A Dying Breed.doc - A Dying Breed Lynsey Addario for The New York Times Herd Extinct The Ankole cow could disappear within 50 years By ANDREW RICE

A Dying Breed.doc - A Dying Breed Lynsey Addario for The...

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A Dying Breed Lynsey Addario for The New York Times Herd Extinct: The Ankole cow could disappear within 50 years. By ANDREW RICE Published: January 27, 2008 GERSHOM MUGIRA COMES from a long line of cattle-keepers. His people, the Bahima, are thought to have migrated into the hilly grasslands of western Uganda more than a thousand years ago, alongside a hardy breed of longhorns known as the Ankole. For centuries, man and beast subsisted there in a tight symbiotic embrace. Mugira’s nomadic ancestors wandered in search of fresh pasture for their cattle, which in turn provided them with milk. It is only within the last few generations that most Bahima have accepted the concept of private property. Mugira’s family lives on a 500-acre ranch, and one sunny day in November, the wiry 26-year-old showed me around, explaining, with some sadness but more pragmatism, why the Ankole breed that sustained his forebears for so many generations is now being driven to extinction. Skip to next paragraph Enlarge This Image
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A first-generation crossbreed: Ankole cow bred with Holstein. Enlarge This Image Lynsey Addario for The New York Times Ankoles play an important role among Uganda’s pastoral people, but they produce much less milk than imported breeds. As we walked down the sloped valley path that led to a watering hole, we found a few cows lolling beneath a flat-topped acacia. They looked like the kind of cattle you might encounter in Wisconsin: plump and hornless creatures with dappled black-and-white coats. Mugira, a high- school graduate, was wearing a pair of fashionably baggy jeans and spiffy white sneakers. To a modern African like himself, he said, the most desirable cattle were the American type: the Holsteins. In recent decades, global trade, sophisticated marketing, artificial insemination and the demands of agricultural economics have transformed the Holstein into the world’s predominant dairy breed. Indigenous animals like East Africa’s sinewy Ankole, the product of centuries of selection for traits adapted to harsh conditions, are struggling to compete with foreign imports bred for maximal production. This worries some scientists. The world’s food supply is increasingly dependent on a small and narrowing list of highly engineered breeds: the Holstein, the Large White pig and the Rhode Island Red and Leghorn chickens. There’s a risk that future diseases could ravage these homogeneous animal populations. Poor countries, which possess much of the world’s vanishing biodiversity, may also be discarding breeds that possess undiscovered genetic advantages. But farmers like Mugira say they can’t afford to wait for science. And so, on the African savanna, a competition for survival is underway. Mugira was just about to tell me what made the Holsteins so valuable when suddenly, Dr. Grace Asiimwe, a veterinarian and my guide through western Uganda’s ranchlands, shouted, “The Ankoles are coming!” In the distance, I glimpsed a bobbing line of white horns swooping down the hillside. Without a word, Mugira dashed down the dirt path, hopped over a fallen tree branch and disappeared
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around the side of a huge weed-covered anthill. “He has to keep them separated,” Asiimwe told
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