Indigenous animal species grazed by nomadic Gujjars dying out

May 31st, 2009 - 12:04 pm ICT by IANS  

By Binoo Joshi
Jammu, May 31 (IANS) It is a classic case of the new edging out the old to extinction. Jammu and Kashmir’s traditional graziers, the nomadic Gujjars, rue the dying out of several indigenous species of goat and sheep after the introduction of foreign high-yielding breeds.

Javed Rahi, national secretary of the Tribal Research and Cultural Foundation, told IANS: “In the last 40 years the nomadic Gujjars have lost at least a dozen rare indigenous species of sheep, goat, horses and dogs - and many species are on the verge of extinction.”

He said the distinctive breeds of animals with the nomadic Gujjars, who have lived on rearing of cattle and sheep since time immemorial, “have gradually got lost since 1968 when the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) introduced certain foreign breeds to get more yield in terms of mutton and wool”.

Among the sheep species that have become extinct are Ghidord, Phamphri, Punchi, Bakerwali, Bani and Karnahi, while the goat species that have died out are Gurziya, Belori, Lamdi and Goodri. According to the Tribal Research and Cultural Foundation, goat species like Kaghani, Lubdi and Kilan are on the verge of extinction.

Among horses, indigenous species like the Yarkandi, Nukra and Bharssi have become extinct while the Jaskardi and Kaliani are disappearing.

The biggest loss for these Gujjars is the near extinction of various breeds of shepherd dogs. Zafar Khatana, a Gujjar community leader now in the Daksum area of south Kashmir, told IANS over telephone, “Our herds used to be safe because of our shepherd dogs. They are very ferocious dogs and would not allow any movement around.”

“But militants on the one side and security forces on the other shot dead these dogs as they set off alarms at every movement. Now we are hardly left with any dogs,” he said.

While acknowledging that indigenous species of sheep and goat had gone extinct,Vinod Choudhary, deputy director, sheep husbandry, said: “But the government gave these Gujjars better cross-bred Australian sheep that give better mutton and wool yield.” He said that many Gujjars and Bakerwals were happy over this.

But Khatana contests this, saying that it “was good in the beginning but the problems came in at later stages”.

“Our indigenous breeds were very tough and could resist weather vagaries, whereas the Australian Merino species is delicate. The worst is that these imported breeds need good feed but we graze them on pastures which are shrinking due to restrictions of the forest department and security forces.”

Another Gujjar leader, Mohammad Shrief, also agreed that the Australian breeds were initially good on yields but “we cannot afford special feed and good pastures all the time. So they started dying.”

The nomadic Gujjars move to highland pastures in summers and come down to the plains when winters set in. “These foreign breeds are not successful for nomadic conditions,” he said.

Comparing the mutton and wool yield, Sharief said, “Our traditional sheep used to give about 25 kg of meat and about two kilograms of wool in one season, while the imported breed gives 45 kg meat and 8 kg of wool. But this is only in ideal conditions, and if they survive.”

Khatana said, “Our sheep used to have short length wool and the foreign ones have long wool. When we move in areas where there are thorny bushes the long wool gets entangled which creates problems.”

He said the grazing and feed for the imported breed is a problem in winters when pastures are snowbound and there is no provision of special feed.

Expressing his displeasure over the dying out of indigenous species, Rahi said: “It is astonishing that no genetic study was conducted to preserve the distinct characteristics of the primitive traditional species of livestock of Gujjars and the rare species got lost.”

“It is a worldwide phenomenon that government institutions take all steps to preserve the old species while introducing new ones and cross breeds,” he added.

(Binoo Joshi can be contacted at )

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