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Ankole cattle on verge of extinction in Uganda

Xinhua | Updated: 2011-10-20 09:33

NTUNGAMO - It may look quite ordinary but the outstanding long horns make the Ankole cattle a unique type of cow, an attractive feature that has made it astonishingly distinctive in western Uganda.

The magnificent statute of the Ankole long horned cattle at the entrance of Mbarara town, the capital of western Uganda, often referred to as the land of milk, shows you how important the long horned cows are to the people in this region.

Along the rolling hills and vast grassland, one would encounter many cattle farms more than any other part of this East African country.

What is likely to attract your attention may not necessarily be the huge herds of cattle, but the unique appearance of the long horned cow and how treasured it is to the indigenous people who are predominantly pastoralists.

One of the pastoral tribes here are the Bahima. Their traditional attachment to the Ankole long horned cattle dates back to the days of their ancestors who considered it as a symbol of wealth and prestige.

For a long time, they have always believed that every man must own a long horned cow and it is no wonder many families rear them.

"Being a Muhima means you must have an Ankole cow and without a cow you are not worthy a man. Even if you don't have a cow, friends and relatives can contribute some cows for you and they give you where to start from," said Patrick Rubagyema, a pastoralist and conservationist.  

To present day, the Bahima refer to the Ankole cattle as a source of prestige.

"You are such an important person in the village if you have many cows. You are recognized wherever you go," Rubagyema said.

The Bahima attach a lot of importance to the Ankole cattle when it comes to marrying off their daughters or sons.

The cows are used in paying bride price, a mandatory requirement among these pastoral communities.  

Parents claim they do not trust marrying off their daughters to families that have no wealth, which basically is depicted through the possession of cattle.

It is this Ankole cattle that stages an uncompromised requirement for marrying a woman, hence a local proverb here that says, "If you don't have a cow, don't ask for a woman".

"If I am to marry from another family, I would take for them Ankole cows as a bride price, and if you are to marry my daughter, I would ask for cows first. However much money you could possess, all I need would be cows first" said Sebastiano Kabazire a herdsman in the western district of Ntungamo.

Although women in the cultural norms here are restricted from owning cattle, they play a critical role in the family as they engage themselves in cultivation and preparing food most especially when the men are out raring the cattle in the fields.

Nice Kyomuhendo, a 31-year-old mother of one is comfortable with the tradition, for she claims it comes with parental blessings and respect for her man.

"If my fiancée came for introduction to my parents without these cows, he will not be respected, including his family and clan. He will be referred to as a lousy man," she said.

Spending time with the Ankole cattle is an unforgettable experience.

Watching a herd of these beautiful animals with their long curved horns swirl through each other presents an artistically awesome pattern.

Listening to the sounds of nature as the birds in the wild sing to the cows while grazing on the green grass can calm ones nerves.

Seeing the calves suckle their mothers, and the herdsmen milking the cows just before day break and night fall is another experience.

However the beauty and pomp around the Ankole long horned cattle is likely to come to an end due to the threat of extinction that the cows face, according to conservationists.

The Pastoral and Environmental Network in the Horn of Africa (PENHA) an organization that works with pastoral communities in the Horn of Africa warns that if necessary intervention to conserve the long horned cattle is not put in place now, within ten years the beautiful cow will be no more.

Already the extinction threats have started becoming visible. The high population pressure on land has forced the pastoralists to consider alternative breeds that can be reared on limited land.

The drive for more economic gain rather than prestige has also forced some herdsmen to acquire exotic breeds like the Holstein- Friesian that produce a lot of milk.

Those that can not afford the Friesians have resorted to crossbreeding their locals and the exotic.  

Because of these eminent threats, the Uganda Wildlife Authority, a government agency in charge of wildlife management and other conservationists have collected some long horned cows and put them in Lake Mburo National Park for conservation purposes.  

"We are looking at it (Ankole cattle) as a tourism potential. If we conserve them, in future when they are extinct elsewhere but we have a stock here, we can get a gene pool for this Ankole cow and even tourists may come or may be the future generation will come to see how the Ankole cow looks like," said Rubagyema.

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