within the United States. It is for this reason that the American standard allow all colors and has no DQs within the breed, in a marked departure from the FCI standard. The first Azawakh were brought to the United States in the mid-80s. One of the first litters bred in the United States was bred by Gisella Cook-Schmidt using a desert bred male (Mali) and a bitch of French lines (Al Hara's Hiba). From the very beginning, desert imports have been fundamental to many American breeding programs. Like some European breeders, Xanadu Farms and Idiyaat-es-Sahel have both gone to considerable expense and danger to continue importing desert bred azawakh to preserve the breed as they have existed in countries of origin.
The breed existed in the United States for seven years before being recorded in the AKC Foundation Stock Service. It became eligible for companion and performance sports in 2002 and entered the Miscellaneous class June 30, 2011. As of January 1 of 2019 the breed has received full recognition. There continues to be some concern from breed preservationists that this recognition may hinder or harm the breed's unique conformation and temperament, though most US breeders I have talked to are more concerned with widening our gene pool and preserving genetic diversity.
Resources: History of the Breed- https://azawakh-czech.estranky.cz/…/mvdr.-gabriele-meissen-…
History of the Sahara- https://www.smithsonianmag.com/…/what-really-turned-sahara…/