The Arc&Rescuestation Saldobosch is managed by the German ecologist Michel Jacobi since 2008. The project is maintaining the core population of Carpathian Buffalos in Ukraine, is breeding primitive Mountain Tarpan type from the Hucul pony, collects Rishka cattels from the mountains and our collegs are milking up to 400 Sheeps and Goats. The pasture land is without any fencing and up to 50 days a year flodded by the river Tisza. It is hard to imagin how in such a dense populated area the pasture culture can be so viral. To understand this, you have to go deep into the ruthenian culture, but it is hard to find any real information about them. They do not write, they paint, they sing and they keep their secrets protected with a unique language.
You have to know, that each of the sheperds I mentioned, makes a living for less than 100€ a month. This people are running self-sufficient home farms with interesting family structure. This makes their 80% home suplyed living standard, independent from global fluctation. Igor would say: “What crisis? We have a stabel crisis.” But what he thinks is a crisis, is the knowledge of Western culture.
The biggest mistake you can make as a traveler (and I have seen many ;) is to compare. Such a culture is just different, be sure you can not understand it, because you are not used to it. Such people as Igor and many more members of the local community would not work somewhere else even for 10 times the money. Ask yourself, would you go to western civilisation when somebody pays you 10 times your salary? My first time travelling there made me fall in love with this area after 2 weeks of walking already. I agree it is hard to relax and you may not see the deep connection between a grany and her cow when you think she is poor and unemployed while you are challenged by the dogs garding the flock near by. Be aware, this is a beautifull raped paradiese and if you are quiet, traveling and observing you still can see it. You think this people die early? No! If you want, you can choose to get very old there. It is peoples temperament, they have a choise. This culture is based on old ladys called babuschkas, they are living in the foothill zone of the carpathians and sometimes high in the mountains. Only Hucul/Werchowina people you will find there. Most of them are unbelivibal active and shining characters, often older than 80 years, they are running farms with goats many km away from next village with less than 100€ pension, by the way one liter of Diesel costs 0,8€. The community makes it possible, people like Igor, everybody is helping each other, it is like one huge family. If you can respeckt ruthenian rules wich they call: “as it has to be” than they are friendly and welcomming people and when you stay you are in the circle. This rules make totally sence and they give you the stability you need to have a long lasting self-sufficient cummunity. The funny thing about ruthenian culture although they have borders with 5 countrys is that there are no external investors and we talk about 2 mio. people living in Zakarpattia. Exeptions: a few Romanian minoritys and there is an Italian conection.
This should be a report as I do it every year but I am not in Saldoboschfarm. I have to be with my family in germany. Igor is managing everything now but I am in the office to give him a voice.
As I try to explain the farm is embeddet in a network of great farmers, sheperds and scientists as well as activists and lot of volunteers. The biggest treasure this network maintains are 5 bull breeding lines of pure Carpathian Buffalos. They have about 40 cows to jump on at this moment. Since our iniciative started 10 years ago, the population of Carpathian Buffalos in Ukraine has doubled to about 140-200 animals.
The breeding aim with the horses is to bring back the extinct Mountain Tarpan using the primitive local ponnys, same with the cows called Rishka and Carpathian Brown or Mukanitza. The last years we started farms and iniciatives opend those are still running fine.
The nicest iniciative of 2017 I think are 3 very active woman, members of Slow Food and the Institute of Animal Breeding and Genetics (Chubynske, Kiev region). This three ladys opened a cheese factory in Veliky Bitschkiv, collect milk from endangerd catle breeds of Hucul people and sell it to tourists and delicatess shops in Kiev/Liviv.
The Ruthenian culture is still using the authentic culture to maintain a cattle that officially is listed as extinct. As well as they keep zebrastriped ponnys for work in the biggest old grow forest of beech wood. They have specialised goat breed no scientist ever reported about and they cover most of electricity with water power and diesel. I know why you will not like them, but I know why I would fight for them, our fight has been fun, is succesfull and will last.
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 they mention in literature with the name Hucul cow or 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.
Newsletter summer 2015 of the Ukraine NGO Saving of Agrobiodiversity in the Carpathians
1. About our work
2. Carpathian Buffalo breeding Project
3. Mountain Hucul
4. Rishca the old mountain cow from the Carpathians
5. Developments in Synevirski National Park
1. About our work:
The Carpathian Mountains are the largest living ecosystem in Europe. Poor infrastructure makes it a still suitable habitat for Bears, Wolfs and Lynx. Little exploitation of the natural recources preserved rich cultural habits and traditional livestyle in many areas. But political pressure together with ongoing industrialisation is changing nature and culture to EU standards. The Romanian example is showing the devastating influence of the EU. Dramatic loss of biodiversity and cultural livestyle are the result of eight years EU politics. The Buffalo population in Romania dropped down dramaticly durimg this period. From Brussel new classified diseases like blue tunge made central and north Romania to a carantene zone. Over more than eight month local people could not sell or buy living cows any more and had to allow artificial insemination with genetical modified high breed cows from western Europe like Belgium Blue. At the same time Chinese entering the marked and buying meat everywhere. This caused a dramatic drop of old cow breeds. Centralisation and mass production following. This is a smart type of industrial dictatorship, because the Blue Tunge disease has always been there and not harming any small farm until now.
The opposite happened in Ukraine. Chaos and anarchie was written in the media but the local fact in Zacarpathia is decentralisation, independency, self sufficiency and relying on the high quality of mulitfunctional usage from old breeds. Less money for infrastructure made local produced goods become more valuable. Political insecurity stopped investors cutting down the forest and local people are benefiting from own governance about the land and the forest.
Just one example: In the oak forest of Tjatschiv-Region in Zakarpathia Ukraine the local people are accused of „stealing“ from the state forest. They take the trees for themselves and for sale. Like two local man cutting 1-2 big oak trees at night at full moon and pulling them with horses out, they are as careful and calm as possible, trying not to leave any signs. The horses are good with the cooler nights. The horses do not need any roads or infrastructure. When there is „law and order“ the state is building roads into the forest from tax money, selling 2-3ha forest for clear cut to an international company and planting new, non local, fast growing tree species that will chance the acidity of the ground and the symbiotic mushrooms and with it the water quality and quantity.
The same happens to the local cow breed. The international working breeding stations are running out of money and governmental support, so the local people are keeping own bulls again. Of course after 100 years of organised breeding from the government most of the cows are already mixed breeds with modern races. But the local mountain cow of the carpathians has been established for more than 1000 years in the area. In the Soviet Union time new bulls where brought in, to gain higher productivity in meat or milk. But after 1994 local organised breeding took place again so one can see the modern types are disappearing and the traces of the old mountain cow Rishca is appearing almost only in the lowest developed mountain regions. The population of the cows in Zakarpathia is cleaning itself again by outcrossing the highbreed genetical material through adaptation and because of the still dominant old breed genes that has not been lost in this population till now.
Our NGO in Ukraine is working with exactly this philosophy: decentralisation, low influence from outside, supporting natural, self-healing processes and showing the benefits of old nature based culture and knowledge. We are not interested in supporting political or industrial movements but local governance that leads to a deeper interaction with nature and synergetic effects for ecosystems and people.
Our main focus is:
to maintain the Carpathian Buffalo as a breed in the mountains of Ukraine
to support small family businesses that respects old culture and the living nature
to reintroduce the Mountain Hucul to the old habitat of the Mountain Tarpan
to establish the Rishca/Mukaniza cow as a recognised breed in the Carpathians
to protect biodiversity hotspots from cultural change
to finance rescue actions of large mammals in the Carpathians
2. Carpathian Buffalo breeding project:
The Carpathian Buffalo population is still growing but not out of dangour. Since our NGO started work in 2009 no female Carpathian Buffalo was killed because of economical reasons. We are managing the population by controlling the bulls and selling for low money female Buffalos to promising owners. Our NGO is keeping the biggest nucleus herde in Zakarpathia with around 28 individuals. With big pleasure we recognise that other farms in Chust area like the one from Roman are continually growing. Some individuals, farmers and projects are still having big problems to survive and there is a group of 14 animals in Zakarpathia changing the owner already 3 times in the last three years. Positive examples like Vladislav from Bushtinow showing that 2-3 Carpathian Buffalos can be perfectly integrated in family farms to support children with high quality milk. The total number of Buffalos in Zakarpathia is already 78 individuals this summer 2015. Our NGO is keeping five Bulls with different blood lines on two different farms. By the end of this year we may be opening a new farm for 20 Buffalos that is sponsored by local people in colaboration and consultation with our NGO. Sad to see is that the traditional way of keeping Buffalos like in Kritschovo is coming to an end. The number of the last individuals living like this is less than 8 Buffalos in 3 Villages.
3. Mountain Hucul
Our work in Zakarpathia is including a rare type of mountain Pony. This Hucul Horses seem to be directly related to the extinguished european wild horse called Mountain Tarpan. Together with international experts we found some of these individuals in the Carpathians of Ukraine. For 6 years we keep them under semi wild circumstances and do selection of phenotype, intelligence, adaptation to climate and food and social behaviour. Our aim to release them into the Carpathians is becoming more realistic every year. Our new partner the Sinivirski National Park is a realistic and promissing option in the Horhanski massif. The first step of finding suitable individuals and area is finished. Next year will be probably the first individuals joining the traditional pasture Strimba Polonyna in Horhansky Massiv. The idea of financing this program with money from riding tourism has not been working out so well so we are discussing other financing options like meat production. The total number of individuals in Zakarpathia is less than 100. Our NGO is keeping 15 of them. Linda Röhl is offering riding trips in Chust and Tjatschiv-Region with 6 mares that are managed by our NGO.
4. Rishca the old Mountain cow from the Carpathians
Since last year we are working with the old type of mountain cow that can still be found in the low developed areas of Zakarpathia. Thanks to Hans Peter Grunenfelder and the Grovni Foundation we are establishing a Carpathian network with Romanian and Ungarian partners. The aim is to manage a population of minimal 200 individuals. At the moment we are buying some of this old style cows and giving them to our most reliable partners. Attila and Esta from Mirkuriatschuk in Romania are already keeping this animals with the help of our NGO and private money semi wild in the mountains with astonishing results. First studies from our NGO show that there are still animals like this in Mighiria and Tjatschiv-Region of Zakarpathia. We are registering them and buying available individuals, this program is benefiting from the existing experience and the network established by the Carpathian Buffalo breeding project.
5. Developments in Synevirski National Park
Together with the Director of Synevirski National Nature Park and partners in Kolotschava we are establishing new projects and networks in the Horhanski massif. Dr. Andreas Hohl is the initiator for the rescue action of the bears kept in the rehabilitation center of the park. A new homepage for coordination of this and different other projects in the area are in progress. At the moment we are discussing about a new german based NGO that is needed to initial funding. Center of this new NGO can be an old forester house in the center of the park. It will be also suitable as a Hostel and station to organise riding trips as well as blue berry collection and mushroom drying. For this we are building a new team of ukrainian people and search for european fundings.