Endangered Livestock Breeds in central and east Europe
Newsletter 2016 from the NGO Saving Agrobiodiversity in Carpathian Mountains
Since 2008 we have been working in Ukraine and Romania to maintain small scale farming with endangered livestock breeds. 2016 was the busiest and most successful period for our main project, maintaining the Carpathian Buffalo population in Ukraine. After a massive public relations campaign we were able to open 3 new Buffalo farms and have been helping to promote the Buffaloes of 3 additional farms to increase tourism and dairy production for local consumers. With new effort to document the existence of the Hucul Cow (also called Rishka), we have attracted the interest of the FAO, because this small mountain cow of the Ruthenian people was supposed to be extinct. We are currently doing a genetic analysis in order to prove that this is a distinct breed that is not yet recognised by the scientific community. We still have a group of 8 local Hucul horses that show in phenotype the relation to the extinct european wild horse called Tarpan. Our project to promote the Mangaliza pig in Zakarpattia (completed in 2014) has been severely threatened. All 250 animals that were kept on the Saldobosh Farm have suffered due to the outbreak of a contagious disease. Only a few animals survived in villages close by. We are planning to extend our Carpathian Buffalo projects because of the ongoing catastrophe in Romania (see Newsletter 2015) and the unstable situation in Ukraine. We are going to install an international breeding and maintaining project for Carpathian Buffaloes. The plan is to manage a herdbook and to install a population in Germany.
Promoting Carpathian Buffalos and opening new farms in Ukraine
For about 2000 years Ruthenian people have kept Buffaloes. These animals were used for meat, milk, as draft cattle, for protection of other animals in the herd, as well as defending against thieves and predators. They are curious, aggressive and build long term relations with the owner. To show all the incredible qualities of this animal, Michel Jacobi decided, against many recommendations, to leave the pasture lands of the Saldobosch Arc & Rescue station to go to the floodland of the river Tisa to spend a season on the alpine meadows of the highlanders in the Rachive area. This center of the Carpathian Biosphery Reservation (CBR) was reached after 5 days walking at a distance of 120km and 1200m altitude difference. Several days were spent along the main road of Zakarpattia Oblast so that many people could get to know the Buffaloes. Journalists joined us and old people along the road started telling their children about the times when Buffaloes were higher in number than cows. The village Luh gave us access to a 5000ha meadow on mountain Blisnecia where Hucul people traditionally pastured sheep, cows and horses. A few kilometers across the border in Romania there is still the tradition of bringing Carpathian Buffaloes to this altitude, but the people of Ukraine have already forgotten about this, so we were very critically observed. A short time after arriving, the situation became very easy and the animals adapted right away. They love the grass up there, there is plenty of water, very little pollution and lots of space for Buffaloes to roam free. No Gardens can be destroyed, surrounded by old beech forest and hard working, traditionally living highlanders called Hucul people that welcomed us with deep respect and friendliness. At night we locked up the 25 Buffaloes and one cow into an electric fence next to our traditional hut, we could milk 3 of them in the morning and let them range free till sunset. They started to come back by themselves and did not even need to be guarded because they got salt within the e-fence. At day time they started digging new ponds and destroying young trees on the edge of the forest. I was afraid to get in trouble with the reservation because of this destruction of vegetation, but the Hucul people were very happy about this behavior. At the end of the summer the Buffaloes maintained 3 new permanent water ponds and helped to fight against the forest that was overgrowing this underused traditional pastureland between 1200m and 1800m altitude. Several times wolves have been attacking our animals, but only the sheep and horses of our neighbors got killed and injured even though we had 5 new born babys among the Buffaloes this season. Because of this extremely successful experiment, tour guides especially directed trips to our Buffalo meadow, cheese and milk clients frequently visited us and bought all products we produced. The highest politicians of the state and the region came to see and ride the Buffaloes in this breath taking landscape. The mainstream media of Ukraine as well as internet bloggers and international newspapers joined us this summer. The Buffaloes suddenly became famous. Our main problem in previous years was that nobody wanted to keep these animals any more, but now we had many propositions from politicians, NGOs and Businessmen who wanted to maintain or use this animals again. When we came back to the lowland in September, we could open new farms on the greenest pasture fields and repopulate Saldobosch with healthy females. We had to leave two huge bulls with several females in Saldobosch because they started fighting with our other bulls that we need to maintain to avoid future inbreeding. But now we realised 5 new Buffalo farm projects, four of them keep one bull or more. Some of the buffalo farms are private and do not want to be mentioned in the public, but let me tell you about 3 of my favorite projects started this year. I developed, with a team of smart ecologists (Mischa, Oleg and Igor from the local research study center) a system towards a safari tourism based on the rewilding of Carpathian Buffalos in the Danube Delta. This would be an experiment for ecosystems, local people and for general acclimatisation to fight climate change, our NGO, together with the Save-Foundation, Local Study Researchcenter and True Nature Foundation have been introducing Waterbuffaloes from Zakarpattia into a community farm of a Moldavian minority village in the most south west point of Ukraine. To increase the number of Carpathian Buffalos in Ukraine and to find sustainable solutions for a growing population, new options for this old breed needed to be considered. The farm that was chosen is managed by a skilled agronom named Misha, he is the head of the village Orlovka. Potential pasture land and farming possibilities, as well as fitting ecosystems, seem to be there for a countless number of Buffaloes. Two important aspects for Misha were dairy production and tourism. He received 14 Buffaloes under the conditions of a animal loan system, developed by the Save-Foundation. To make Buffalo farming possible we are consulting the community in Orlovka to install a dairy farm with Buffaloes. As the next step, the Danube Biosphery Reserve close by is considered as a potential partner for tourism. An Island (Ermakov Island) in the center of the reservation has been offered to rewild Buffaloes on a 2000ha piece of land. Infrastructure is alreaddy existing on the non populated island, just skilled staff (e.g. from Orlovka) need to take responsibillity and action. A second farm in Zakarpattia has been supported with our animals close to Saldobosch in the village Bushtino. Vladislav already bought several animals from us in 2010 and is exchanging bulls and heffers every year to keep a healthy stock and produce his famous Mozzarella that he calls Holupzi. Actually he keeps two very important bulls of our 6 breeding lines to preserve the genetic diversity of the Carpathian Buffaloes. A third farm lost several sheep this winter because of dog attacks and my personal friend Ivan Fanta spontaneously decided to keep a milking Buffalo with a young calf from our NGO. Ivan lives in Bedeblja, close to Saldobosch and is learning with the young mother to establish a symbiotic relationship. His farm is beautiful and has a lot of potential. Nevertheless, there are two more sucsesful farms that have been established in Zakarpattia parallel to Saldobosch project in the last years. They can be mentioned now because they reached public awareness. The one project run by Roman Chust promoting the Carpathian Buffalos and its products is available for tourists now too. Vasja from Khorinschovo is also keeping more than 12 Buffalos, selling milk for more than 3€/l and promoting his animals on billboards all over the region. Just to remember, when I started 2008 there were less than 40 animals left in Zakarpattia and most of the Buffaloes for our Arc & Rescue station Saldobosch we bought with money from Swiss associations like Save-Foundation in a slaugtherhouse close to Liviv. Vasja and Roman later both bought animals from Saldobosch and the price for Buffaloes doubled since then, although price for hay is still the same.
Monitoring the old mountain cow of the Carpathians
For several years we are observing a small short horn mountain cow in Ukraine and Romania. In other countries similar breeds still exist, like the Presper cattle in Greece or the Bursha cattle in Albania even in ancient times the Illyrian cattle was mentioned. But this old animal breed has not officially existed or is already extinct in the Carpathians. This is definitely not true for Ukraine. You may say there are no pure breeds left of the cows as they mention in literature with the name Hucul cow, Rishka or Mukanitza but the Hucul people are still existing in Ukraine and maintaining quite a large number of primitive small cattle. They keep/select them as they have been for many generations. Definite answers can only be given by genetic analysis and comparison with other old breeds or the local Burocarpathian cow. It has been difficult to understand why Burocarpathian cow receive so much attention and generous funding but the small, primitive cow of the highlanders get no attention at all. Because we are convinced of the positive qualities of this breed my friend Igor and I are maintaining a small group of animals for our selves, but now it is time to raise awareness. Together with Svetlana from Luh, we found a group of investors that is building a cheese factory in Veliky Bitschkiv Rachiv-Region to produce traditional Cheese products from Hucul cows. Together with an institute in Kiew we are going to analyse the genome of 25 Hucul cows in spring 2017 to compare it with the Burocarpathain and other old breeds. The analysis is very expensive and we are searching funding to tackle this necessary task.
The primitive Hucul horses are not catching any further attention, only the people working with this mountain ponns are fascinated. Our Buffalo shepherds, Colia and Djadja Mischa, use some of the Mountain Hucul from Saldobosch to herd the Buffaloes or to transport hay and private goods. They induce nearly no costs because they can run all year round on our huge pasture fields in Saldobosch at the Tisa river. Me, I am doing the selection for the horses and I am loving the results. Breeding associations from Poland have been spending several Millions in Ukraine to build a Hucul breeding station in Svalava and they are buying Polish Hucul horses and making the documents for them. They did not allow us to start an official herdbook or even name our Hucul. Although I have been living with my stalion this summer in Hucul tribal land and caught the attention of real Hucul people with my animals. Nobody there was doubting the pure origin of our animals and the respect I gained from those people makes it all worth it. Furthermore, the Hucul people elected me as an representative for their culture and to promote their Brensa cheese officially. The Mangaliza project came to an end. There are still several hundred Mangaliza pigs in Zakarpattia, but I can not say whether it has ever been an original breed of the Ruthenian population. My partner/friend Igor stopped breeding them so do I and Saldobosch. Future plans To give Carpathian Buffalos a real chance to survive with all its qualities and genetic diversity, I want to start an international recognised breeding project. There are still several hundred animals in the mountains of Romania at high risk and about 60 pure Carpathain Buffalos in a monestary in Kiev are about to disappear. Beside this, there are a few animals in Germany managed by NABU that are called Carpathian Buffaloes. So the first step is to continue maintaining the herdbook together with Save-Foundation and to work with more private people and organisations in Germany to maintain this breed. The Carpathian Buffalo seems to be the most suitable european Waterbuffalo breed for rewilding projects and nature conservation to restore our landscape. Our NGO will continue to help grow the number of Buffaloes in Ukraine, therefore I would like to thank all the beautiful people involved. A special thanks goes to our donator: Porsche leasing from Kiev. They help to maintain the Buffaloes in our Arc & Rescuestation Saldobosch.