The Vechur cattle had their origin in Vechur, a small place near Vaikom in Kottayam district of south Kerala.
Kerala,the south western part of the Indian Peninsula is bordered in the east by the Western Ghats and in
the west by the Arabian sea.
Kerala issituated between 76° 23' and 77° 23' longitudes and 9° 44'to 10° 18' latitudes on the northern hemisphere. The state is blessed with an abundant rainfall (290-305 cm). Long spells of dry weather alternates with the monsoons. The monsoons comprise of a south-western (June to August) and a north-eastern (September to November) spell. The climate is hot (23 - 35°C). And it is quite humid (75-82%) due to proximity of backwaters. The luxuriant vegetation in the hot humid tropical climate gives an evergreen panorama to the State.
In Vechur and nearby places water route was the main mode of transport.The movement of the animals of the area was restricted because of the barriers like rivers, rivulets and backwaters which led to a geographic isolation. The heavy rain fall and the hot humid climate of the area led to the natural selection for a small animal. Apart from this, the Vechur bulls with their small size and light weight, yet with strong stature were suitable for ploughing in the marshy paddy fields. Low input requirement for these animals also contributed to this.
The popularity of the Vechur cows lay in the fact that the milk production was relatively higher compared to that of other local cows. The Travancore State Manual of 1940 by T.K.Velu Pillai has a particular mention of Vechur cows in it.
Chapter XVII ;
The extremely small size of cows, low feed requirement, good adaptation and high
disease resistance are the traits very much favoured by the farmers. The milk of
Vechur cows was considered having high medicinal value and was extensively used
in the Ayurvedic system of medicine. According to Mr. K.V.N.Namboothiripad,
septuagenarian of the place, the erstwhile Maharaja of Travancore dynasty
His Highness Balarama Varma was advised by the Chief Palace Physician to take the
milk of a black Vechur cow renowned for its medicinal properties. The Maharaja's
men came all the way to Vechur and took two black cows.The culture, the way of life,
occupation and outlook on cow-keeping so as to get milk just enough for home consumption
were in favour of a small animal.
Vechur cows become endangered:
Massive cross breeding policy adopted by the Government
from 1950s transformed the local animals to crossbreds in the state. Local bulls
were not permitted to be retained as per Kerala Livestock Act 1961. The Act states
that " No person should keep a bull for breeding if attains a particular age except
with license and other terms and conditions unless certified to be castrated".;
The Act covered the entire male cattle that have reached the breeding age, whether
they are retained for breeding purpose or not.. (However; even now the number of
breeding bulls belonging to the indigenous variety outnumber the crossbred breeding
bulls in the State as per census figures.) But bulls dedicated to the temples were
exempted from provisions of the Act. Thus the Siva Temple of Vaikom had its role
in averting the extinction of the breed.
The animals are extremely small in size and have compact body. The following are the common features of Vechur cattle.
Common Features of Vechur Cattle:
|Colour:||Light red, Black, White, Grey (Solid colour)|
|Head:||Long with narrow face|
|Horns:||Generally small and thin, and in some cases extremely small and hardly seen outside|
|Ears:||Horizontally oriented with 15 - 17 cm in length|
|Eye lids:||Black or brown|
|Hump:||Present, prominent in males|
|Tail:||Long, almost touching the ground|
|Udder:||Well attached squarely placed with small tapering teats, milk vein well developed|
|Skin:||Smooth and glossy|
|Body Wt.:||Cow (95 - 150 kg) Bull (130 - 200 kg)|
|Height:||Cow (81 - 91 cm) Bull (83 - 105 cm)|
Vechur Cattle were on the verge of extinction in the 80's. Many thought that they were extinct.
But it had been due to the efforts of an enthusiastic team of students led by Dr.Sosamma Iype,
Professor of Animal Breeding and Genetics that the available Vechur were brought to limelight as a result
of an ardent search that lasted for months.
The core team consisted of Anil Zacharia, N.Jayadevan, Jayan.K.C. and Jayan Joseph, O.Kuriachan. Others like Ravi Sankar, Ajithkumar, Santhosh, Arun Zacharia, Justin Jacob Adhikaram, Vinod, Sathishkumar, Anilkumar.T.K., Saji Joseph, Sunil G. and many others contributed in the search. Vasudevan Namboodiri was a person who had a longing for conserving these animals.The search was started from Vechur and local support was immense. The positive attitude of Kaitharan Narayana Iyer and Veterinary Officer Raveendran instilled optimism in the team. Radhakrishnan J. was one who joined the team subsequently.
An extensive survey has been made through Kerala. Animal Husbandry institutions, Dairy co-operative units, local libraries, Schools, Voluntary organisations and other institutions were contacted. Regular help was received from all these corners.
The "Save Vechur" campaign and the network so formed was very effective.The spotting of a Vechur cow with Manoharan, a toddy tapper of Ullala was the exciting first step in the conservation. Next cow was from Onamthuruth. A cow with typical Vechur characteristics was purchased from Thalayolapparampu. Dr.Sivasankara Panicker was another Veterinarian who helped the team. The animal purchased and brought to the Veterinary Hospital, Thalayolapparampu ran back all the way to its owners house 5 kms Away.
The Kerala Agricultural University (KAU) accepted the proposal for conservation of Vechur submitted by Dr.Sosamma Iype. The then Dean Dr.Radhakrishna Kaimal heartily supported. Vice Chancellor Dr.E.G.Silas was a guardian to the scheme. The University purchased the animals spotted. The cleaning of the premises and cleaning of an old shed to house the animals were done mostly by the students especially the junior most in the year 1989. Dr.M.S Nair and Dr.K.Pavithran were the two other scientists involved in the purchase of animals.
The Vechur Conservation Unit came into existence in Kerala Agricultural University with 4 cows, 1 heifer, 2 bull calves and a bull. The searching for animals continued by the team and 24 animals could be added to the lot in one year. The team continued its support for the conservation unit in Kerala Agricultural University. In the meantime, few field units could be established.
By 1998, the animals in the Kerala Agricultural University Unit multiplied and could sell out about 30 animals for establishing some field units. These units receive required inputs like semen and technical advice from Kerala Agricultural University.
People have taken up the Conservation of Vechur cattle very enthusiastically. They are proud to keep the cow. More than that many are interested in having a cow that will yield milk sufficient for home consumption and which does not demand a sophisticated management.
This Conservation is the outcome of a collaboration of the Agricultural University, its students and the public. Any conservation can be successful only with the people's involvement.
ResearchMilk production was found to be 2.3 kg/ day during the lactation period. The age at first heat and age at first calving were 19 and 36 months respectively. The inter calving period was 14 months.
Chromosome number and morphology: The karyotyping analysis revealed a diploid chromosome number of 60 comprising of 58 autosomes and two sex chromosome. All the 29 pairs of autosomes were acrocentric in appearance. The X chromosome inn both sexes showed a bi-armed submetacentric appearance. The Y chromosome was acrocentric.
Studies on milk composition: Milk components such as fat, solids not fat and total solids were studied from individual milk samples at weekly intervals in the morning and evening milk.
1. Milk fat: The mean milk fat percentage for the morning and evening at first week was 4.05±0.19, 4.65±0.17 and by 20th week of lactation was 5.92±0.08, 6.55±0.07. The evening milk had uniformly higher fat percentage than morning milk. The fat percentage showed an increasing trend with advancing stage of lactation. Increase in fat percentage was more in the initial stages of lactation, by 10th week there was an increase of 1.30 per cent in the morning and 1.30 per cent in the evening.
2. Solids not fat: The average solids not fat percentage was 8.84±0.12 for morning and 8.92±0.14 for evening milk. The mean solids not fat percentage at first week of lactation was 8.60±0.24 and 8.93±0.22. It was 8.83± 0.11 and 8.76±0.15 % in the morning and evening milk by 20th week of lactation. No trend of increase was observed with advance of lactation. Least square analysis of variance showed the non-significant effect of time of milking and stage of lactation on solids not fat percentage.
3. Fat globule size and distribution: The mean size of fat globule was 3.21 (and the range was 2.54 to 4.07). The mean diameter of fat globules was found to be 3.02±0.05 in the morning and 3.40±0.05 in the evening milk. The average fat globule size was found to be decreasing as the lactation advanced. The sizes of the fat globules were found to be higher than that of goats and lower than that of crossbred cow and buffalo milk.
Embryo Transfer as a Tool in Conservation: Scientists succeeded in utilizing Multiple Ovulation and Embryo Transfer (MOET) technique for conservation of an almost extinct breed of Vechur cattle.
Embryo transfer technology was introduced by KAU with the collaboration of Kerala Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation (MILMA) which had an Embryo Transfer Unit of the Department of Science and Technology. Care was taken to select cows with good characteristics as donors. Selected breeding bulls were used. Recipients were crossbred cows with good reproductive performance. Blood typing was done for the bull, donor, recipients and for calves born as the confirmatory test for the parentage of the calves born.
At the Centre for Advanced Studies (CAS) in Animal Genetics and Breeding, a pure bred Vechur cow `Nandini' was subjected to multiple ovulation and insemination with semen of `Ganesh', a Vechur bull. Five embryos were recovered and deposited into the uterus of two recipient cows; which resulted in two pregnancies. One of the recipients was `Anupama', a crossbred Vechur cow, and the other was a Holstein x Friesian (HF) cross. The HF crossbred cow also was subjected to artificial insemination in her natural heat period by using frozen semen from a Holstein x Friesian crossbred bull.
`Anupama' calved a female calf and the HF cross gave birth to two male-calves. One of the male calves had all the typical features of HF cross. The other male-calf and the female-calf from Anupama had all typical Vechur characteristics. Parentage of the calves was confirmed by blood typing. The female-calf from Anupama weighed 8 kg. The male-calf of Vechur type of HF cross weighed 13 kg. The HF crossbred calf weighed about 23 kg at birth. The female-calf was named `Anjali' and male-calves were named `Lavan' and `Kusan'.
The Controversy: Inspite of all the encouragement and success, the conservation programme faced opposition from certain quarters. Several `imaginative' stories appeared in newspapers maligning those associated with the conservation project in the KAU. Finally the KAU had to come out with a "White Paper" to clear the doubts created.
Between 1993 and 1996, 19 animals died under mysterious circumstances, which were proved to be due to malicious poisoning. KAU had a collaboration for applying the embryo transfer technology for the faster multiplication of the endangered Vechur cattle with Kerala Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation (MILMA), which had an approved centre of the department of Biochemistry, Govt. of India. Even this productive collaboration was criticised by a section of the media as having ulterior motives. A Fax message from Dr. A.P.Usha, Asst. Professor, KAU, who was doing her Ph.D. in the Roslin Institute, UK, requesting details on Vechur cattle and hinting a possibility for collaboration was reproduced in some media as with aspersions about the very intention.
But their allegations caught the attention of the scientific community with Vandana Siva taking up the issue. In her article, "Challenges to Animal Protection" which appeared in the Journal of Indian Veterinary Association, Kerala (JIVA) volume 3, issue 2, April-June 1998, she stated: "The Vechur cattle, an almost extinct variety of Indian indigenous breed is the smallest cattle variety in the world. Endemic to the moist landscape of Kerala the uniqueness of this rare variety is its high fat content in milk. It needs very little feed and one kg of fodder for the day is enough for this short and stumpy draught cattle. At present its local population is not more than hundred despite the conservation efforts by the Kerala Agricultural University. The Roslin Institute of the Edinburgh University of the U.K., the creator of Dolly, the Sheep, has surreptitiously obtained the embryos of this rare Indian breed to facilitate their patentable transgenic research. The pharmaceuticals Proteins Ltd, a branch of the Roslin Institute, has got patent on cows, sheep and other mammalian bioreactors (including human) for using animals as pharmaceuticals factories to reduce chemicals in mammary glands. Now as reported, loaded with a patent on Vechur and with command over shifting genes technology called "Biotechnology", they can turn our little Vechur into walking factories in their fields and earn billions of dollars through butter production by churning the high content of fat in its milk."
A Malayalam daily quoted the extract with exaggeration leading to a controversy and confusion in the minds of people. Other sections of the media also got involved in the issue, some of them clearly exposing the baselessness of the issue. The article titled `A cow and a controversy' published by R. Krishnakumar in the `Frontline' of 9th April 1999 is an example. His interviews with Vandana Siva, Harry Griffin of Roslin Institute,UK, K.N.Syamasundaran Nair, Vice-Chancellor, KAU, P.G.Nair, former director of the National Bureau of Animal Genetic Resources, Karnal, are very much revealing. Extracts are:1.Dr.Shyamasundaran Nair, KAU Vice-Chancellor, told Frontline:
"Nobody can arrogate to themselves the right to patriotism. Vandana Siva should recognise the integrity of her fraternity. Patent searches conducted at the request of the university by ICAR officers and scientists at the M.S.Swaminathan Research Foundation have drawn a blank. Export of live cattle is encouraged in the country and cattle from Kerala might have been going out. In that respect, it is still a free-for-all situation. But the university is confident that no Vechur germplasm has gone out from its genetically upgraded stock of Vechur cattle. I will support my scientists fully on this and the Government or any other agency is free to conduct an inquiry. The university will provide all material and help to any such agency"2.One of the KAU scientists who were recently at Roslin, Assistant Professor A.P.Usha, told Frontline that while at the Institute on a research project on Dexter cattle (another dwarf breed), she had informally discussed with some scholars there the existence of the Vechur cattle and suggested in writing to the KAU the possibility of a collaborative research with Roslin on them.
"The proposal was rejected by the then Vice-Chancellor, A.M.Michael. But when I returned, I found a big controversy had bloomed in some local newspapers that KAU scientists and a foreign firm had hatched a conspiracy for lucrative biotechnology research on Vechur cattle. The fact remains that the proposal was rejected and that was the end of it, she said."3.P.G.Nair, former Director of the National Bureau of Animal Genetic Resources (NBAGR) in Karnal, Haryana, now based in Thrissur, described the entire controversy as
"`ridiculous'. Vechur cattle is special in that their milk production is higher-but only when compared with that of other native cattle of Kerala. However, compare its production of three to four kg a day with the 40kg to 50kg a day of an exotic breed like Holstein and its economic value becomes clear. Its supposed value owing to the high fat content in its milk is important only in the Indian context. The trend the world over is to produce animals that give low-fat milk. The suggestion that the Vechur germplasm has been smuggled out, especially because of the alpha-lactalbumin found in the Vechur cow's milk, is absurd because this protein is found in the milk of many mammals, including humans', he said."
Extracts of interview with Vandana Siva:
The varying nature of allegations you have made on different occasions with respect to the Vechur cow has created confusion and may help the very people or institutions whose activities you are trying to expose. What exactly are your charges?
Just as there are cases of major biopiracy in plant genetic material there are indications and possibilities that similar biopiracy in animal genetic wealth from India could also be taking place. Since the Roslin Institute, which is linked to the leading firm in animal biotechnology, PPL Therapeutics, has major interests in unique genetic trades for genetic engineering in animals for the production of chemicals and pharmaceuticals, bioprospecting for animal genetic material is a necessary part of its activities. The cloning and patenting of `Dolly' was part of the collaboration between PPL and Roslin for genetic engineering of animals. The research association between the Kerala Agricultural University (KAU) and the Roslin Institute as well as the fact that the KAU holds the germplasm of the unique Vechur cow suggest that the potential for bioprospecting links between Roslin and the KAU needs to be explored.
On what basis did you make the allegations?
The basis of my claim that an epidemic of biopiracy is taking place is ten years of research of monitoring of biopiracy-based patents.
Prof. Graham Bulfield, Director and Chief Executive of the Roslin Institute, has in a message to the KAU denied having any knowledge about the Vechur breed of cattle. He also said that the Roslin Institute "certainly has no germplasm nor have we patented them"
Prof. Graham Bulfield's claim that he does not know about the existence of Vechur cow is no proof of the Roslin Institute not having used genetic material from that breed. His claim that the Institute has no germplasm is false since a genetic engineering laboratory cannot work without germplasm. It is its basic raw material.
The KAU has also produced a letter from Suman Govil, Principal Scientific Officer of the Department of Biotechnology of the Govt. of India, that she has contested a patent search in British and United State's patent data bases using the department's InterNet patent search system for all patents listed in the database from January 1,1976 and found no patent claimed to have been taken by the Roslin Institute.
Suman Govil's letter that the Institute has no patents is false since we have a list of 14 patents held or applied for by the Roslin Institute in Europe. One of these patent claims clearly refers to `Bos indicus', an Indian breed.
What characteristics of the Vechur breed do you think would be so important and unavailable in other cattle/animals that Roslin or any other research institution would be interested in them for transgenic research?
The Vechur breed is the most important cattle breed for the conversion of feed to protein, which obviously makes it very significant for an industry trying to do mass production of chemicals through "animal factories" for which corporations such as PPL hold patents for "mammalian bioreactors", that is, the use of mammary glands of animals, including humans, to produce specialised chemicals.
Some KAU scientists are of the opinion that you cleverly put on the KAU the onus to prove what they describe as your "false allegations". There is also a feeling that you may have been tricked into making such a claim by persons in the KAU itself because of professional rivalry.
I have no connection with any scientist in the KAU. I do not make myself available for petty personal politics meant to further personal agendas. My concern about biopiracy is not related to the KAU's internal politics; it is much larger than the issue of the KAU and the Vechur breed. Extracts of interview with Harry Griffin, Assistant Director, Roslin Institute:
What is your response to the allegations made against your Institute with regard to the Vechur patent issue?
As one headline said, mystery certainly shrouds the Vechur patent issue. The story is entirely groundless. The Roslin Institute does not have any programme for conservation of "germplasm" of rare breeds from either the UK or overseas. We have never carried out any research on Vechur cows and we have not attempted to import embryos or germplasm or patent the breed or its genome. The claim that we have erased 36 references to work on Vechur cattle from our Website is simply nonsense. We have done no such work and no reference on Vechur cows has ever been on our Website.
The Roslin Institute recently received a request for clarification from the Dean of Kerala the Agricultural University, Dr.S.Sulochana, and our Director, Dr. Graham Bulfield, faxed reply on August 7. The essence of his response was that we did not have a clue what this story was about. The Roslin Institute has received no communication from the Indian Council of Agricultural Research.
In subsequent reports, Ms. Vandana Siva cites a particular patent number, EP 765390. This application is entitled "Alpha-lactalbumin gene constructs" and was submitted by PPL Therapeutics, not the Roslin Institute. PPL's application refers to the use of gene constructs for the targeting of the expression of human alpha-lactalbumin to the mammary glands of transgenic cows. The aim is to produce milk of enhanced nutritional value for premature infants. There is no connection whatsoever with any specific breed of cattle, Indian or otherwise.
Let me therefor review the evidence so far. An Indian environmentalist claims that the Roslin Institute has "stolen" the Vechur and applied for patent on it or its genome. No evidence to support this allegation is provided and indeed news reports from India refers to "charges" and "rumours" and to a senior university professor who was apparently prepared to give the report some limited credence but was not prepared to be named. A search by an Indian Government official found no evidence for any relevant patent.
Moreover, the supposed value of the Vechur cattle - the high fat content of its milk - is in fact a liability in Europe and North America where the demand is to decrease milk fat. And when challenged to provide evidence about the alleged patenting by the Roslin Institute, Ms. Vandana Siva cites a patent application submitted from an entirely different organisation that concerns the introduction of human genes in cows.
Is the Roslin Institute or any of its associated institutions involved in any way with research on Vechur cattle or, for that matter, on any other Indian breed?No.
Was there any formal or informal proposal from anyone in the KAU for collaborative research on Vechur cattle?No.
What is the procedure your institute or its associated institutions follow, in case you are interested on research on an indigenous breed of cattle like Vechur? How do you usually go about it?We have no programme on indigenous breeds.
Given the fact that research institutions in developing countries are often ill-equipped to conduct advanced biotechnology research, how do you react to frequent complaints in India that research institutes in developed countries are patenting genes derived from indigenous Indian breeds to the detriment of Indian interests?
We would like to see the evidence that this is actually happening. We are certainly not involved.
The searches conducted by RAFI, Canada, Swaminathan Foundation, Chennai, Indian Council of Agricultural Research, New Delhi, scientists and environmentalists disproved the allegations raised by Vandana Siva and others. The "White Paper" released by KAU on the basis of all these has brought out the truth.
JIVA, which had published Vandana Siva's article wrote in the next issue (Vol.4, Issue 1, January to June 1999 - page 43) "We salute the good work and dedication of the scientists behind the conservation of the rare breed. JIVA had no intention to destroy their morale or to tarnish their image and reputation. And the speech of Srimathi Vandana Siva was first published in 1997 in "Animal Citizen", a national journal, and this was only reprinted in JIVA.
The source of information of Vandana Siva to be the Website of Roslin Institute has no proof. But the similarities in her statements to those in the "Indian Communications" are indicative of the source.
Similarities In The Statements Appeared In Indian Communicator And Those Of Vandana Siva
|(Indian communicator, 29th August 1994)||Vandana Shiva 1997 - (Challenges to animal protection, JIVA, 1998, Vol. 3(2).|
|The Vechur cattle are an almost extinct indigenous breed. This short and stumpy draught is the smallest cattle variety in the world.||The Vechur cattle, an almost extinct variety of Indian indigenous breed is the smallest cattle variety in the world|
|The Vechur cattle is also a highly endemic
in the moist landscape of Kerala and the only known Vechur cattle
in the world numbers a mere 87 which are being conserved in the Kerala Agricultural University Livestock farm in Mannuthy in
an ICAR funded ex situ conservation programme
|endemic to the moist landscape breed is the smallest cattle variety of Kerala.The uniqueness of this in the world rare variety is its high fat content in milk. At present its local population is not more than 100 despite the conservation efforts by the Kerala Agricultural University.|
|The Vechur cattle needs very little feed and upkeep and even people settled in cities can grow this cattle. Only one-kg cattle feed is enough for these short stumpy cattle per day||It needs very little feed and one kilogram of fodder for the day is enough for these short and stumpy draught cattle|
|Veterinary genetic engineers of UK are eagerly trying to get hold of the genes of the rare Vechur cows from the Kerala Agricultural University.||The Roslyn institute of Edinburgh University of UK, the creator of Dolly the sheep has Surreptitiously obtained the embryos of this rare Indian breed to facilitate their patentable trangenic research.|
|The patent right of the germplasm of
Vechur cows is not
registered till date at the national or international level. by the KAU which is the custodian of the Vechur cows now. Most important genetic quality of the Vechur breed is the high fat content in milk. The butterProduction capacity of milk is highly dependant on the fat content of milk The United kingdom can earn billions of dollars per year if they develop a new variety of cow through transferring Vechur genes
|Now as reported, loaded with a patent on Vechur and with command over shifting gene technology called Biotechnology they can turn our little Vechur into walking Factories in their fields and earn billions of dollars through butter production by churning the high content of fat in its milk|
Field Units About 30 small herds in different parts of the State work in collaboration with the Kerala Agricultural University in conservation.The general feeling is that Vechur cow is very suitable for farmers who require milk for home consumption and not for sale. Many farmers are looking forward to the fulfilment of their goal.