An indigenous lesser known population of short cattle facing threat of extinction in a Kerala forest region are being pulled back from the brink, thanks to conservation efforts by a group of passionate cattle rearing farmers living on the banks of the famous River Periyar here.
Conservationists say thriving of the neglected Periyar cow, locally known as "Periyar Kullan" (Periyar dwarf), which produces tasty and nutritious milk with medicinal value, is certain as the Kerala State Livestock Development Board decided to adopt its pair of bulls for semen collection, giving them a chance to bring back older breeds, whose genetic stock was not easily available.
Jose James, Managing Director of KLD Board, said the bulls, aged three and four years, were identified for semen collection.
They were selected after conducting detailed examinations at the Centre for Advanced Livestock Genomics (CALG) and State Institute for Animal Diseases under the state government.
The bulls, selected from the farm of conservationist Cose Kurien, hailing from Kodanad village in Ernakulam district, will be adopted on Friday, sources said.
They will be returned to the farm after collecting 5,000 doses of semen from them.
James said the project envisages production of 1,000 pure dwarfs in two years.
Dr C K Shaju, subject expert on Animal Husbandry, Kerala Biodiversity Board, said semen collected from bulls can be preserved for many years.
Kurien, who initiated steps for conservation of Periyar cows four years ago, said the the indigenous cattle is found along villages close to forest regions on the banks of the river Periyar like Kodanad, Kuttampuzha, Malayattoor, Kalady, Panamkuzhi, Panieli and Ayyampuzha.
A custodian farmer rearing over a hundred such cows now, Kurian said he took up the initiative for its conservation in 2017, inspired by a report prepared by a group of students studying in the school owned by him in Kodanad village.
He said initially a collective of farmers interested in rearing Periyar cows was formed.
The cattle bore different names associated with places like 'Kuttampuzha dwarf' and 'Ayyampuzha dwarf.'
It was famous veterinarian Dr Jayadevan Namboodiri, who had contributed enormously towards conservation of the famous "Vechur Cattle", who gave the lessons for conservation of the Periyar cow, organising a seminar a few years ago, Kurien recalled.
Namboodiri had done enormous study on Periyar cows, but his vision for their classification materialised after Kurien and other custodian farmers took it as a mission in 2017.
Talking to P T I, Namboodiri said Periyar cows could not be called as a "breed" as it is a lesser known population.
Kurien said a detailed study is being conducted by the National Bureau of Animal Genetic Resources (NBAGR) in Karnal for conservation of the lesser known population of Kerala cattle on the basis of a project submitted by Namboodiri.
Kurien, a gene saviour award winner and manager of Mar Augen High School, Kodandad, said scientists from NBAGR, which is under the Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR), visited his village Kodanad in 2019 to study the characteristics of the Periyar cows.
"To undertake the study of indigenous varieties of cows, the scientists, led by Dr Anil Kumar Mishra and Dr K N Raja, travelled through various forest areas and collected blood samples for research. They conducted interviews with our students and local people. Again during November 2019 they visited and collected blood samples for further studies," Kurien told P T I.
Namboodiri, Deputy Director of the state Animal Husbandry Department, said a regular follow-up is being done for getting the Periyar cows get the recognition of a cattle breed.
"After the scientific study, we hope that there will be an eventual recognition of the Periyar breed of cattle, which will be the second breed in Kerala, after the famous "Vechur Cattle", he said.
Namboodiri hailed the conservation efforts by Kurien.
He said cattle having a height of 95 to 100 cm have got a very good characteristic, with a short sturdy body.
Namboodiri said the heat tolerant Periyar cows can survive the adverse effects of climate change. It also has the ability to resist all diseases, he said.
Dr Shaju said cow-based agriculture in agro biodiversity is very much necessary to help the farmers.
He also suggested that farm schools be organised from custodian farmers with the object of propagation of ecological importance to the next generation.