African MaShona cattle breed under threat

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MY recent sojourn to Zaka, in the Masvingo Province, inspired me to further expound on the virtues of the original Shona cattle breed from Zimbabwe (now renowned as the MaShona breed), from a global perspective. 

Although I have already expounded on its merits in my ongoing series on our Zimbabwe’s custodial cattle heritage, I cannot begin to express the wealth of distinctive advantageous genetic traits that originate in our justly Zimbabwean MaShona cattle.

The breed is indisputably one of the most adaptive and resilient African cattle breeds south of the Sahara; and the most coveted worldwide.

The MaShona cattle breed is much sought-after in American, Australian and other Occidental cattle breeding societies that have climatic and ecological conditions suitable for its survival.

Today, in the age of genetically modified (GMO) foods, the naturally in-built resistance of the breed, its low-cost free-range intuitive survival traits for foraging; further, its excellent beef quality (marbling and low-cholesterol fat content) makes it a recognisable gourmet cattle breed to be reckoned and numbered with the world’s best beef. 

Given the national Command Livestock Programme currently in progress, I found it necessary to revisit the MaShona cattle breed and further explore, examine and expound on this amazing breed’s genetics, resilience and longevity.

Once considered the cattle breed of choice for kings, its migratory origins extend from the Great Lakes of East Africa to the Limpopo River of Zimbabwe and beyond.

Cattle meat, such as beef and veal, are among the most widely consumed meat all over the globe.

In 2016, roughly 60,5 million metric tonnes of beef and veal were produced worldwide. 

Notwithstanding, the US adheres to strict regulations pertaining to the humane treatment of livestock before and during slaughter, more than 30 million herd of cattle were slaughtered, both commercially and on farms, annually in the US; over six million were slaughtered in Nebraska alone in 2014. 

Almost two-thirds of the world’s cattle population can be found in India, Brazil and China. 

The US ranks fourth in terms of cattle population.  

In 2015, with over 11 million herd of cattle, the Federal State of Texas alone had the highest cattle population in the US.

In Africa, cattle continue to play a major role in the socio-economic development and nutritional security for most of the people of the continent.  

It is likely, in fact, that some of the earliest African societies, given their nomadic lifestyle, depended solely on their cattle and other livestock for survival.

Overall, cattle population density in Africa is highest in the East African, especially in the Highlands, compared to the other regions where the Maasai who have traditionally depended on their cattle for survival, still do so, almost exclusively, to this day. 

The long legacy of the history of cattle introduction and human development and migration on the African continent bears testimony to the two waves of bos indicus cattle migration which led to a dominance of Zebu type cattle among the East African indigenous cattle, thus replacing nearly, if not all, East African bos taurus cattle. 

The Mashona cattle breed forms part of this legacy.

It is a proven archeo-historical fact that the walking ability of the Mashona cattle is commendable and exceptional among cattle breeds. This is besides its high adaptation to harsh geographical and environmental conditions. 

The MaShona cattle breed also boasts intelligent herd instinct, mothering ability, longevity and large sex dimorphism.

Distinct evolutionary histories between bos taurus and bos indicus have resulted in different degrees of thermos-tolerance at the cellular and physiological levels.

Bos indicus breeds can effectively regulate their body temperature against thermal stress and are better adapted to hot weather than bos taurus breeds.

Additionally, several breeds of Zebu and Zenga are able to withstand very harsh environmental conditions and those characteristics have arisen through evolutionary adaptation. 

MaShona cattle, like most Sanga breeds, have intuitive survival skills and are excellent swimmers, often surviving floods induced by the recent decades of global warming.

Overtime, African cattle have adapted to hot and dry weather. The MaShona cattle, in particular, have adapted well to very dry climatic conditions and can now survive mild droughts, even if they are only able to source water to drink once every two days.

The breed has also adapted to cold and wet conditions as proven by the MaShona cattle herds exported to foreign Western lands.

Today, the Mashona cattle have been adapted to survive the long, wet winters experienced in other countries such as the US and the harsh, dry conditions of the Australian Outback. With respect to disease and murrain the MaShona cattle breed, which is a descendant of the Sanga, are relatively robust and immune to a variety of pestilence that would indispose many Occidental cattle breeds. 

A well-known outstanding feature of MaShona cattle is their resistance to tick infestations; which is another major challenge for most African cattle and non-resistant imported occidental cattle breeds that have no resistant to diseases and murrains.

The MaShona cattle breeds are more resistant to many other infestations, such as trypanosomiasis — a tsetse-transmitted disease in vertebrates.  

The main groups of indigenous African cattle can be broadly classified into four categories: humpless bos taurus, humped bos indicus, Sanga (African humpless bos taurus × humped bos indicus hybrid), and Zenga, defined as Sanga × Zebu backcross. 

In addition to these four categories, other African cattle breeds have recently been derived through new crossbreeding exercises with other exotic breeds. 

It is understood that sanga cattle were derived by hybridisation between taurine cattle and zebu around 700 AD. In Zimbabwe the sanga is an intermediate type of cattle, which is a cross between bos taurus and bos indicus.  

This forms the origins of the original Shona MaShona breed of cattle which shares similar traits to many indigenous African cattle breeds that inhabit eastern and southern Africa, and are similarly acknowledged to be well adapted to seasonally harsh conditions.

It may interest readers, farmers and Zimbabwean cattle breeders to know that, despite a plethora of diseases that have re-emerged in the past decades, especially since 2000, in Zimbabwe, due to global climate change and negligent husbandry, Zimbabwe ranks 48 among the world cattle breeding countries.

In Africa, it ranks a respectable 11th, behind Egypt,  SA and other larger African states; according to statistics garnered by the world cattle inventory and census in 2015 and 2018

These statistics are largely supported by the resilience of the MaShona cattle, despite the smaller land space of Zimbabwe in comparison.

Today, our indigenous heirloom breed – the MaShona cattle breed is being exported, bred and claimed since 1998 in such countries as Texas, Wyoming, Austin, Idaho, Florida, Santa Fe, New Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, England, Kenya, Chad, Botswana, South Africa, Zambia, Rwanda, Mozambique, Namibia and Nigeria.  

Zimbabwe needs to conserve and protect this coveted breed before we lose our ownership and it disappears from the soil of its origins. 

The dangers of losing our breed to the Occident are more pertinent today than ever before.

Dr Tony Monda holds a PhD in Art Theory and Philosophy and a DBA (Doctorate in Business Administration) and Post-Colonial Heritage Studies. He is a writer, lecturer, musician, art critic, practicing artist and corporate image consultant.  He is also a specialist art consultant, post-colonial scholar, Zimbabwean socio-economic analyst and researcher. E-mail:  HYPERLINK “mailto:tonym.MONDA@gmail.com”tonym.MONDA@gmail.com

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