The History of the Taigan

a nomadic sighthound from Kyrgysztan

Many of the richest stories in history stem from a less than logical legend, rooted in the emotional pivot humans experienced when they encountered this animal. Here is the legend of Taigans, descended from a mountain to save nomadic humans and change their world forever.

Legend has it that an egg was stolen from a mountain eagle, Kumai, which brought this magical dog/bird breed to the nomadic hunters of Kyrgyzstan. The hatched dog demonstrated fast speed, tenacity, and a fierce attachment to its people and pack. The Taigan became the greatest guard dog they could ask for. This original Taigan saved the tribe of nomads by dispersing a pack of wolves that was attacking the tribe’s cattle.

Is the Taigan a predecessor for other breeds?

More interestingly, the area from which this legend comes from, the Tian-Shan as well as the Altai Mountains, is a point where 5 countries have borders. Taking a look at the other breeds that have come out of this region, as well as other breeds that are designated as the “oldest breeds in the world” there is a serious discussion to be had on the chances that the Taigan is the predecessor to many of the modernized dog breeds we have today.

kaichitravel.com

If the Taigan is so old, where are they all?

Here is where luck simply fell into my lap. I’m not sure I would have ever heard of this breed unless my future MIL was Kyrgyz. Not only is there a sense of gatekeeping in the Taigan community, history has not been kind to the breed. Those that remain are truly treasured by those who own them. Besides their value as a hunter, the soul that these dogs carry is unmatched by any other breed I have met. Their eyes have a depth similar to that of staring at the embers in a fire, of ocean waves crashing into giant boulders. They are pure, honest, unpredictable, and unwaveringly loyal. They are full of their instincts, curiosity, and playfulness, they require an environment that understands them and their needs. Thus, the first reason why you may have never heard of a Taigan: the Kyrgyz people don’t want you to.

Traditionally, the Taigan was revered in the Kyrgyz customs. The dogs had an irreplaceable role in the nomadic lifestyle, and owning one came by two options, being gifted, or stolen. Often, a Taigan puppy was given as a wedding gift (Simon, if you’re reading this, take notes). The best Taigan puppies were rarely gifted or sold, kept away from prying eyes in the mountains.

And then came the fall of the USSR. Kyrgyzstan began to experience modernization, cities began to pop up, eliminating the nomadic lifestyle so many were used to. Cattle and other farm animals were able to be protected in other methods, and the needs for the Taigan changed. The dogs who were almost always left unleashed, became regarded as strays, and their numbers began dwindling, and dwindling. Until 1964, when Professor S.A. Miniukhin wrote the first breed standard which was accepted by the Soviet Union. Then, in 1991, Kyrgyzstan gained back its independence, and many people returned to their nomadic way of living. Ever since then, estimates range between as little as 300 to 1000 Taigans left in the world.

Interestingly, following this, the demand for Taigans grew in a new category, the upper class who wanted Taigans as a status symbol, and as a representation of the nation.

In 2020, the Kyrgyz government submitted a proposal to include Taigans in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List. This would designate the Taigan breed as a protected national historic breed and would eliminate any exportation of these dogs until their population increased.

What role does the Western world play?

There are several kennels across the world that breed Taigans. Besides ourselves, there is one other breeder in all of North America. This leaves the Western world in a delicate position, where it can adopt the mentality of the Kyrgyz, to honour and treasure these dogs and only let those worthy of knowing them to meet them. I don’t hold these same beliefs, for one, seeing my future MIL love these dogs her whole life, never be able to imagine getting one out here in Canada, to successfully achieve that, to have a litter, to pass it onto her family, and bring so much wonder to those who have met a Taigan, I cannot believe that the benefit I have seen yet outweighs the risks.

Then, there is the factor of such dwindling numbers of Taigans, that it is a real possibility that this breed may go extinct, or will be bred out with other similar sighthounds and lose its individuality, or just as bad, to be entirely inbred. I know our standards are high, for dogs, for their care, and for their future. I truly hope to develop our Canadian corner of Taigans to be a pillar in the revival of the breed.