Survey: Local Livestock Breeds at Risk

Many of the world's indigenous livestock breeds are in danger of dying out as commercial breeds take over.

by Dani Yokhna

© Paulette Johnson
Rare-Breed Renaissance
Sue Weaver reports on the “the rare-breed renaissance” occurring in “Raising Rare Livestock Breeds” and tells us how to get started. Click to continue.

Also, American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC) recently made some positive changes to its 2007 Conservation Priority List (CPL) noting gains for Belted Galloway cattle, Heritage turkeys, Choctaw Pigs and others. For more about ALBC, click to continue.

Even as many small farmers in North America, Europe and elsewhere are taking an interest in raising traditional and rare livestock breeds (see sidebar “Rare-Breed Renaissance”), many of the developing world’s indigenous livestock breeds are in danger of dying out.

The cause: Commercially marketed animals bred for their high yields and short-term profitability are taking over.

According to the results of a survey spearheaded by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) with the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and other research groups, the loss of the animals could mean a loss of genetic resources that help animals overcome disease and drought, particularly in the developing world.

Local breeds–nearly 70 percent of which are found in the developing world–are often better suited to their environments than commercially bred animals.

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Survey Results
The survey, which includes mention of about 7,600 breeds of cattle, pigs, sheep, poultry and other animals in 169 countries, reports that:

  • 11% of the investigated breeds are now extinct (some having disappeared many decades ago),
  • 16% are currently at risk,
  • 38% are unthreatened, and
  • the security of the remaining 35% is unknown.

The Response
In response, policy-makers, breeders and livestock scientists representing 108 eight countries have agreed on an action plan to save endangered livestock breeds. In part, t
he plan aims to:

  • Create a global database of livestock breeds and their population levels.
  • Encourage countries to find ways of maintaining endangered stocks through sustainable use
  • Set up gene banks “as a backup system” in case breeds disappear, Beate Scherf of FAO’s Animal Genetic Resources Group, one of the main group involved.

The Most-Threatened Animals
Several examples of local livestock loss noted in the survey results:

  • The drought-hardy African Ankole cow is expected to be fully replaced by black-and-white Holstein-Friesians within the next 50 years. Holstein-Friesian cattle, the stereotypical black-and-white dairy cow, are now found in more than 120 countries throughout the world.
  • Red Maasai sheep are naturally resistant to intestinal parasites, but the introduction of Dorper sheep from South Africa has caused, in little more than 15 years, pure-bred Red Maasai to almost completely disappear.

Click to continue reading about the breeds involved in the survey at the ILRI website.

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