Saturday, 11 April 2009

Sheep dogs in Tusheti

photo: Y Z Ograk

The Kangal

During our travels across the Carpathians, Balkans, and the Caucuses we often came across some magnificent sheep dogs. With their ears clipped (apparently in case of a fight with a wolf,) and often standing as high as a mastiff. These kings of the mountain slopes appeared an indestructible beast. Fearless and totally at one with their hostile environment. I had never seen anything like them in the UK and presumed they were just the local sheep dog until I discovered this breed comes from the central Anatolian plateau. This is a vast, inhospitable expanse of mountain and steppe. It’s large enough to accommodate the British Isles three times over and only sparsely populated. The climate ranges from 40C in summer to -30C in winter, or even lower in the eastern mountains. Grazing in this region is too sparse and the terrain and weather too harsh for cattle, hence the mainstay of the economy and village life is sheep rearing and the Kangal sheep dog plays a significant part in that process.

We later discovered the Kangal is often used in regions where shepherds live a transhumant life, where whole flocks, and often most of the population of the village, migrate to summer pastures (in Turkey this is called yaylalar) and back with the changing seasons. Life is exceptionally hard for the Turkish shepherd, and his livelihood depends to a great extent on his one valuable asset – his dog. It is hardly surprising the Kangal has been traded for centuries by Turkish shepherds and they have found their way across borders into similar inhospitable regions. In Tusheti the Kangal is frequently found although many are cross bred and lack the stature of the Turkish pure bred. If you come across one be sure to keep your stick with you and point it at him .While you are on his turf you are not his friend and understandably he will not rest until you have passed his flock by.
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1 comment:

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