Newsletter Summer 2013

Dear friends of diversity,

Here in the Ukrainian Carpathians our initiative has been agitating for some of the important remnants of middle European history for five years. We are talking about the biological diversity in the cultural landscape. ‘Important’, given that locally adjusted systems of nutrition depend on variety, and ‘remnants’, as there is little left of general and agro-biodiversity that was vibrant only some decades ago. The most carefully chosen words could not describe the fairytale-like history of the Carpathians in the last 5000 years. Just 300 years ago there were gigantic aurochses and tiny wild horses, the shepherds put water buffalos in their sheep herds to protect them from bears. Ragged shepherd’s dogs of 50 kg (110lbs.) and more are still used in the Bukovina as everyday human companions. The stories of the elderly people tell of romantic times when life was hard but honest and good. They had no fences other than to protect their vegetable garden from animals of various kinds, and their doors were never locked, indeed quite the opposite, it was customary to leave food ready on the table for any visitor, in case one might not be at home.

In those days, when animals and humans were not only neighbours but good friends, the domestic animal breeds developed, for the survival of which this initiative is currently advocating. The Carpathian Buffalo was held and bred (among many other reasons) for giving milk. In today's fast moving society almost no one is able to milk these highly intelligent animals. It takes a huge amount of respect and patience to build up the necessary trust. Five of seven partners that we directly gave or arranged buffalos in the region complained about massive problems with the animals, whilst two of them wanted us to take back the buffalos after only 15 months.

When I ask my friend Valery Palovitsch Bovt how 20 years ago they managed to milk hundreds of those buffalos at the collective farm, it is hard to stop him telling endless anecdotes and heart-warming memories that all have a similar end, consistent with what I have seen on every buffalo farm still dealing with ancient breeds: mass processing, high breed selection, use of hormones (ie Oxitocin) and cross breeding of (mentally deficient) high performance breeds with origins in India or Italy.

What we do here is not only about trying to keep alive an intelligent mountain buffalo that was once as native as the aurochs in Europe; it is about protecting a piece of living cultural history that proves there was once a symbiosis, a voluntary relationship between animal and human from which both sides profited, so that, by choice, the Carpathian Buffalo is willing to give his familiar owner milk and labour.

We have been able to sell the Milk to lokal people or exchang it against food. We have been establishing some of our products in nitsh markets all over ukraine. As our initiative is supported by idealists we can be now say that the population is slowly recovering. First time since the mass slaughtery in 1994 we can now count nearly 70 individuals in Ukraine population of Zakarpattia. This time I would especially like to mention Roman from Chust. With our help he is able to hold eight buffalos during the winter. This winter he brought us six animals that graze on our community-meadow in Steblivka. Together with our shepherd Mischa, shepherd dog Ammily and 16 more buffalos they can roam the meadows, rivers and common pastures twelve hours a day.

Unfortunately none of the buffalo farms are economically sustainable. Every farmer/owner has to admit that the costs of keeping the animals is not equal to what selling milk and meat can bring in return. Should an animal be extraordinarily difficult or its owner’s idealism come to an end, we are the silver lining. For that reason we not only have the brightest, most difficult and inefficient individuals on our farm at the Rescue Station Saldobosch, but the biggest population of purebred Carpathian Buffalos in the Ukraine. Only ten of these individuals exist, six are with us. After this introduction I would like to shortly present us, i. e. the Arc & Rescue Station Saldobosch from Steblivka and its staff. Many people are involved in our project and direct or indirect environment, which makes it difficult to name everyone and I will make an attempt to give you insight from my perspective and from the inside to the outside.

Mainly we take care of our six individuals and stay in contact with the owners of the other four. The genetic exchange is strictly observed by myself, Michel Jacobi. The other buffalos at our farm are crossbreeds with partly very interesting characters. Mischa the shepherd is taking care of the animals.

Igor from Steblivka is monitoring processes, the wellbeing of the shepherds, feeding and health issues, the condition of the buildings and official external matters. 16 Huzulian horses are held together with the buffalos and are taking daily care of by our shepherd Vitja. Colia is aids the shepherds, milks the animals, markets the product and looks after tourists and interns. Valery Palowitsch Bovt is owner of the land and buildings, a generous benefactor from ‘the old school’ who is dealing with serious external affairs. Linda, Alina and Katja are motivated volunteers, who have approached our farm and its environment for scientific purposes. Linda is writing her bachelor thesis about the Huzulian people and their alternative communities in the Slavic area. Alina works for a funded scientific project that deals with tourism and local peasant economy in STeblivka and helps Colia to market the milk. Katja makes genetic analyses of our buffalos and other populations to locate the origin of the Carpathian buffalo. She is supported by the Humbold University of Berlin.

In addition we breed the rare race of ‘schwalbenbäuchige Mangalizaschweine’ an almost forgotten species of regional meadow pigs. Igor is highly involved with this. We are working together with different interest groups for the sake of the wellbeing of our animals, their population and our project. Mainly we are supported by the Save Foundation,Hans Peter Grunenfelder and many private persons.

Saldobosch is incorporated by the Ukrainian association SATrans that is financially supported by a leasing group from Kiev and by its German pendant, the Initiative For Preservation Of Rare Domestic Animal Species In The Carpathians Inc. which relies on private donations and membership fees.

Especially worth mentioning is our breeding program for Huzulian horses. This project has been financially supported only by Hans Peter Grunenfelder and Michel Jacobi and is now on its way to gain international attention. In cooperation with a few Ukrainian experts and supported by international experts a Ukrainian club has formed which preserves the unique attributes of the European wild horses and among the Huzulian horses. The horses held by us look much alike their exterminated European ancestors. International Organisatons as the Megaherbivorian Society, Free Nature or the Austrian union of Huzulian breeders suddenly show interest in our ‘Zebra’ Ponies from Saldobosch. Nevertheless we are still looking for godparents that are willing to financially support one or more animals. From 2014 we will be able to guide horse riding and trekking tours withsome of these mountain ponies.

At the moment I am currently abroad to raise money for a small cheese dairy that is planned on our farm. In September of 2013 I will be on-site again to make the next step together with Igor and a group of motivated volunteers. Until then I wish our previous collaboration will remain and flourish as ever and that many of you will think about getting in touch with us and visit us on our farm. 

Maybe one or the other is even helping our chronically underfinanced initiative with money, donations of other kind or has ideas for collaboration and progress.

Thank you very much.

Sincerely your Michel