Scientists launch study to help Punganur cow back on its knees

A Punganuru bull   | Photo Credit: HANDOUT_E_MAIL

The Punganur cow, considered one of the world’s smallest breeds of cattle, is said to be on the verge of extinction due to cross-breeding being conducted by farmers, according to livestock journals.

While R.W. Littlewood was the first to highlight the breed’s vulnerable status in his 1936 book ‘Livestock of South India’, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the Animal Genetic Resources lists the breed as facing extinction.

Animal genetics and breeding scientists from the NTR University of Veterinary Sciences in Gannavaram are now engaged in efforts to save the unique breed from extinction.

The Punganur cow is diminutive, with a height of 70 cm to 90 cm and weighing around 115 to 200 kg. In comparison, the famous Ongole bull stands tall at 1.70 metres and weighs 500 kg. Both breeds trace their origins to Andhra Pradesh.

The Livestock Research Station (LRS) at Palamaner in Chittoor district is said to be the last bastion of the breed. LRS has instituted a programme to conserve the breed.

Status symbol

The Punganur cow has become a status symbol in recent years as wealthy livestock farmers began buying it, believing it brings good luck.

Former Chief Minister N Kirankumar Reddy, the late N Harikrishna, and former TTD chairman K Bapi Raju were among the notable individuals who bought the Punganur cow. The TTD also has several Punganur cows, whose milk is used to prepare ghee which is offered as ‘archana’ to Lord Venkateswara.

However, cows from other breeds are now increasingly being mistaken for Punganur cows, with the actual breed dwindling in numbers, say scientists.

Veterinary University Animal Genetics and Breeding head R. Vinoo says the majority of the animals being referred to as Punganur breed are “not in agreement with the phenotypic (physical and other observable traits induced genetrically) characteristics” described historically by Shortt in 1885, Wallace in 1888 and Littlewood in 1936.

Extensive study

“The University has embarked on a project to assess the genetic and phenotypic status of the Punganur Cattle,” Dr. Vinoo said. Along with his colleagues K. Sudhakar and M. Muralidhar, Dr. Vinoo will study coat colour, horn patterns, biometric traits and demographic data of the Punganur cows and other similar breeds at LRS, Palamaner, besides studying the Punganur cows owned by farmers across the state.

The team will also analyse mitochondrial DNA to study genetic traits of the Punganur cow as compared to other breeds. These studies would help “separate the grain from the chaff”, according to the researchers.

At the end of their study, the scientists would be able to distinguish the Punganur cows and initiate further research, Dr. Vinoo said.

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Printable version | Nov 15, 2020 7:13:52 PM |

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