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Trypanotolerant cattle breeds in Zaire

by J. Mortelmans and P. Kageruka

J. Mortelmans and P. Kageruka are with the Tropical Medicine Institute, Nationalestraat 155, 3-2000 Antwerp, Belgium.

Cattle were not raised in south­western Zaire (formerly the Congo Free State) until the early 1880s, when the first animals imported from Angola formed the foundation stock of government stud farms established at Zambi, Kitobola and Dolo to breed draught animals. Later, pri­vate stock farms also bred draught bullocks while missions bred cattle both for slaughter and for use as draught animals. At the turn of the century the government farms had about 1 000 animals altogether. By about 1904 the government herds numbered 4000 head of cattle, and in 1907 there were 70 cattle farms with about 5 000 head (Tobback, 1930). At about the same time, the phenomenon of trypanotolerance was noticed among the humpless cattle of West Africa.

The Dahomey breed

In 1904, 50 head of cattle were bought in Benin (formerly Dahomey) by a Mayombe planter (Drousie, 1919; Flamigni, 1939). This breed of cattle appeared shortly afterwards at the Kangu mission and at the Government Livestock Station at Zambi (Van Damme, 1911). In 1912 Van Damme found these cattle very hardy, well adapted to poor regions and useful as slaughter stock. Im­portation from Benin continued dur­ing the period prior to the First World War; the animals multiplied and spread throughout the Mayombe region and other areas of south­western Zaire. Drousie (1919) de­scribed the Dahomey cattle in this region as being small (90 to 105 cm withers height), but with a relatively high dressing percentage (about 50 percent). Because of the breed's hardiness, he suggested it be spread among the African population, espe­cially because its trypanosome resis­tance allowed it to be raised in the forest zone where no other bovines could survive.

Flamigni (1948) found these ani­mals very hardy and able to live in hot humid countries on semisavanna and in forests, but noted that they need suitable feed to survive; while they require practically no care, they do need good grazing and water. Since Dahomey cattle like to graze at night, they should not be enclosed in paddocks or pens. However, they should be provided with roofs to protect them from rain. These animals like to roam freely in small herds of 3 to 6 head; they live on forest undergrowth and fallow land and seek grazing everywhere, some­times traversing great distances. Ac­cording to Flamigni (1948, 1951) the live weight of an adult animal varies from 150 to 200 kg, but may be as much as 200 to 300 kg, while some bulls weigh even more.

The N'Dama breed

The other trypanotolerant breed in West Africa, the N'Daua or Guinean, was introduced into southwestern Zaire in the early 1920s (Tobback, 1930; Flamigni, 1939; Taminiau, 1960). This too is a small breed that is very hardy and capable of toler­ating humid heat The climate of the region is characterized by two well-marked dry seasons lasting from a month and a half to three to five months, and a mean annual rainfall of 1 000 to 1400 mm.

N'Dama cattle, first introduced by the large livestock enterprises, have spread into the Kwango-Kwilu region to the northeast Nevertheless, the N'Dama is found primarily on the stock farms of southwestern Zaire, either as a purebred or as a cross bred. On the eve of the Second World War three major stock farms were located in this region: the Kisantu mission with 9 700 head of cattle, the Compagnie des pioduits et frigoriféres du Congo (Isle of Mateba) possessing about 7 000 animals, and the Compagnie Jules Van Lancker at Kolo with some 3 100 head. Six other companies had over 500 head of cattle each and there were 15 smaller farms (Tobback, 1940). By the end of the war, the three major stockraisers owned respectively 9 770, 8 464 and 9 598 head of cattle (Tobback, 1946).

N'Dama cattle have been used to improve the conformation of the Dahomey breed while preserving its hardiness and trypanotolerance, and to impart greater hardiness and trypanotolerance to the larger, heav­ier and less resistant breeds of south­western Zaire (e.g. the Angolain, Mateba and zebu).

African Animal Trypanosomiasis Selected Articles from the World Animal Review

N'Dama cattle have a latent precocity and reach slaughter weight quickly when raised under good conditions. They have been used to improve the conformation of the Dahomey breed and impart greater hardiness and trypanotolerance to the larger, less resistant breeds of Zaire

However, the resistance of zebu crossbreds has been found inade­quate, and since 1946 efforts have been directed toward upgrading them to N'Dama (Tobler, 1961). For these purebred cattle to prosper, it was necessary to give them the right envi­ronment, i.e. improved pastures with careful control of brush fires, soundly organized use of the range or pas­tures and watering points, regular surveillance of stock management, and veterinary care. Several writers stress that it is necessary to maintain high standards of feeding and man­agement if the best results from these are to be obtained (Renier, 1953; Gretillat, 1953; Druet, 1958; Gillain, 1958; Micknevicras, 1959). They also recommend the N'Dama breed for the stocking of the Kwango-Kwilu region and base their recom­mendations on very encouraging re­sults observed on various farms in the region.

The performance of N'Dama cattle under prevailing conditions in south­western Zaire has proved excellent, especially in view of their tolerance to trypanosomes in this tsetse flyinfested region. Taminiau (1960) quotes the following average weights recorded at the Mvuazi station: calves at birth, 19 to 25 kg; one-year-old heifers, 127 kg; three-year-old cows, 241 kg; four-year-old cows, 281 kg; adult cows, 290 kg; five-year-old bulls, 430 kg; six-year-old bulls, 456 kg. The slaughterhouse dressing percentage averaged 54 percent (max­imum 58 percent and minimum 52 percent). At Gimbi in the trypanosomiasis belt, the average dressing percentage is 50.8 percent. At Gimbi, Flamigni (1959) records live weights of 300 to 325 kg for cows and about 400 kg for five- to six-year-old bulls. Tobler (1961) records for the Kolo stock farm a weight of 280 kg for three-year-old steers, 335 kg for four-year-olds, 345 to 375 kg for five-year-' olds, and 450 to 550 kg for six-year-old bulls. For the same categories in Guinea he quotes 177 kg, 220 kg, 248 to 310 kg and 300 kg respectively from statistics provided by the Min­istry of Agriculture of Guinea. In Guinea (their country of origin), the animals attain slaughter weight at 5 to 7 years of age. Tobler was able to slaughter his cattle at the age of 4 years, by which time the animals had reached a greater slaughter weight than in Guinea. Tobler concludes that the N'Dama breed possesses a latent precocity. These animals reach slaughter weight more quickly when raised under good con­ditions. Selective breeding, good management and above all a satisfac­tory and reliable source of feed are the key to early maturity.

Good conditions have a favourable influence on trypanotolerance in both the Dahomey and NT>ama breeds. Wellfed animals show a high re­sistance to trypanosome infections. Their growth curve is not affected by the infection, and the parasites as a rule quickly disappear from the pe­ripheral bloodstream. It has been observed that even calves a few weeks old from healthy cows barely suffer from attacks of Trypanosoma congolense.

Current situation

A recent visit to southwestern Zaire has convinced us of the success ob­tained by a large livestock enterprise which has introduced N'Dama cattle into this region. Starting with 50 N'Dama heifers and two N'Dama bulls in 1927, the enterprise had ex­panded to 25 000 head by 1950 and stabilized at that level, with some 6 000 head being available for sale annually. Performance at this enter­prise shows a 58 percent dressed weight for slaughter stock, an 80 per­cent annual calving rate, and approx­imately 100 percent fertility in the breeding units.

Success obtained in southwestern Zaire has led to the extension of the N'Dama breed into Bandundu Prov­ince, where enormous land areas are available for the establishment of new pastures. A total of 950 heifers were transferred to Mushie in 1965-68 (400 in 1965, 350 in 1966, 100 in 1967 and 100 in 1968). At the end of 1974 there were 11000 head. Mortality averaged 1.5 percent. The N'Dama cattle in Mushie are pure­bred; it is one of the few herds where no crossbreeding has been attempted.


The introduction of trypanotolerant breeds into southwestern Zaire has succeeded extremely well. The Daho­mey breed, smaller than the N'Dama, is more readily raised in small fam­ily herds, while the N'Dama is ex­cellent because of its precocity and high dressing percentage when raised on medium or largescale stock farms, as has been the practice in the region for nearly 50 years. In 1960, on the eve of the country's independence, there were more than 120000 head of cattle in this area, of which more than 100 000 head were on rather large stock farms (16 with over 1000 head of cattle, 27 with from 200 to 1 000 head of cattle and 107 farms with less than 200 head). Most of the stock on these farms were N'Damas or N'Dama crossbreds. Since then, the herds have continued to multiply and pros­per in this region, to the great satis­faction of the stockraisers, the veter­inary authorities, commercial firms and government circles.


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