Dr Apollo Ataho smiles as he poses infront of a herd of long horned Ankole cattle. On the family Frank Farm, the Ankole herd has got a special part on the ranch. Although the farm keeps exotic cattle like friesians, jersey and the giant African boran, the Ankole cattle offer the highest attraction.
Ataho giggles as the herd knocks their horns together. “These were the animals of our fore fathers. We cannot let them die off,” he says.
In Kiryandongo, on the other side of the cattle corridor, Pastor Robert Kayanja uses hius walking stick to point at a huge brown bull. “I cannot give away that bull unless somebody pays at least sh15m for it,” he says as he points at a huge Ankole bull. There are several other bulls similar to this one, their wide horns cringing as they walk around. He explained that he is keeping the over 100 Ankole cattle partly as heritage.
“We should not allow our heritage to die. These animals are amazingly beautiful to many people including foreigners, but we are doing very little to save them,” he said. He adds that this is also the reason why he specifically keeps about 200 indigenous goats.
The history of Ankole breed can be traced as far as 4000 B.C., before the first pharaohs ruled Egypt, when a breed known as the Hamitic Longhorn lived along the Nile. Over the next 2,000 years, those Egyptian cattle found their way south through Ethiopia and into Southern Africa. Around 2000 B.C., Zebu cattle migrated to Africa from the Indian subcontinent and bred with the indigenous Egyptian Longhorns that interbreeding resulted into a breed called Sanga, that spread throughout the eastern regions of Africa into areas that encompass the Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. The Sanga became the ancestor of many of the breeds that are now found throughout Africa. When it first appeared, the Sanga retained the features characteristic of its Zebu heritage, including upturned horns, neck hump and pendulous dewlap, but different local breeding practices have led to significant variety among its descendants.
Among the indigenous breeds, the Ankole -Watusi cattle , developed in Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi, are truly distinctive. They are known around the world for majestic horns that can grow to six feet in length in flat, circular or lyre shapes. Those horns not only provide formidable defense against predators, but blood circulating through them provides an efficient mechanism to cool the animal in a notoriously hot climate. Many years ago before they were tamed, these cows lived on their own, especially in the flat wilderness that has since been turned into national parks. This can still be encouraged. National parks are quite friendly to these breeds, what is lacking is a system and measure to protect these cows in these parks so that to utilize other enormous potentials these animals will offer.
This is a heritage that is dying away and yet the futures of these other breeds are not certain considering the climatic alterations our continent is undergoing.
Key attributes of the Ankole cattle
One of the reasons some farmers are abandoning these cows is that they are not as economically viable as the ‘improved’ breeds for example. But the farmers who purposely keep them for economic gains disagree. Below are some of the key attributes.
-The skin and hide is of the best quality, hence fetches higher than other cattle breeds
-The milk is more tasty than that from the now common Friesians. It has a higher fat content which makes it the best for processing ghee, yoghurt etc.
-They are hardy animals that rarely fall ill
-Horns are used for making ornaments, beads, trumpets and violins etc
-It is a tourist attraction because they are a joy to watch as they walk around, their large horns knocking into each other
-Compared to other indigenous breeds, it fetches higher amounts of money. A mature bull costs as much as sh7m
-The meat has low cholesterol, which makes it ideal for eating.