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Papers presented at the Expert Consultation on FAO Programmes for the Preservation of Animal Genetic Resources (continue)


Kalle Maijala1

1 Agricultural Research Centre, Institute of Animal Production, 31600 Jokioinen, Finland (present address: Haapatie 13.D., 00780 Helsinki, Finland)

1. Introduction

The 10th Session of the FAO Committee on Agriculture (FAO, 1989) “urged FAO to devote new activities and technical support for accurate surveys, genetic classifications and risk status assessment as well as censuses” on animal genetic resources, and to “develop a World Watch List of endangered animal breeds as a support mechanism and early warning for member countries and encouraged FAO to update and publish this list regularly”. Such a list should (a) point out breeds approaching dangerously small population sizes; (b) give information for initiating preservation activities; and (c) aid governments in improved use of animal genetic resources. The list should be accessible for users at all times and published in an appropriate form.

This paper aims at discussing objectives of and alternative methods for creating and maintaining such a list. It will address questions on the information needed, ways of obtaining it, frequency of collecting and up-dating, criteria to be used in classifying breeds and for moving them from one category to another, ways of disseminating the information, time required in establishing the list, and ways of forming links between countries in preservation and utilization of breeds.

For wild life, Red Data Books (RDB) on species threatened with extinction have been published since 1966, and recently a new edition on animal species was published (IUCN, 1988). There is reason to consider to what extent this system, developed by several international organizations during two decades and used for wild species of living organisms, could be applied to breeds of farm animals. Standardisation of the systems might facilitate their application and dissemination among people in different countries, but the differences in objectives and applications may not make the standardisation easy.

In farm animals, several national and regional inventories have been made during the last two decades, serving as valuable sources of information and experience. “Many of them have aimed at collecting and documenting information needed for the above purposes. Among them are the European ones (Maijala et al., 1984; Maijala, 1987; Maijala and Simon, 1987, Simon, 1989b), on the basis of which the EAAP/FAO Global Data Bank on Animal Genetic Resources (GDB-AGR) was established (Simon, 1989a). The need now is to develop outputs from this data bank for utilization.

2. Needed information

The information collected in the surveys was planned to assist the decision-making of responsible governments and organizations, concerning the choice of populations for the purposes outlined below. The intention has been to make it possible to list breeds and strains on the basis of their risk status, characteristics, production systems and environments. The GDB-AGR thus greatly serves the needs of World Watch List for Endangered Livestock Breeds (WWL-ELB), but it can be discussed which parts of the information are essential for urgent actions.

2.1 Breeds or genes?

In farm animals, concern relates to measurable, economic traits of breeds and strains, even of individual genes, and to planned and controlled matings. These differences from wildlife have to be kept in mind in developing lists of endangered populations. For the present, most attention has been paid to conserving breeds and strains in their present form, but there is an increasing interest in the value of the breeds after selection. The improved communication and reproduction techniques have facilitated exchange of breeding material both between and within breeds, and rapid genetic changes within breeds. New genetic techniques have made it possible to identify, isolate and utilize individual genes. Animal breeders are interested in these genetic resources for present and future economic production. Documentation of individual genes will become topical in the 1990s, but the present discussion will concern breeds and strains and how one can group breeds together in conservation.

2.2 Information for choosing breeds for conservation

A choice for conservation is often necessary because of the great number of breeds in some areas, and of the limited resources available for conservation. The first European survey showed that there were about 1,300 “country populations” of five species and 700 different breeds, of which one third were considered endangered (Maijala et al., 1984). Thus, the criteria for choosing breeds for maintenance should be made clear. These are closely connected with the motives for conservation, described, for example, by Barker (1980), Maijala et al. (1984), Simon (1984), Bodo et al. (1984) and Maijala (1986), and come under the headings of population size, biological value, genetic status and ecological value.

2.2.1 Population size and its trends

Present population size and its recent trends determine the risk status, and the need for and kind of special conservation actions. Population size largely determines the levels of random genetic drift and inbreeding in the population both before and after conservation. The concept of effective population size (Ne) is important for understanding the effects of varying numbers of males and females and of varying family size on genetic drift variance and inbreeding. Experiments with small laboratory animals give good examples of these effects (Falconer, 1981). Figure 1 shows that the heterozygosity per generation starts to decrease with accelerating rate after Ne falls below 100, while Figure 2 shows that the standard deviation of gene frequency starts to increase rapidly after Ne falls below 30. The probability of saving individual alleles with low initial frequencies increases with sample size (Sirkkomaa, 1983). It is important to know the numbers of breeding animals of both sexes, as shown by Table 1.

Figure 1

Figure 1: Loss of heterozygosity per generation with varying effective population size according to Wright (1931).

Figure 2

Figure 2: Random drift of gene frequency due to change at different population sizes and gene frequencies.

Table 1: The importance of the male/female ratio for Ne.

No. of malesNe (in whole numbers) with varying numbers of females

Thus, 4 males + 4 females give the same Ne as 2 males + 100 females. Because of variations in fertility, family size, length of life, herd size etc, much higher numbers have been used for the number of females below which the population is considered endangered.

2.2.2 Value as a biological material

  1. Performance (overall performance, superiority in one component, versatility, temperament, heterosis or complementarity expectations in crosses, fertility, special characteristics).

  2. Adaptation to special environmental circumstances (climates, feeds, disease agents, water shortage, different day lengths, management systems, difficult terrains). Adaptability to extreme environmental conditions is especially important in tropical areas, found mainly in the developing countries where also about half of the ruminant farm animals are located.

2.2.3 Genetic status

  1. History and age as a separate breed.

  2. Geographical location and isolation. A long isolated population may have developed unique gene frequencies for several genes. Good examples are native Icelandic breeds (Adalsteinsson, 1981).

  3. Breed purity facilitates conservation and utilization of the valuable genetic qualities of the breed. A conventional requirement is that the influence of other populations does not exceed 20%. In the European survey in 1985, 52–75% had a pure breeding percentage of at least 80%, and only 25–44% in the different species were 100% bred pure (Maijala, 1987).

  4. Relationships within breed: gene frequencies, genetic relationships within the breed, degree of inbreeding (from analyses of pedigrees or of data on genetic polymorphisms).

  5. Relationships to other breeds, both endangered and unendangered (even in other countries), help in knowing which populations can be combined or deserve to be conserved separately. Information based on studies of polymorphisms, e.g. genetic distances between breeds (Nei, 1987), is desirable.

  6. Morphological uniqueness, in case information of blood polymorphisms is not available.

2.2.4 Ecological, cultural-historical and social value.

2.3 Information for choosing breeds for evaluation studies

In cases where the population appears promising in some respects, one may want to acquire the additional information by arranging evaluation experiments. Addresses are needed from where special information can be obtained. Information of the type referred to in Section 2.2 helps in finding out the promising candidate breeds for comparisons, provided there is information also of the environments and production systems, in which each candidate has proved itself useful.

2.4 Information for choosing breeds for efficient use

The information required for choosing breeds (Section 2.2) is also helpful in evaluating the usefulness of a breed in the present conditions of an area, either in pure breeding or in crossing with the local breed.

2.5 Discussion of alternatives

The aspects mentioned above are needed in planning conservation, evaluation and utilization of breeds. Hence, they are included in the questionnaire forms used by the GDB-AGR. Since getting all the necessary information has proved to be difficult even in Europe, it is important to consider, what will be the most essential information needed for a reasonably rapid establishment of a preliminary WWL-ELB. In order to be able to act before too many breeds disappear, the following list may be considered for each “country population”, to be collected at the first attempt and included in WWL-ELB:

  1. General information: country, species, breed, main location;

  2. Numbers of animals in breeding age: males, females, total;

  3. Trend in numbers in last 3 years: decreasing, stable, increasing;

  4. Percentage of females bred pure;

  5. Number of herds: 1–4, 5–9, 10–49, 50-;

  6. Existence of health risk in case there is only one herd left;

  7. Estimated risk status;

  8. Some characterization of the breed: typical external features, main uses, special abilities in production, disease resistance or other economic traits;

  9. Existence and form(s) of conservation actions.

The length of the shortened list is about the same as in RDB, but the contents differ in several respects. The possibility of pre-filling the questionnaires on item 1 on the basis of Mason's (1988) dictionary and other published information deserves to be considered. This would ensure that comparable breed names will be used in different countries. It may be sensible to pre-fill also some other items on the basis of available literature. After the most urgent compilation of the WWL-ELB has been made for rapid actions, additional information of the breeds can be collected for the GDB-AGR and WWL-ELB.

3. The European data flow system

The Working Party on Animal Genetic Resources of the European Association for Animal Production (EWP-AGR) conducted surveys in 1982 (Maijala et al., 1984), 1985 (Maijala, 1987) and 1988 (Simon, 1989b), providing experience of various phases of the work - e.g. planning of questionnaire forms, channels for collecting them, time schedules, documentation centres, and problems of languages and terminologies. This should help to identify the problems to be faced in establishing the WWL-ELB.

4. Methods of collecting the information needed

In planning collection of information, compromise has to be found between the needs of getting many-sided, reliable information and the possibilities of getting replies in a reasonable time. Using the same forms for several species, restricting oneself to the most essential information and giving ready alternatives to be ticked obviously serve this aim. These aspects were considered in the European surveys made in 1982–88. The forms for the 1988 survey were accepted as also suitable in collecting information for the GDB-AGR (Simon, 1989b), being thus available also for WWL-ELB.

4.1 European experiences

In the 1982 survey, three different forms were used:

  1. List of all breeds of cattle (C), goats (G), horses (H), pigs (P) and sheep (S) within a country, with estimated total numbers;

  2. General attitude towards breed conservation within a country;

  3. Information of each endangered breed (person replying, species, breed name, length of existence in the country, possible immigration and their origins, trends in numbers in the last 10 and 3 years, number of herds, number of breeding females and males, number of male lines, breeding organization, numbers of animals/frozen semen donors/frozen embryo donors).

Replies were received from 22 of the 30 countries. The absence of some replies may be partly due to unsatisfactory questionnaire forms. In many cases, the information obtained was also incomplete and variable. For the non-responding countries, some information was collected from the literature.

For the 1985 survey, the forms were further developed. One aimed at getting information (a) of the numerical changes since 1982, and (b) of characteristics of endangered breeds for a central data bank. Five forms were used in C, G, H, P and S (Maijala, 1987). Forms a-c (general information, origin and development of breed, breed description) were to be completed by each individual breed society, and forms d-e (qualification of breed, performance records) by an independent group of scientists for objective assessment. The performances on form e had to be given as relative figures. To facilitate filling in the forms, alternatives were given to be ticked.

Replies were received from 17 countries and from 45% fewer “breeds” than in 1982. This decrease may be due to trying to collect information of both the characteristics of the breeds and of the numbers of animals. The experience gave reason to think that separating regular censuses of population sizes from characterizing the breeds might be a good idea.

The frequency of answers to different questions varied considerably among both species and countries (Maijala, 1987). The questions on the main use, management level, colours and numbers of animals were answered almost completely, while those on genetic peculiarities and times of establishing the breed or its herdbook remained often unanswered. Interesting information about the origins, population sizes and characteristics of breeds was still obtained. The big number of questions may have caused an adverse psychological effect in filling in the forms. It appeared important to define questions carefully and to give clear instructions and ready alternatives, by using experiences of previous surveys. It has to be made clear whether to use scientific or popular terms and to aim at objective information.

The forms of the 1985 survey were used as a basis for the 1988 forms, but some minor changes were made, e.g. for reporting on management conditions, relative production levels, and some additional traits (Simon, 1989a).

4.2 Globalforms

The changes for 1988 were based on discussions in the EWP-AGR, with the Nordic working party and with the Animal Production and Health Division of FAO, using European experiences from 1982–85 and considering developments in biotechnology. Some new aspects were added, even though they may complicate the forms and their filling in. However, help was provided by pre-filling the information from the 1985 survey on the forms, so that only checking was needed for the part of the previously given information.

The discussions with FAO led to an agreement on using the 1985 forms also for collecting information of breed resources in other parts of the world, e.g. from the regional data banks of developing countries (Hodges, 1984). The European data bank thus became GDB-AGR (Simon, 1989a), to which parts of the information collected on the earlier descriptors developed by FAO (1986a,b,c) for regional data banks will be transferred to the 1988 forms. Data will be collected also on buffaloes. Some additions and changes were made to the forms, to meet the needs of developing countries. This work will serve as a first attempt to establish the GDB-AGR and the WWL-ELB.

5. Channels for collecting information

It is essential (but not easy) to find the right people for collecting, assessing and disseminating the needed information.

5.1 European experiences

The EWP-AGR decided to utilize the coordinating members of the EAAP Commission on Animal Genetics for each country in carrying out the 1982 survey. The questionnaires were sent to them with descriptions of the intentions and with the request to get information of all breeds collected to a central place. They were asked to ensure that the right people in their country are approached to complete the relevant forms. The letters and forms were sent through the seven members, representing different geographical regions of Europe and different aspects of AGR conservation. They were asked to distribute the forms to the country coordinators of their regions, to check the contents of the returned forms and to send them to the chairman.

The coordinators were given a standard letter for the actual data collectors, encouraging these to ask for clarifications to open questions from them. After the return of replies, summaries of the replies were prepared and sent to the EWP-AGR-members for checking before the 1982 EAAP meeting. The checking concerned especially the classification of breeds according to their existence and endangered status, English names of the breeds, and whether country populations occurring in different countries with the same name should be considered the same breed or not. These clarifications were especially important for the breeds which in some countries were endangered.

For the 1985 survey, the coordinators were approached directly to take care of the work, since the number of EWP-AGR-members had been decreased to three, and in order to see whether a new system would produce more complete and quick replies. The aim was to ensure that the correct people are contacted, since the coordinators may be better able to assess this than any other outside group. They were asked to carry out the liaison to ensure that the responses were returned in due course. Their attention was drawn to the above principles for filling in the forms. They were advised to contact several countryman-scientists for deciding on the overall assessments for each breed, and encouraged to contact the chairman on problems with the questions. It was mentioned that the information will be stored in a data bank and be open to all those providing the information. Finally, some names and addresses were listed of countrymen who it might be useful to contact.

It is not known whether the decreased number of breeds reported (c. half of that in 1982) was due to the differences in collecting channels or forms used (Section 4.1), to the short time between two surveys, or to the lack of useful feedbacks from the earlier survey.

The coordinators were used also in 1988, but an up-dated list of them was obtained from the EAAP-secretariat. They were informed that the data will be deposited in the GDB-AGR in FRG, and that information is expected on all breeds, since the borderline between “endangered” and “unendangered” is unclear. Attention was paid to several advantages of properly compiled information on breed resources, to the increased public interest in AGR and to the duties of animal geneticists to collect information on all existing breeds.

Print-outs for the breeds on which information was received in 1985 was enclosed to assist in filling in the new information and for checking the previous one (Simon, 1989a). It was pointed out that there are detailed instructions at the end of the print-outs and that the absence of a printout meant that no information was received in 1985. The coordinators were asked to send copies of the questionnaire and of the remarks to the appropriate persons in their country and ensure their return to Hanover by the given deadline.

5.2 Channels for GDB-AGR

The European experiences show that the variability of industry structures makes it difficult to decide which channels should be used in sending and returning the forms for a particular country. There are at least four alternatives:

  1. Governmental bodies may be useful in some countries, but many ministries do not have a breeding expert, ensuring good and quick replies. However, some of them can delegate matters to suitable organizations under their supervision, so that satisfactory and timely results can be obtained. The ministries may know the national system better than any foreign expert, and they might be given special advice for delegation.

  2. Non-government organizations (breed societies, extension organizations etc) may be more flexible and rapid in action than ministries. A good knowledge of available organizations could lead to good results. Those having commercial interest in the breed may, however, tend to give a biased picture of the characteristics of the breed, if no objective information is available.

  3. Scientific channels (universities, research institutes, scientific societies) may be the most objective and competent source of information. Sometimes it is difficult to find a researcher interested in putting aside his other work for filling in questionnaires on topics not of current interest to him. The coordinators of the EAAP Genetic Commission were not equally active in all countries.

  4. Interested groups of people or individuals might be formed for this work with farm animals, as occurs for wild species, but it is rather difficult for regional or national officials to find the right people. Developing a network of interested, competent people for this work in farm animals may be more difficult, but an attempt is worthy of consideration. In some cases, incentives may be needed.

The European experiences do not lead to definite preferences or standard solutions. There are error and delay potentials in each alternative. It is important to find a way of finding the right person with proper training and experience and motivation to act, and to know the system in each country. Hence, the channels have to be discussed nationally and regionally. Different systems may have to be chosen for different countries, and several systems may be needed even within one country, depending on species etc. However, more and more countries have started activities in studying and conserving national AGRs and thus have officials suitable as contact persons. Their addresses could be requested from the agricultural ministries. One way for stimulating replies could be to give access to the information about the WWL-ELB only to those countries which have provided information. At the regional level, it is reasonable to use Regional Gene Banks as focal points in collecting and returning information.

6. Time schedules

Time schedules can be considered at three levels: (a) frequency of up-dating the information; (b) times reserved for each phase of a particular collection; or (c) time of realizing the WWL-ELB for different regions or the whole world.

6.1 Frequency of up-dating

The first EWP-AGR considered it sensible to repeat a survey of the overall AGR situation in Europe at three-year intervals. The task of the second EWP-AGR was to organize these. For the present, this frequency has been followed, in spite of considerable practical difficulties, partly due to inability to compensate those replying to the questionnaires or handling them further for the work involved. Too frequent questioning may also cause weariness among them. Good and frequent feedbacks from the data bank and satisfactory financial incentives may remove this and make it possible to maintain the three-year intervals. These are desirable from the viewpoint of knowing the current situation, which can change very rapidly in the present era of effective reproduction and communication techniques. Less frequent up-dating, e.g. with five-year intervals, may suffice for the aspects on characterising breeds.

For the global system, the timetable applied in Europe is appropriate, but maybe more difficult to realize, and hence lengthening the intervals to 4–5 years is tempting. The schedule may be altered according to species, since these have different reproductive rates and generation intervals. The wide application of AI and even embryo transfer in cattle may, however, make it necessary to apply as short intervals as in pigs; sheep and goats. Another important factor affecting the interval is the population size: for small populations frequent up-dating, at least of animal numbers, is well-founded. For normal breeds with big populations, frequent up-dating is both unnecessary and difficult.

6.2 Times required for each phase of a survey

In the European 1982 survey, the questionnaires were sent to the EWP-members on 15 January. Three months were reserved for the actual collectors for returning them to the coordinators, and 2 weeks for these to return the completed forms to the EWP-members. These were in turn given 1 month to check them and send further to the chairman for preparing preliminary summaries. In each phase there were delays from the intended time schedule, but nevertheless replies from 16 countries and literature data from 13 countries were included in the preliminary report in July. In the next winter, replies were received from an additional 6 countries, so that the final report in October 1983 included questionnaire information from 22 of 30 countries. In addition, supplementary information and corrections were available from several countries, based on the preliminary report distributed to the coordinators.

The 1985-questionnaires were sent to the coordinators on 5 December 1984. Almost 4 months were reserved for the actual data collectors and 1 month for the coordinators for chasing up missing replies, checking and sending replies to the chairman. Since the number of replies received by 1 May was small, an immediate reminder was sent to several countries. This helped in getting several replies, but still the number of countries replying was 23% smaller than in 1982 and that of “breeds” reported 45% smaller.

The pre-filled 1988-questionnaires were sent to the coordinators in November 1988. These were given about 1 month for checking and/or supplementing and sending the forms to the GDB-AGR in Hanover. Until August 1989, information was returned for a total of 225 breeds from 12 countries (Simon, 1989b).

These varying experiences show that it is important to consider how much time should be reserved for each stage in collecting the forms for the GDB-AGR and how strict the deadlines set can be. Right choices are important for the quality of surveys but difficult to put into practice for different countries and unpaid work. Strict deadlines are often necessary, but they may decrease the amount of information received. Hence, predicting the time needed for a given stage of GDB-AGR is difficult.

6.3 Estimated time for establishing a WWL-ELB

Based on the above experiences it can be estimated that establishing a WWL-ELB for Europe and the countries included in the FAO pilot trial could be 3–6 months after starting the transfer of the information from the FAO descriptors to the GDB-AGR forms. This requires that competent people are found for interpreting and summarizing the data from individual experiments to these forms, and that the GDB-AGR has financial and personnel resources for checking the data received, sending preliminary feedbacks to be corrected, and preparing output lists for WWL-ELB. The same time schedule can be applied to any other region after it has reached the same stage of development in data collection as Europe and the pilot trial regions. It is very hard to predict when each particular region will reach this stage, but some developed countries outside Europe may not be far away.

It is important to start the preparation of the WWL-ELB gradually from those regions which are ready for that, so that experiences can be collected all the time and interesting feedbacks (e.g. breedwise WWL-ELBs and various groupings) can be distributed to all regions, to stimulate the work and make improvements in the system. provided the necessary actions are taken and finances allocated for the purpose, some kind of WWL-ELB might be produced within two years.

7. Documentation centres (data banks)

The first EWP-AGR, set up in 1980 (Maijala et al., 1984), considered it important to store information of breeds at a central place and in an easily accessible form. The second EWP-AGR, set up in 1983, became convinced that computerization of the data is well-founded. It suggested its development at the Veterinary University of Hanover (FRG), which has scientific resources and abilities for the task and is centrally located. It needs, however, special financial support, particularly for preparing necessary computer programmes. The EWP-AGR has also concluded that the data bank can only be concerned with the species which have study commissions in the EAAP, i.e. cattle, goats, horses, pigs and sheep. The extension of the EAAP data bank to the GDB-ELB made it necessary to include also buffaloes. The Scandinavian data bank includes also poultry, fur-bearing animals, rabbits, reindeer and bees, giving possibilities for WWL-ELBs on these species in that region, and providing models for other regions. In poultry, the registry of stocks by Somes (1984) could be used as a basis and developed to include more information of characteristics and population sizes. World's Poultry Science Association might be encouraged to support this development.

In principle, it seems logical to utilize Regional Animal Gene Banks as focal points for the collection of data from developing countries, to be explored as regional data collection centres and data banks. In any case, the data will enter the GDB-AGR in Hanover, where it will be handled by computer.

8. Choice of language

Considering the great number of languages in Europe, it was considered necessary at the beginning to use only English in the questionnaires. However, other languages occurred in the replies, e.g. in giving the names and special characteristics of breeds, and comments on the forms. This caused problems in preparing summaries of the replies, e.g. on the existence of the same breed in several countries, when the names recommended by Mason (1969, 1988) were not always used. The experiences speak much in favour of using only English in giving the information. However, filling in the forms may suffer in both completeness and time schedules in countries where knowledge of English is sparse.

In the utilization of the collected information in various situations, the need of national languages is still greater. Hence, the Nordic working party has planned questionnaires in which each piece of information is located at a given numbered place on the forms, so that the numerical or coded information can be handled and understood independently of the language (Maijala and Simon, 1987). Some of the numbered places on the forms are to be filled in with numbers or gene symbols, others with a cross, thus facilitating translation to each of the 5 Nordic languages or to English without causing problems for data processing. The questions and terms in different languages can be stored in the computer memory and used in the output forms according to various needs. Remarks and added information can, on the other hand, be in a language acceptable for further handling. With even more languages in the rest of Europe, application of the same system may be more difficult. However, use of the 5–6 most commonly used languages could be a reasonable compromise, which might suit also to the GDB-AGR and WWL-ELB.

A similar question relates to the scientific terms/symbols for genetic traits/genes to be used. The problem concerns, however, all the information from gene mapping in farm animals, which started in the 1980s and will continue for a long time. Because of this development, which requires special expertise and symbol systems for DNA, the time may not be ripe for including the symbols in AGR data banks, especially since special genomic data banks have ben planned for gene mapping research.

9. Classification of breeds according to their risk status

It appears practical to classify breeds according to their risk status, as is done in the RDBs for the wild species of living organisms, where the following categories are used (IUCN, 1988):

Ex=Extinct = not found in the wild during the past 50 years;
E=Endangered (red) = danger of extinction, survival unlikely if the causal factors continue operating;
V=Vulnerable (yellow) = believed likely to move into the E-category in the near future if the causal factors continue operating;
R=Rare (white) = small population, not E or V, but at risk;
I=Indeterminate (grey) = known to be E, V or R, but there is not enough information to say which of these is appropriate;
K=Insufficiently known = suspected but not definitely known to belong to any category above, because of lack of information;
O=Out of danger (green) = earlier E or V, but the risk is over.

Some variations from this grouping have been applied in different countries. The most important criteria used in the classification have been the abundance, distribution, development trends and biological characteristics of the species.

Considering possible needs of collaborating with the people and organizations working with wild species, application of a similar classification to farm animal breeds deserves consideration. Class Ex may not be necessary, but taking into account the existence of the same breed in different countries, it may be well-founded to use Ex in surveys for individual countries. Comparisons of the results with those of other countries might reveal that animals of a disappeared breed could be found elsewhere. It appears that the categories E, V, R and O could be used also in grouping animal breeds. The category I may not be needed, since farm animals are under the supervision of man and there is usually more information available than in wild species. However, use of this category might be sensible at the preliminary stage of creating WWL-ELB. The same applies to the category K. After the major part of the WWL-EDB has been prepared, I and K might be eliminated.

The main criteria to be used in classifying animal breeds are population size, recent trends, number of herds, and extent of pure- or cross-breeding. In the European surveys, the following numbers have been required for “endangered” status: below 1000 cows, 500 ewes and she-goats and 200 sows, or between 1000–5000, 500–1000 and 200–500, respectively, in cases where the numbers are declining or the number of breeding males is below 20. Below these levels, avoidance of genetic losses in future generations is difficult, the high degree of inbreeding, which is a likely consequence, threatens the vitality of the animals, and spontaneous diseases and accidents may cause big risks. Steadily decreasing numbers of breeding animals or increasing use of crossbreeding (especially with the aid of AI) give reasons to increase the numbers of animals below which a breed is considered endangered.

In the UK, the Rare Breeds Survival Trust has set the following maximum numbers of breeding females for a breed to be classified as “rare”: cattle 750, sheep 1500, pigs 150, horses 1000, and goats 500 (Alderson, 1981). Besides, it has been considered important that an official herd book has existed over six generations, that the breed “breeds true to type”, that other breeds have contributed less than 20% of the genetic make-up in the last six generations, and that the breed has been known for 75 years. The objectives here are predominantly cultural-historical, and hence the classification is not very suitable for cases where the main interest is in economic-biological reasons for preservation of AGR, especially in developing countries.

Besides “endangered” and “rare”, the status “critical” has sometimes been used, indicating that the population is close to extinction. This may be derived from the point of Ne (about 50) below which the standard deviation of gene frequency starts to increase rapidly. The American Minor Breeds Conservancy in the USA has established three categories on the basis of the number of registrations per year. In cattle, for example, below 200, 1000 and 5000 mean “rare, minor and watch”, respectively.

In FAO (1989), it has been considered that the population sizes applied in Europe for classifying breeds as endangered need to be doubled or tripled for developing countries, because of the subdivisions and genetic isolation of nomadic populations, harsh climatic conditions and big disease risks. FAO proposes as a working rule that “when a population size approaches 5000 breeding females, the survival risk of the breed should be studied and appropriate actions initiated. These will depend upon the local circumstances of the breed, the management system, the extent of crossbreeding, the rate of decline in numbers and the certainty of the breed having unique qualities. Specific recommendations are then made for each circumstance, based upon established principles.”.

It appears sensible to apply at least the RDB-categories E, V and R (at the beginning possibly also Ex, I and K) to farm animal breeds. As the basic criterion in classification, effective population size (Ne) is useful, related as it is to the numbers of both males and females of breeding age. For example, the following limits could be considered for developed countries: E = Ne < 50; V = Ne < 100; R = Ne < 500. For developing countries, one might think of 100, 500 and 2000, respectively. The use of Ne may make it possible to use the same limits for different species, independent of their reproductive rate.

In assessing the real status of the breeds, several adjustments have to be made to these figures on the basis of trends in numbers, numbers of herds, use of crossbreeding etc. Many kinds of compromises are needed between different criteria, between ideals and possibilities, etc. Both practical experience and theoretical knowledge from different sectors are important in the assessment. Each country should have a group of experts, representing different expertises, for taking care of the assessments, since foreigners cannot know the local circumstances. These national groups should be represented in regional committees, in which different principal and methodological problems can be discussed and the breed lists of neighbouring countries can be compared for considering joint conservation, evaluation and utilization activities. The representative should have a good knowledge of the subject matter. The regional committees in turn should be represented in the global organization responsible for the establishment of the WWL-ELB. It is difficult to avoid these three levels in the planning and decision making, but it is important that the GDB-AGR can be approached also directly by individual farmers, organizations and nations, for obtaining desired information.

The principles applied in the first classification can be used also in moving breeds from one category to another at later stages of WWL-ELB. However, there may be more information, e.g. about performances in different environments in the field and in experiments, and about the presence, frequency and effects of individual genes. There is also reason to develop the systems of assessment, in order to avoid intentional biasses, unintentional errors and delays.

10. Links between national, regional and global data banks

Effective cooperation between different levels of data collection and utilization is very important for the success in establishing the WWL-ELB. The present computer techniques give good possibilities to create effective links, and there are also sufficient experts in animal genetics and breeding, partly even in the developing countries. Thus, the question becomes one of finding a flexible organization to facilitate realization of the considerable potential. One possible scheme is:

IGlobal level:GDB-AGR, Hanover, FRG
IIRegional level:Regional data banks (about one/continent)
IIINational level:National AGR groups (numerous/region)

The efficiency of vertical connections is crucial for the system. Horizontal connections can be managed in part through the regional banks, but direct links are needed between neighbouring countries, e.g. in assessing risk statuses, conservation priorities and utilization of breeds occurring in at least two countries. Grouping into regions may be left to the national groups, using negotiating and coordinating help from FAO, if needed.

11. Estimating costs for establishing WWL-ELB

Only very crude estimates of the costs can be made without experience of different phases of the work outside Europe. Even for Europe, costs have not been estimated. To provide some basis for discussion, it can be suggested that filling in the forms for an average developed country on the basis of annual censuses, herdbooks, recording and AI statistics etc. might require 1 man-day per breed, 10 man-days per species and 60 man-days per country. Extracting the needed information from the FAO descriptor lists for developing countries may require double that number of man-days. Assessing the status of each breed carefully by an expert group, on the criteria suggested in Section 2.2, might require 10 additional man-days in a developed country and 20 days in a developing one.

Provision has also to be made for processing the data in the regional data banks and in the GDB-AGR, for checking the contents within and between countries for breed names, terms, classifications etc., and for preparing regional and global summaries and WWL-ELBs.

How finances for covering these costs can be found has not been properly discussed even for the part of Europe. In principle, each country should participate according to its share of the work load (e.g. number of breeds). However, getting a positive response from each country presupposes effective information about the value of its work. In this sense, many-sided and frequent feedbacks from the system would be needed, but these cannot of course be given before the system is almost ready. The only reasonable way of getting governments to support the system is through FAO, which has consistently worked for AGR conservation and management for a long time and with gradually increasing success, and through UNEP. In addition, the increased public interest in conservation of natural resources, including AGR, has created possibilities of establishing private organizations in many countries and improved the climate for establishing a world organization, which can acquire finances for conservation purposes. In any case, continued education is important for a lasting solution of the problem.

12. Dissemination of the information about WWL-ELB

The whole process of collecting, processing and assessing information about AGR aims at effective application and utilization. Hence, distribution of the information is necessary. This raises several problems: In which form and how frequently should the information be published? To whom can the whole information or parts of it be given and for what price? Will it be considered confidential or not? Should actions be suggested in connection with it? From where can finances be found and can these be accepted with or without rights?

Considering the substantial costs involved in the work, the distribution of outputs may have to be restricted, e.g. to those countries and organizations participating in the input and processing costs. Even here there are several alternatives: the information could be sent (a) to the people or organizations replying to questionnaires, (b) to their governments, or (c) to both. In principle, restriction is possible, but the present copying techniques make it difficult. Considering educational aspects for creating a greater public understanding and participation, restrictions may also work against the objectives of WWL-ELB. The example of RDBs. which are financed greatly by voluntary and charity organizations, speaks in favour of an open policy. The need for helping developing countries in the development of their animal production points in the same direction. Comparisons with corresponding organization for agricultural plants are difficult and do not necessarily lead to fruitful models. While plant breeding takes place largely at research institutes and in big commercial firms, the major part of animal breeding material is in private herds.

The important role played by FAO in developing documentation, conservation and utilization of AGR makes it necessary to note the special role of its member countries in distributing the information. There is reason to consider different rights and prices for those member countries which have participated in the establishment of WWL-ELB and those which have not.

The form of publishing depends on the solution of the financial and distribution problems. Considering the gradual increase in the amount and quality of the available information, loose sheets as in the RDB seem sensible at the beginning. These should contain the information listed in Section 2.2, plus some suggestions for action to the governments in question. Summaries of the data by species, regions etc should also be published. For speeding and coordinating actions by international and national organizations and governments it is important to send them letters with information and suggestions for actions. These should contain also suggestions for legislation, organization, taxation, financing, etc. The publications could be sold to interested organizations and people at prices which would cover a part of the collecting and processing costs. Income from sales depends, of course, on the quality of the publications. National governments and organizations should also be encouraged to publish popular articles about WWL-ELBs in their own languages, using information obtained from the world or regional levels.

Both governments and voluntary organizations should be encouraged to develop international funds and to search for suitable sponsors for the conservation activities in the same way as has been done for wild life.

13. Conclusions

Objectives of and methods for creating and maintaining a World Watch List for Endangered Livestock Breeds (WWL-ELB) were described. This should provide governments with early warnings of breeds approaching risk levels of population size and information for starting preservation activities. The following conclusions can be drawn:

  1. Regular information is needed for deciding on the choice of populations for conservation for future needs, for evaluation studies and for efficient present use.

  2. The information should concern population size and its trends, the value of each breed as a biological material in production, its adaptation to different environments and genetic status, and in future, also the presence of individual genes. For urgent actions, a preliminary WWL-ELB may be needed, resembling that in Red Data Books on wild species of living organisms.

  3. Experiences of three European surveys in 1982–88 can be used in considering the practical problems in establishing the WWL-ELB.

  4. In collecting the information, compromises have to be found between the information needs and the possibilities of getting replies in a reasonable time. Various means for improving the quality and speed of data collection are available.

  5. Experienced animal geneticists should be used as data collectors, to get reasonably useful assessments of the value of breeds for different uses and of their risk statuses. Experts from other fields may be needed as additional members of the national groups. Governmental and non-government organizations, scientific institutes and interested people are alternative liaison links. Different systems may have to be chosen for different countries.

  6. A reasonable time for getting completed questionnaires returned is 3–6 months, but reminders and some flexibility in deadlines is likely to improve the proportion of replies. A preliminary WWL-ELB might be produced within two years, a more complete one requires several years more. A three-year interval is recommended between surveys, especially for the aspects concerning population sizes. For recording the characteristics of breeds, a longer interval is possible.

  7. It is well-founded to start establishment of the WWL-ELB immediately from those regions and/or species which are most nearly ready for this step and to distribute the appropriate sheets or books to be used; effectively, as models or ‘stimulators’ for the future.

  8. The Global Data Bank on AGR (GDB-AGR) in Hanover, FRG, is the centre where information from every country will be stored and processed for various feedbacks. The uses of regional data banks (in regional gene banks) is recommended as intermediate phases for assessments, advices and regional co-operation in action.

  9. English is recommended as the main language. Some other languages can be used for inputs and outputs, if the type of information can be recognized by its placement and if coded information is used.

  10. The model of Red Data Books, modified for animal breeds, may be used for preparing preliminary WWL-ELBs. In the later stages, when the system is developed, three categories of risk status may suffice. As a basic criterion for the classification, effective population size (Ne) is useful.

  11. Three levels are needed for the work (world, region, nation). Good vertical connections are necessary, but horizontal connections are also needed in assessing risk statuses, conservation and utilization of breeds existing in more than one country.

  12. Approximately 70 man-days may be required per developed and 140 man-days per developing country, for collecting the information for GDB-AGR and WWL-ELB. Costs for mailing, checking, processing and printing have to be added.

  13. An effective dissemination of the WWL-ELB-information is important for its application and utilization. hence, an open policy may best serve the objectives, especially considering the need for educating officials and breeders, and for helping developing countries. Voluntary organizations should be looked for as supporters.


Adalsteinsson, S. (1981). Origin and conservation of farm animal population in Iceland. Zeitschr. Tierz. Zucht. biol. 98: 258–264.

Alderson, G.L.H. (1981). The conservation of animal gnetic resources in the United Kingdom. FAO Anim. Prod. & Health Paper 24, pp. 53–76.

Barker, J.S.F. (1980). Animal genetic resources in Asia and Oceania - the perspective. Proc. of SABRAO Workshop on Animal Genetic Resources in Asia and Oceania, Nekken Shiryo (Japan), Vol. 47, pp. 13–19.

Bodo, I., Buvanendran, V. and Hodges, J. (1984) Manual for Training Courses on the Animal Genetic Resources Conservation and Management. Budapest, Vol. I, 68 pp.

Falconer, D.S. (1981). Introduction to Quantitative Genetics, 2nd edit. Oliver & Boyd, Edinburgh. 340 pp.

FAO (1986a). Animal genetic resources data banks. 1. Computer systems study for regional data banks. FAO Anim. Prod. & Health Paper 59/1. 18 pp.

FAO (1986b). 2. Descriptor lists for cattle, buffalo, pigs, sheep and goats. FAO Anim. Prod. & Health Paper 59/ 2. 150 pp.

FAO (1986c). 3. Descriptor lists for poultry. FAO Anim. Prod. & Health Paper 59/3. 111 pp.

FAO (1989). Preservation of animal genetic resources. Extract from the Report to the 95th Council Meeting of the COAGR Meeting, 26 April – 5 May 1989, para. 121–140. 3 pp.

Hodges, J. (1984). The current projects for creation of data banks by FAO/UNEP FAO Anim. Prod. & Health Paper 44/1. pp. 117–119.

IUCN (1988). 1988 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals. Cambridge. 154 pp.

Maijala, K. (1986). Possible role of animal gene resource in production, natural environment conservation, human pleasure and recreation. FAO Anim. Prod. & Health Paper 66. pp. 205–215.

Maijala, K. (in collaboration with D.L. Simon and D. Steane) (1987). Surveying animal breed resources in Europe. In Research in Cattle Production Danish Status and Perspectives. Copenhagen. pp. 208–218.

Maijala, K., Cherekaev, A.V., Devillard, J.M., Reklewski, Z., Rognoni, G., Simon, D.L. and Steane, D. (1984). Conservation of animal genetic resources in Europe. Final Report of EAAP Working Party. Livestock Prod. Sci. 11: 3–22.

Maijala, K. and Simon, D.L. (1987). Plans for European data banks on animal genetic resources. 37th Ann. Meet. EAAP, Lisbon, October 1987.24 pp.

Mason, I.L. (1969). World dictionary of livestock breeds. 2nd edit. CAB Techn. Comm. 8. 272 pp.

Mason, I.L. (1988). A World dictionary of livestock breeds, types and varieties. 3rd edit. CAB International, UK. 348 pp.

Nei, M. (1987). Molecular Evolutionary Genetics. Columbia University Press.

Simon, D.L. (1984). Conservation of animal genetic resources - reviewing the problem. Livestock Prod. Sci. 11: 61–64.

Simon, D.L. (1989a). An EAAP/FAO data bank on animal genetic resources is set up. Livestock Prod. Sci. 21: 358–360.

Simon, D.L. (1989b). Interim report of the Working Party on Animal Genetic Resources on the survey 1988 in EAAP-member countries. 40th Annual Meet. EAAP, Dublin, August 1989. 9 pp.

Sirkkomaa, S. (1983). Calculations on the decrease of genetic variation due to the founder effect. Hereditas 99: 11–20.

Somes, R.G. (1988). International registry of poultry genetic stocks. Storrs Agric. Expt Sta. (Univ. Connecticut) Docum. No. 476. 98 pp.


K.O. Adeniji1

1 Chief, Animal Production Section, OAU/IBAR, PO Box 30786, Nairobi, Kenya

1. Introduction

East Africa is one of the five regions of Africa (OAU classification). It is bounded to the north by the Sahara desert, to the east by the Indian Ocean, to the south by Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique and to the west by Zaire. The region lies entirely in the tropics, occupies a surface area of 25% of Africa, and has a human population of 130 million. The climate varies from the desert of the Sudan to the rainforest of Uganda with a rainfall pattern of 0–1500 mm and an altitude from sea level to 2600 m. Most of the highlands of Africa are also found in East Africa ranging from 1000–2000 m. The region is made up of the following countries: Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mauritius, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda. The important islands of Comoro, Madagascar, Mauritius and Seychelles form part of the region.

The region is endowed with a vast pool of animal genetic material and, in relation to the total populations of the various species in Africa, contains 55% of the cattle, 36% of the sheep and 46% of the goats (Adeniji, 1989). In terms of Tropical Ruminant Livestock Unit (TRLU), East Africa has 52% of the total in Africa. Thus, the region is very important for livestock production.

2. Endangered cattle breeds

In 1983, a review paper on endangered cattle breeds in Africa was read at an Expert Committee Meeting on Animal Genetic Resources in Africa (Adeniji, 1983). The locations of the identified breeds are as shown in Table 1.

Table 1: Location of endangered cattle breeds.

Brune de l'AtlasMorocco
LaguneRepublic of Benin Cote d'lvoire
PabliRepublic of Benin

2.1 Endangered cattle breeds in East Africa

Table 2 shows the endangered cattle breeds in Africa

Table 2: Endangered cattle breeds in East Africa.

BreedPresent geographical location and production systemTotal populationMain useMain reason for being endangeredSpecific trait(s) that might justify a conservation programme
BariaKelifely causes, N. Western Madagascar, extensive traditional system Dual purpose Humpless, adaptation to the environment
CreoleMauritius3,000Dual purposeUpgrading to imported exotic breedAdaptation to the environment
ButanaNorth and east area of river Atbara and Kasala province, extensive system MilkCrossbreedingGood dairy animal, adaptation to semi-arid environment
KenanaCentral Region of the Blue Nile province, extensive system MilkCrossbreeding, establishment of Kenana scheme in the natural habitat of breedGood dairy animal, adaptation to hot arid and semi-arid environment
MpwapwaMpwapwa and Malya Regions of Tanzania10,000Dual purposeLack of sustained effort to develop the breedAdapted to semi-arid plateau of Central Tanzania

2.2 Causes for being endangered

The indigenous cattle breeds of Africa are derived from the humped and humpless types and from interbreeding of the two. These breeds have become adapted to the ecosystems, and any selection that has taken place over many years has been entirely by natural selection and dependent on survival. Thus, man in Africa has available a number of morphologically and functionally different types adapted to the prevailing conditions of the environment. Some of these breeds/strains are now endangered. The reasons for them being considered endangered are given in Table 2.

The major causes for being endangered are the lack of breeding policy and the indiscriminate crossbreeding programmes. In the case of the Sahiwal, a breed imported into Kenya from Pakistan, the narrow genetic base is the cause of being endangered. Owing to the low productivity of most of the indigenous breeds, the transfer of genes from superior indigenous/exotic breeds has brought about the dilution and loss of the genes of some specific traits in the indigenous breeds, particularly those related to adaptation. If this situation persists for long, it will eventually lead to drastic reduction in numbers of the pure breeds and may lead to the disappearance of breeds. Such breeds require conservation programmes of which an awareness has already been created and recommendations made for specific breeds (Adeniji, 1983b).

3. Other endangered livestock species

There is lack of information on the other species of livestock. The series of workshops that were recently organised on small ruminants in West, Central, East and Southern Africa did not come up with any breed/strain considered to be endangered. It is, however, possible that some of the adapted indigenous breeds/strains may be endangered. An attempt will be made in the near future to gather such information on all other livestock species including poultry.

4. Conservation programmes

Specific recommendations were made on the conservation programmes on some of the identified endangered breeds (Adeniji, 1984). For others, documents have been produced on how the conservation programmes could be initiated and implemented, for example: ‘Conservation of the Kenana breed in Sudan’ (Cunningham, 1987) and ‘Efficiency of nucleus breeding schemes in dual purpose cattle of Tanzania’ by J.S. Kasonta and G. Nitter (a research paper supported by DAAD grant for JSK - Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst). Both documents emphasise the usefulness of the nucleus breeding schemes in the conservation of these breeds. Kasonta and Nitter proposed a two-tier breeding scheme through separating all recorded cows into a nucleus and pre-nucleus herds which will lead to an increase in genetic gain. The Mpwapwa cattle at the research station would be considered the nucleus with very intensive recording and selection while the pre-nucleus will comprise of herds of selected progressive farmers with more or less intense data collection. Cunningham's recommendation of an open nucleus breeding structure, in which documented selection will be carried out on government station and supplemented by selection in village herds is similar to the one above. Thus, both schemes will lead to the improvement of the breeds involved. This is considered appropriate to the prevailing livestock production systems.


Adeniji, K.O. (1983). Review of endangered cattle breeds in Africa. Proceedings of Expert Committee Meeting on Animal Genetic Resources in Africa. OAU/STRC/IBAR publication, 1985. pp. 20–32.

Adeniji, K.O. (1984). Recommendations for specific breeds and species for conservation by management and preferred techniques. Proceedings of the Joint FAO/UNEP Expert Panel Meeting, FAO Animal Production and Health Paper No. 44/1. pp. 89–98.

Adeniji, K.O. (1989). Livestock population and distribution in Africa. Wld Rev. Anim. Prod. (in press).

Cunningham, E.P. (1987). Conservation of the Kenana breed in Sudan. FAO Animal Production and Health Paper No. 66, pp. 1–9.


L.O. Ngere 1

1 Animal Science Department, University of Ibadan, Nigeria

1. Introduction

West Africa is a region clearly defined by natural geophysical boundaries. On the south and west it is bounded by the Atlantic ocean, its northern border delimited by the Sahara Desert, and the East by the Cameroun Mountains. Starting from approximately 5°N latitude and extending to over 20°N latitude, it lies entirely in the tropics (between the equator and Tropic of Cancer) with the characteristic feature of high ambient temperature. It covers an area of about 7.9 million square kilometres, has a human population estimated for 1980 to be over 112 million and is made up of 17 political entities or countries: Mauritania, Senegal, Gambia, Mali, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Niger, Nigeria, Chad and Cameroun.

Generally speaking and from the animal production perspective, the region has a number of noteworthy features:

These features greatly influence the agricultural practices of the people of the region, especially in the livestock sector where the ruminants depend mostly on natural fodder availability.

2. The domestic livestock breed situation

All domestic livestock species thrive in West Africa. Tables 1–3, compiled from Mason (1951, 1988), lists the recognised breeds of cattle, sheep and goats and horses. Intermediates (derived from crosses between the breeds), if definitive, are also shown. Mason's classification also recognised one general breed each for pigs (the West African, found south of latitude 10°–14°C); for poultry (the indigenous); and for buffalo (the bush cow/Congo buffalo). A summary of the breed and intermediate numbers, according to species, is given below.

Table 1: Naturally occurring cattle types in West Africa 1.

Breed namePrimary locationRelated types/varietiesDistinguishing character/genotype
(A) Bos indicus/Zebu   
AzaouakE. Mali, C. Niger & N.W. NigeriaTuareg (Niger bend, Mali)Short homed
FellataChad & W. Sudan "
MaureMauritania & W. Mali "
ShuwaChad & N.E. NigeriaKilara"
Sokoto/Fulani GudaliN.W. Nigeria "
AdamawaN. CamerounN'GaoundereMedium horned
  Banyo (with some Red Bororo blood 
  [Yola] (with some Dwarf shorthorn blood) (N.E. Nigeria) 3"
DialiS.W. Niger Medium horned
GobraSenegal Lyre-horned
Sudanese FulaniMaliToronké"
White FulaniN. Nigeria "
Red BororoE. Niger, N. Nigeria, W. Chad & N. Cameroun Long-lyre homed
(B) Bos taurus/humpless   
KuriLake Chad areaJotko (with some zebu bloodBig, bulbous horns
  (Bornu, Nigeria) 
  Kanem (with Arab [shoa] zebu) 
N'dama 2Fouta Djallon, GuineaN'Gabou (Guinea Bissau)Long/short lyre horns
  N'dama Petite and Grande (Senegal) 
West African Shorthorn2 Savanna:Bakosi (Cameroun)Short horned
   Baoulé(Ivory Coast)"
   Somba (N. Togo, Benin)"
   Ghana Shorthorn"
   Doayo (N. Cameroun)"
 South of West AfricaDwarf:Lagune (Ivory Coast, TogoDwarf
   Benin, Ghana)"
   Gambia dwarf 3"
   Muturu (Nigeria)"
   Manjaca (Guinea-Bissau)"
(C) Naturally occurring intermediates   
BambaraS.W. Mali N'dama × W. Africa zebu
Biu3Bornu, Nigeria Dwarf Shorthorn × White Fulani
Borgu/KetekuBenin, Nigeria N'dama/Dwarf Shorthorn × zebu, probably White Fulani
DjakoréSenegal N'dama × Senegal Fulani
Pul-MborCameroun Red Bororo × Adamava
ToubouN.E. Nigeria Red Bororo × Kuri
White SangaGhana Ghana Shorthorn × White Fulani
WodabeCameroun Red Bororo × White Fulani

1 Source: Mason, I.L. (1988)

2 After ILCA (1979)

3 Thought to be extinct

N = north, W = west, S = south, E = east

Table 2: Common goat and sheep types of West Africa

NameMain locationVarietiesDistinguishing trait/genotype
(A) Goat breeds   
West African long-legged (Sahelian)
North of West AfricaNigerian (Kano brown, Katsina light brown, Bornu white, Red Sokoto/Maradi and Damagaran dapple-grey)Long-legged, haired
West African DwarfSouth of West Africa Dwarf, haired
Intermediates BaguirmiChad W. African long-legged × W. African dwarf, haired
(B) Sheep breeds 1   
FulaniSenegal to CamerounBornu (N.E. Nigeria, N. Cameroun, and Chad)Long-legged haired and thin-tailed
Samburu (Mali) 
Toronké (Senegal and Mali) 
Uda (N. Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroun) 
Y'ankasa (N. Central Nigeria) 
MaureNorth of West AfricaBlack MaureLong-haired
TuaregSahara, Niger  
MacinaCentral Delta of Niger, MaliGoundounCoarse-wooled
West African dwarf (Djallonké)
South of West Africa Dwarf, haired and thin-tailed

1 Source: Mason, I.L. (1988)

Table 3: Main horse breeds and types in West Africa1.

Breed nameMain locationVarietiesOrigin/genotype
West African BarbWest of West AfricaBeledougou (Mali)From Barb (Maghreb, N. Africa)
Hodh (Mali-Mauritania)
Sahel (Mali)
Sulebawa (Nigeria)
West African DongolaEast of West AfricaBahr-el-Ghazal (Chad)From Dongola (Sudan)
Bornu (N.E. Nigeria)
Hausa (N. Nigeria, Niger)
West African poniesNorth of West AfricaBhirum (N. Nigeria) 
Bobo (Burkina Faso)
Kirdi (S.W. Chad)
Koto-koli (N. Benin, Togo)
M'Bayar (Senegal)
M'Par (Senegal)
Torodi (W. Niger)
BandiagaraNiger bend, Mali Dongola × Barb
DjermaMiddle Niger Barb × Dongola
MossiBurkina Faso Dongola × Barb
YaghaN. Burkina Faso Dongola × Barb
SonghaiNiger bend, Mali Dongola × Barb

1 Mason, I.L. (1951,1988)

SpeciesNumber of breedsIntermediates

The summary shows that cattle, by far, have the largest number of breeds, followed by horses, and the small ruminants, respectively. The number of breeds is most probably a reflection of interest or activity with respect to the species. Another inference from the lists is that except for cattle all the breed names are mostly collective names: West African long-legged, the indigenous fowl/pig, West African dwarf, etc, and such names refer to a large collection of greatly differing types distributed sometimes over the entire region, or in a particular ecozone within the region. And though breeds may arise spontaneously in nature, they are maintained and sustained by either human activity or by other factors which are protective and favourable to their continued existence, e.g. isolation under favourable conditions. Otherwise, breeds within a species being cross fertile will interbreed in the absence of any restrictive barriers resulting in the “loss” of some breeds.

Although fairly reliable data on livestock numbers (according to species) are available, accurate numbers, broken down according to breeds, are either unavailable or scanty for the region; usually livestock breed numbers for any area taken over a period of time can give a good indication of the status of the breed over that period. It is therefore only with cattle that one can find numeric evidence of endangered status since cattle are the most prominent.

The cattle breeds were split into two groups (Tables la, lb) by phenotype and origin (Joshi et al., 1957; Epstein, 1971). An important point to keep in mind with cattle of West Africa is the influence of disease and vegetation on their distribution. Trypanosomiasis has generally been held to be the most important factor limiting the spread of the Zebu to all parts of the region. Thus the more humid tropical forest and Guinea Savanna areas to the south of the region - with thick undergrowth and densely wooded river basins which favour the Glossina species, vectors of this disease - are inimical to the Zebu which otherwise might have been successful in those ecozones. The only breeds of cattle which can survive in those zones without heavy chemotherapy are the Ndamas, and the West African Shorthorn or its variants. These two breeds are thought to possess some tolerance, if not resistance, to the disease. Relative to other breeds, their numbers are few but as has been suggested by Stewart and Jeffrey (1956), some of the strains of the West African Shorthorn may be tolerant to specific local strains of the trypanosomes. So there might be a need for protection of such types.

Another interesting breed of cattle is the Kuri found around the shores of Lake Chad. This cattle breed has large bulbous horns which many believe help the cow to stay afloat and swim long distances.

The Kuri and the Muturu are identified as being endangered, both are humpless Bos taurus types.

3. The criteria for a decision of “endangered”

These two breeds which are few in number relative to other cattle breeds in the region have been declining rapidly in recent times. Table 4 shows the numbers for the Muturu while the total number of Kuri cattle has been put at 7000 head.

There are many reasons for the rapidly declining numbers. First, is competition from more productive breeds, e.g. the Zebu is generally accepted to be a better meat and milk animal and some are more adapted to wider ecological zones as compared to the Kuri or Muturu which have not been shown to perform very well outside their rather restricted econiche. Secondly, in the case of the Muturu, cattle rearing is of secondary importance to the mainly arable farmers who keep these animals. The herd is usually not tended and the animals are tethered during the day to prevent damage to crops. No supplementary feed is routinely offered and the animals are not milked. Populations of the Muturu were decimated during the Nigerian civil war. This has also happened even more recently to the population of Kuri cattle during the Chadian war.

Table 4: The population of the West African Shorthorn relative to cattle population of countries where they are found1.

Country and breedPopulation in study areaTotal cattle population in area% Shorthorn
Savanna Shorthorn   
Ghana Shorthorn (Ghana)61677779.27
Baoule (Burkina Faso)484255018.98
Baoule (Ivory Coast)25051648.44
Somba (Togo)14421467.28
Somba (Benin)7572610.33
Keteku (Nigeria8282350.99
Doayo (Cameroun)729170.23
Dwarf Shorthorn   
Muturu (Nigeria)3882350.46
Lagune (Benin)207262.75
Muturu (Liberia)1525.558.82

1 After ILCA/FAO/UNEP (1979)

For other species, e.g. pigs, poultry and horses, not much information exists on the breeds in respect of unique traits (if any), numbers, productivity to identify superior genotypes. But some evidence exists that some may have desirable genetic traits worth preserving. Further information is needed. Meanwhile unless some action is taken, indiscriminate crossbreeding or breed replacement with exotic poultry and pigs may lead to complete extinction of some local strains.

4. Activity for preservation

Action in this area has been largely by the international organisations: IBAR, FAO/UNEP and ILCA. These organisations either individually or collectively have taken steps, such as collecting information on breeds through questionnaires to member states, establishment of data banks, and organising the establishment of breeding programmes which could, in turn, lead to genetic improvement of the threatened breeds and increase their numbers and competitiveness.

These actions are considered important steps in the conservation and better use of genetic resources for now and the future.


Epstein, H. (1971). The Origin of Domestic Animals of Africa. Africana Publishing Corporation, New York.

ILCA/FAO/UNEP (1979). Trypanotolerant livestock in West and Central Africa. Monograph 2. ILCA, Addis Ababa.

Joshi, N.R., McLaughlin, E.A. and Phillips, R.W. (1957). Types and breeds of African cattle. FAO Agric. Studies No. 37, Rome.

Mason, I.L. (1951). The classification of West African livestock. Tech. Comm. No. 7 Bur. Anim. Breed. Genet. (Edinburgh), Farnham Royal, Bucks.

Mason, I.L. (1988). A world dictionary of livestock breeds, types and varieties. 3rd edit CAB International, UK, 348 pp.

Stewart, M.C. and Jeffreys, M.D.W. (1956). The Cattle of the Gold Coast. Government Printer, Accra, Ghana.


R.M. Acharya1

1 Indian Council of Agricultural Research, New Delhi

1. Introduction

South Asia, comprising India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka, has very rich animal genetic resources which are reflected by the availability of almost all important economic species of livestock, viz. cattle, buffaloes, sheep, goat, pigs, camel, equines (asses and horses), yak and mithun, and poultry (chickens, ducks and guinea fowl), and a number of breeds in each of these species. Efforts to document these breeds in greater detail have more recently been made (Acharya, 1982; Acharya and Bhat, 1984; Hasnain, 1985; Kharel and Pradhan, 1986).

The region has important tropically-adapted dairy, draft and dual purpose breeds of cattle, dairy breeds of buffaloes, carpet wool breeds of sheep and highly prolific breeds of goats. The cattle germplasm from the region has been utilised for developing tropically and sub-tropically adapted breeds of dairy and beef cattle in a number of other regions. Similarly, the dairy buffalo germplasm from the region has been utilised for improving productivity of swamp and low producing riverine buffaloes in major parts of South-East Asia, Europe and South America. The region has also contributed to the improvement of breeds of goats in other regions and Jamunapari has been the major breed exported from the region.

2. Large nondescript population

In spite of a large number of descript breeds, a major part of the population of livestock is nondescript. There are basic problems of identification, evaluation and management of animal genetic resources in the region for want of organised animal breeding activity. There are no breeding societies or agencies as exist in agriculturally advanced countries to register animals of a particular breed to maintain herd/flock books and ensure purity of breed or type. Little systematic effort has been made to evaluate the indigenous breeds in their native environment and traditional husbandry practices and take up steps for their conservation and further improvement through selection. There exist a few State/Central Government/private breeding farms which maintain herds of important breeds for production of breeding males for distribution to the farming communities or placement in government institutions providing breeding services to the farmers.

3. Herd books

India was signatory at the International Convention held in Rome in October 1936 to establish herd registry associations and had initiated herd registration of the cattle breeds, viz. Gir, Hariana, Kankrej, Ongole, Sahiwal, Sindhi and Tharparkar; and buffalo breeds, viz. Murrah, Surti and Jafarabadi. The herd book scheme of the Government of India aims at compiling, analysing and publishing production and breeding data. The Government and private organisations and farmers having animals meeting the standards of performance laid down are registered in the herd book. This information has been utilised to some extent in procuring breeding bulls. The State Government of Haryana, where the Murrah breed of buffalo is located and has great internal and foreign demand, has taken steps to ensure retention of superior germplasm through providing incentives to owners of animals performing according to the standards laid down and ensuring that such animals are not disposed of, more particularly animals in the first two lactations.

4. Evolution of indigenous breeds

Most of the breeds of livestock and poultry that exist in the region have evolved through natural selection for adaptation to agro-ecological and management conditions. Artificial selection based on social or economic needs of the breeders would have been practised only to a very small extent. Most of the indigenous breeds are very well adapted to harsh physical, health and nutritional environment and long migration in certain areas.

5. Dilution/loss of genes through crossbreeding/grading-up

The lack of appreciation of the productivity of indigenous breeds, especially in prevailing conditions of management, eagerness to rapidly improve genetic merit, availability of important biological tools such as semen freezing and artificial insemination, have led to the possibility of massive transfer of genes from superior indigenous/exotic breeds. Due to the circumstances explained earlier, especially lack of organised breeding activity, there is a lot of further intermixing of breeds located in the same region or with the breeds which observe transhumance/ migratory system. These trends could lead to dilution and even loss of some of the important genes related to adaptation.

6. Need for evaluation

Logically, the effort should be to have more detailed surveys of available animal genetic resources in their native environment to allow their description, evaluation and differentiation. This would utilise physical conformation, body measurements and performance characteristics included in multivariate analysis, as well as utilising gene marker characters, viz. cytological, immunological, biochemically polymorphic and molecular genetic in nature - such as restricted fragment length polymorphism, DNA finger printing, etc.

7. Definition of breed

The population of livestock and poultry in a given location with certain well-defined physical conformation characters, distinct local names and differentiable from other breeds in the vicinity is generally considered as a breed. Given the circumstances prevailing, regarding the organisation of breeding activities, there is a likelihood that a large number of these breeds may not be genetically distinguishable. For example, the breeds of cattle in India can be grouped in 4–5 basic types. This is also the case with sheep in Rajasthan where earlier all breeds were grouped as Bikaneri but they have now been distinguished as eight distinct breeds. These could, however, be grouped under three distinct types on the basis of their fleece type. While it is necessary that steps should be taken for more detailed description and evaluation of each of the better known/less known breeds and their genetic differentiation, utilising more modern tools of molecular genetics, it is also necessary that the breeds which are threatened to extinction should be considered for conservation by both in situ and ex situ methods.

8. Breeds of livestock in South Asia

Breeds of cattle (dairy, draft, draft and dairy, dairy and draft), buffaloes (dairy, draft and meat), sheep (apparel wool, carpet wool and meat, carpet wool, meat and dairy, dairy, carpet wool and meat), goats (fleece, dairy and fleece, dairy, meat, fleece and dairy, dairy and meat, and meat), pigs, poultry, horses, camel, yak and mithun in India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Sri Lanka are presented in Tables 1, 2, 3 and 4.

9. Breeds requiring conservation

The livestock census in the countries in the region is taken by species and not by breeds. It is, therefore, extremely difficult to know the exact number of animals of a particular breed except through the number of animals of a species in the area comprising the home tract of the breed. Further, with little organised breeding effort to ensure the purity of a breed, a large proportion of animals are nondescript even in the breeding tract of a descript breed, further creating problems of determining the numbers of animals of a particular breed. Information with respect to the breeds needing conservation in the region was sought from both the senior research and development officers of these countries. On the basis of the information made available as well as personal discussions with senior officers of these countries connected with animal husbandry research and development programmes, the breeds of different livestock species showing serious decline in their numbers and needing conservation effort are presented in Table 5.

The number of animals for a breed to be classified as endangered (Alderson, 1981; Maijala, 1982) may not justify most of these breeds to be called endangered. However, some of the breeds, such as Toda buffalo, Nilgiri and Hissardale sheep, Double-humped camel in Ladatch area of India, would need immediate conservation effort.

In addition to the proper description and evaluation of different breeds in their native environment and their genetic differentiation, it will be necessary that the surveys of animal genetic resources estimate population statistics and the rate of changes over time, especially in relation to the breeding strategy being followed. It will also be necessary that the quinquennial census is done not only on species basis but on breed basis, so that the number of animals of a particular breed and the trends in the numbers are available. Thus the need for taking steps for conservation of the breed can be determined.

Table 1: Breeds of cattle in South Asian countries

TypeIndiaPakistanBangladeshNepalBhutanSri Lanka
DairyRed SindhiRed Sindhi    
Karan Swiss     
Karan Fries     
Dairy and draftTharparkarTharparkar    
Draft and dairyDeoniBhagnari  Siri 
Krishna Valley     
DraftAmritmahalDhanniBengalNepalese Hill Sinhala
BargurRojhanRedKachcha Siri  
Dangi  Tarai  
Hallikar  Lulu  

Table 2: Breeds of buffaloes in South Asian countries.

TypeIndiaPakistanBangladeshNepalBhutanSri Lanka
DairyMurrahNili Ravi Lime  
Nili-RaviKundi (Nepalese Mountain buffalo)  
Draft and meatKalahandi     
Manda/ Parlakimedi/ Ganjam
Nagpuri/ Pandharpuri
South Kanara     

Table 3: Breeds of sheep and goat in South Asian countries.

TypeIndiaPakistanBangladeshNepalBhutanSri Lanka
Apparel woolKashmir MerinoKarnah    
Bharat Merino     
CarpetChoklaKachhi Bhyanglung  
NaliKajli Baruwal  
PattanwadiKalah Jumli  
Kagi/ Lampuchchera
Rampur Bushair     
Meat and carpet woolMuzzafarnagriBibrik    
MeatNelloreMichni   Jaffna
Ramnad White     
Madras Red     
Tiruchy Black     
Carpet wool meat and dairy Baluchi    
Carpet wool meat and fat Lati    
Dairy and carpet woold Damani    
Dairy/ meatJhakranaBari    
Ganjam  Tarai  
Malabari  Nepalese Hill  
Kannai Adu     
Fibre/ hairGaddiKaghani Chayangez  
Dairy Damani    
Dairy, meats, fleece Dera Din Panah    
Dairy and fleece Baluchi    
Meat and fleece Sirli    

Table 4: Breeds of pigs, poultry, camel, horses, yak and Mithun in South Asia.

TypeIndiaPakistanBangladeshNepalBhutanSri Lanka
PigIndian wild pig     
Andaman Island wild pig
Eastern region wild pig
Brown Desi     
Harringhatta Black
Kashmir Faveralla
Naked Neck     
Punjab Brown     
HorsesKathiwariBaluchi Bhutia  
MarwariHirzai Tangan  
BhutiaWaziri Tarai pony  
Asses Yak and MithunIndian wild asses     

Table 5: Breeds requiring consideration for conservation.

TypeIndiaPakistanBangladeshNepalBhutanSri Lanka
DangiRojhanRed *   
BuffaloToda *     
SheepNilgiri *     
Hissardale *     
CamelDouble humped camel*     
PoultryAll indigenous breeds of poultry     

* will require urgent consideration

10. Breeding policy to ensure maintenance of purity of indigenous breeds

Realising the importance of indigenous breeds, the Government of India has defined breeding policy for livestock. The crossbreeding with exotic, superior breeds will be confined to nondescript and low-producing animals and the descript breeds will be improved through selection within breeds.

11. Conservation efforts

The Government of India has taken steps for conservation of indigenous livestock germplasm. For that purpose it has set up a Bureau of Animal Genetic Resources supported by an Institute of Animal Genetics and a number of species-related research institutes/centers, State Agricultural Universities, State Departments of Animal Husbandry and non-governmental organisations. The Bureau, supported by these bodies, will take up large surveys for the description and evaluation of indigenous breeds and to identify breeds needing conservation effort. The Bureau will coordinate the national effort which will be funded by the Government of India. The Bureau will also be an animal genetic resource data bank and gene bank. Samples of cryo-preserved genetic material will be kept at the Bureau and the participating agencies.

Major breeding research programmes now involve improvement of indigenous breeds through selection. These programmes utilise existing institutional farms maintaining the same breed as associated herds, alternatively taking up Open Nucleus Breeding Schemes (ONBS), taking up field recording of performance data, and utilising farmers' herds or flocks in genetic selection. These steps will allow maintenance of large populations of indigenous breeds in situ.

The utilisation of existing institutional farms maintaining indigenous breeds under ONBS should allow not only quicker genetic improvement, but also allow cryo-preservation of large samples of semen and embryos from selected animals.


Acharya, R.M. (1982). Sheep and goat breeds of India. FAO Animal Production and Health Paper 30. Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations, Rome, Italy.

Acharya, R.M. and Bhat, P.N. (1984). Livestock and poultry genetic resources of India. IVRI Research Bulletin No. 1. Indian Veterinary Research Institute, Izatnagar (U.P.), India.

Alderson, L. (1981). Conservation of animal genetic resource in the United Kingdom. FAO Animal Production and Health Paper 24. Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations, Rome, Italy.

Hasnain, H.U. (1985). Sheep and goats in Pakistan. FAO Animal Health and Production Paper 56. Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations, Rome, Italy.

Kharel, M. and Pradhan, S.L. (1986). Purebred and crossbred sheep of Nepal. Nepalese Journal of Animal Sciences, 2: 13–25.

Maijala, K. (1982). Preliminary report of the working party of animal genetic resource in Europe in conservation of animal genetic resource. Session I, Commission on Animal Genetics, EAAP G.I, II, Leningrad, USSR.

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