The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC) maintains a Conservation Priority List that includes nearly 200 rare and endangered breeds of poultry and livestock. In 2012, ALBC launched an in-depth census of rare breeds of livestock on the list, as well as of the more common breeds found in the United States. It’s a long process involving hundreds of breeds, but the ALBC hopes to have the census complete by the end of 2013.
During this process, several red flags popped up and resulted in unexpected additions to the list. The most surprising were two icons of U.S. history: the traditional Morgan horse and Texas Longhorn cattle, which are both in danger of extinction. Extensive crossbreeding has caused the original and genetically pure animals to become exceedingly rare, and it has only been through the dedication of a few committed breeders that we still have a viable population of each. Other breeds that will enter the Conservation Priority List are the Galiceño horse, Harlequin rabbit, Icelandic chicken and Saipan chicken.
The census revealed good news, too: The Katahdin sheep, Nigerian Dwarf goat and Percheron horse are no longer under threat of extinction. These three breeds have experienced renewed interest in recent years, and their populations continue to rise nationally and internationally.
The Conservation Priority List is the primary tool the ALBC uses to prioritize its work and bring resources to the endangered livestock breeds most in need of help. A number of factors beyond simple population numbers determine the endangerment status of breeds: Breed club or association activity, annual registrations, or imminent threat to a population can affect their status on the list. Through the ALBC’s annual review process, and by tapping into the combined knowledge and networking skills of the organization’s staff and its nearly 4,000 members, the list is continually updated.
Carefully tracking populations — which the ALBC does on an annual basis — has proved crucial to ensuring that breeds don’t slip through the cracks and disappear.
You can Support the Conservancy’s work by becoming a member for $35 a year. Learn more at the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy website.