Save the Rare Livestock Breeds

Some wonderful animals could become extinct if steps aren't taken to save rare livestock breeds.

| September/October 1980

If white cattle, Bagot goats, and Sevastapol geese were whales or dolphins, pandas or white tigers, or even blind albino fish the length of your little finger, they might be protected by law. But these beasts are all examples of domestic species that have been nudged out of farmyards by "improved"—which often translates as more fashionable—breeds ... to the extent that they've become endangered. In fact, many of our tame animals face extinction simply because such creatures have to please the fickle fancies of humans to survive.

Most farmers find they can't afford to go on raising unpopular—and thus unprofitable—animals, and zoos won't accept tame species unless the creatures look exotic. Animal preservation societies ignore our endangered livestock breeds because such beasts aren't wild (although few would be very tractable pets). So there are no heart-tugging documentaries, no boycotts of governments that approve the slaughter of rare livestock, nor even "Save the Tamelife!" bumper stickers to bring the cause of vanishing domestic breeds to public attention.

An Irreplaceable Gene Bank

You may be surprised to know that some farm animals have actually passed from popularity to extinction in as little as six years! In this century, for example, more than 20 separate British livestock breeds have ceased to exist ... while six species of pigs were allowed to die out in just 20 years.

Nor is the problem confined to England alone. Since World War II, Denmark has—in the name of progress—systematically killed off all its "obsolete" livestock, and France was in the process of doing so, too ... till some concerned Britons explained the possible consequences of such acts. Now the French are actually seeking out endangered tamelife to preserve, as are the Dutch and Austrians. But many other major agricultural nations—including our own—are doing nothing.

One Man to the Rescue

Fortunately, a few people are aware of the problem. Joe Henson, for example, is an English farmer who—with a partner—grows rye and barley on 2,000 windswept acres of Oxford University land in the Cotswold Hills. About ten years ago, Joe found out that his country's Zoological Society planned to slaughter the ancient livestock kept at Whipsnade Zoo to feed the institution's lions and—at the same time—provide more space for wild animals.

Henson—who had for years been fascinated by old domestic breeds—offered to shelter any Whipsnade sheep and cattle that the Royal Agricultural Society or Reading University (Britain's premier agricultural college) hadn't room for.

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