The High Range Dwarf, an endemic species of cow found only in Peerumade taluk of Idukki district, is facing extinction thanks to the lack of new initiatives to protect the breed. The farmers in the region too are looking the other way as they are keen on rearing the new hybrid varieties of cattle that provide more milk.
This breed of cows, known for its survival instincts in cold weather conditions and hilly terrains, once used to freely graze in large numbers in the tea estates. The cow was first identified as an endemic species by an expert team led by Sossamma Ipe, professor, Department of Animal Breeding and Genetics, Veterinary College, Mannuthy, in her research paper ‘Cattle of High Ranges' over a decade ago.
These cows, as the name suggests, are small in size, provide milk up to two litres, and has a life span two times higher than that of other varieties. It has a very small hump on its back, and the horns are straight and lengthy. Unlike the exotic varieties, its milk has high fat content and nutritional elements.
Like the Vechur and Kasaragod local varieties, the High Range Dwarf too survives on the ‘zero input system'. After Ms. Ipe, Dr. K. Anilkumar of the same department continued the research and presented a case before the Kerala Science Congress-2000, in Thiruvananthapuram.
He had put its number above 2,000 then. However, its number dwindled to mere 800 in 2003. The Peerumade panchayat long back had introduced a life-insurance scheme for the cows. “However, the insurance company later abandoned the scheme citing losses,” said sources at the panchayat. The farmers' interest for exotic varieties that provide more milk was one of the reasons that contributed for near-extinction of the cow, they said.
A survey conducted a few years back had put the number of cows below 100. According to the panchayat officials in the absence of scientific survey or conservation efforts the actual figure of the original breed might be far below the estimated number.
“The migration of other varieties increased the chances of cross-breeding and it is high time for undertaking efforts at least through genetic bank as done by the National Bureau of Animal Genetic, Karnal, in Haryana for preserving animal diversity,'' the sources said.
Philip Puthenpureckal of Kuttikkanam, who had eight cows, attributed the ban imposed by the tea estates on the entry of the cows as a reason for fast dwindling of the variety. His father who had 60 cows, could easily rear them in the barren hillside of the estate terrain.
Ms Ipe, who was also instrumental in setting up the Vechur Conservation Trust that developed the Vechur cow as a breed along with the Kasaragod cattle, Malabari goats, Attappadi black goat, Angamaly pigs and ducks of Kuttanad, told The Hindu that the exact number of original High Range Dwarfs is unavailable. Some new effort to protect this breed of cows is much-needed, she said.