Ankole Cattle are a regal, graceful and resilient ancient humped cattle arising out of Uganda, the land of milk, the Pearl of Africa. They have exceptionally large, long and magnificent ivory horns which seem to touch the clear blue skies.
Their horns knocking together with the tone of African drums while they move through the land with the rustle of a veld fire. Ankole are intelligent, fertile and adaptable built to survive in the most harsh of African climates and proven to stand the test of time. A trademark of the Ankole are their contrasting white horns and velvet fine coat. Their horns used for display, fighting, protection, social hierarchy, thermoregulation, communication as well as providing them with the ability to break branches enable them to browse during times of drought. The Ankole share the traits of strong family bonds of their originators.
Their ancestor is the giant Auroch cattle that roamed Europe and Asia 15000BC and was first domesticated 8000 years ago. The last Auroch died in 1627 but their legacy continues in the Ankole cattle. These cattle took accompanying human migrations, until they reached the Zambezi River. For some 6000 years a group of long horned cattle lines have played a vital role in African tribes.
Ankole is a lines developed from the long horned hamatic humpless from Egypt, bos taurus and humped lateral horned zebu, bos indicus. Today, diverse cattle populations from the purest bos taurus to the nearly full blood bos indicus currently found all across the continent with the exception of the Sahara Desert and the River Congo Basin, they are found on the rift valley highlands as well as below sea level in the Afar depression.
Predecessors of the breed were raised by Egyptian farmers in the Nile Valley. Evident on ancient rock paintings the depictions of these animals have been observed in the Sahara region and in the Egyptian arts and pyramid walls. The Sanga breed has spread to the Kenya, Sudan, Uganda and other parts of Eastern Africa. The Ankole cattle were traditionally kept by the Banyankole who are a tribe from South West Uganda.
At the entrance of Mbarara town, the capital of Western Uganda is a statue of the Ankole long horned cattle. This immortalized stone symbol is a reflection of just how significant the long horned cattle are to the people in this region. Traditional Kinyarwanda dancers even mimic their horns with their arm movements in their choreography.
One of the pastoral tribes here are the Bahima. Their traditional attachment to the Ankole long horned cattle dates back to the days of their ancestors who considered it as a symbol of wealth and prestige. For a long time, they have always believed that every man must own long horned cattle and it is no wonder many families rear them. Muhima men believe they must have Ankole cattle and without them they are not worthy a men. The Bahima attach a lot of importance to the Ankole cattle when it comes to marrying off their daughters or sons. The cattle are used in paying bride price, a obligatory requirement among these pastoral communities. Parents claim they do not trust marrying off their daughters to families that have no wealth, which basically is depicted through the possession of cattle. It is these Ankole cattle that stage an uncompromised requirement for marrying a woman.
The African long horned cattle were kept by numerous nomad groups across East Africa for example the Bahima, nomads of Ankole Tutsi, nomads of Rwanda. The fact that these tribes were nomads, land laws in the 1960s to 1980s marginalized these groups leading to many young men and women joining armed struggles against their government. In Uganda President Museveni led the National Resistance Army which captured power in 1986. However since the early 2000’s those concerned about its threatened status including the President Yosweri Museveni started a campaign to revive the cow and other farmers have followed suit albeit in an uncoordinated manner.
Incidentally, many Rwandan young men were a part of this struggle. These Rwandans were born in Uganda, their parents and grandparents having migrated to Uganda during the 1950s genocide in Rwanda. This same group led the core that formed the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) which in 1994 captured power in Rwanda and ended the genocide. President Paul Kagame and others first liberated Uganda before going to liberate Rwanda. Again, the struggle for these young men at the time was land to graze their Ankole cattle, which need extensive land due their grazing habits.
The Pastoral and Environmental Network in the Horn of Africa an organization that works with pastoral communities in the Horn of Africa warns that if necessary intervention to conserve the Ankole cattle is not put in place now, within ten years the beautiful cattle will be no more. With a change in Government in 1986 the farming methods changed and the farmers moved to the more economical cow the Friesian and the Ankole cow which was a more traditional cow with less milk and no commercial value was abandoned. Already the extinction threats have started becoming visible. The high population pressure on land has forced the pastoralists to consider alternative breeds that can be reared on limited land. The drive for more economic gain rather than prestige has also forced some herdsmen to acquire exotic breeds like the Holstein Friesian that produce a lot of milk. Those that can not afford the Friesians have resorted to crossbreeding their locals and the Europeans cattle.
The Ugandan Wildlife Authority, a government agency in charge of wildlife management and other conservationists have collected Ankole cattle and put them in Lake Mburo National Park for conservation purposes. The Ankole cattle are being looked at for their tourism potential. It is believed that if they are conserved in the National Park it may in the near future be one of the last places they can be found. Similarly Ankole cattle are conserved at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya and are a major tourist attraction being ranked top two with the last remaining Northern White Rhino as the most popular animal to see for tourists.
Animals in colder climates with higher latitudes and altitudes tend to be bigger in body size because overheating is less of a factor. Bergmanns rule states that in general a more massive animal has a lower surface area to volume ratio, a bigger animal radiates less body heat per unit of mass and therefore holds higher body temperatures and can suffer from heat stress. This means Ankole cattle can comfortably handle their massive body sizes of over 900 kgs in 40 degree heat because of the thermoregulatory function of their horns. It is presumed that this is the true purpose of horns in cattle and the small horns of modern cattle breeds have become largely vestigial in function. The low water needs and feed survival abilities have allowed them as a breed to not only survive for centuries in Africa but even become established in Australia, Europe, North America and South America. The Ankole easily surpass other breeds in longevity and fertility into later years with their average lifespan of 20 years and with the treatment of herbs by the Ugandan people as well as the ability to draw calcium from thick horned skulls, were able to live long healthy lives. Their horns made them easily traced by Ugandan cattlemen in the thickets. Ankole have been known to have the intelligence and ability to hoard milk when milked by some people and only allow their calves to feed.
Their tolerance to extreme drought, heat, direct sunlight, disease makes them the most hardy cattle on the planet. Long hollow horns are the enlargement of their Nasal cavity used thermoregulation by honeycombs of blood vessels. Horns grow till over 10 years of age in the most exceptional Ankole specimens. Traditionally Ankole were seldom slaughtered for meat, except in ceremonies such as the coming of adulthood, the cows are frequently milked and bled to make Ghee and a yogurt like high protein drink that nomads used to at times survive on alone however preliminary tests are proving that Ankole cattle respond and perform better in Feed lots then all other indigenous cattle breeds. Their fine grained soft Meat is high in poly-unsaturated fatty acids and Omega 3 and 6 is low in cholesterol and calories compared to volume making it a healthy alternative. The Ankole cattle have low birth weight and ease of calving, this low birth weight makes Ankole bulls useful for breeding to first calf heifers of other breeds and dairy farmers have used Ankole to cross onto their dairy cows in their herds to boost the butter fat levels. The cows have a small, tight udder that would not be an easy target for predators or thorn bushes, yet they produce milk to nourish their young that tests out extremely rich milk off takes higher than any indigenous breed in pastoral systems. The calves are observed to be especially alert and are capable of running along with their mothers and the herd within a short time of birth. The Ankole is highly social, preferring to stay in a group for company and protection. At night they tend to form a circle with adults lying on the outside, horns out to protect the calves located in the inner circle. The calves will hang in nursery groups by day but always in close proximity to at least one adult and when frightened will instinctively run in front of the horns of a retreating mother or under her belly for protection.
Ankole are a perfect design selected not by mans "wise hand" but by the harsh merciless judge that is Africa. Every year, for hundreds of years, only the most fit have survived to pass on their genetics. Every last gram of weight is muscle, bone and sinew that aids its energy efficient rocking gait. Every form of the Ankle has its function. Every trait and behavior its vital purpose. The Ankole are made to survive in times of severity and they thrive in times of abundance. It is clear that Ankole cattle possess desirable traits of great importance to the potential buyer and farmer that have been lost or bred out of other modern breeds. This multipurpose cattle breed have a striking appearance, they have the elegance and beauty of game yet they handle with the ease of cattle. In a time when adaptability and fertility are paramount considering that drought, disease and severity of conditions will be more prevalent. The Ankole is a breed that should be seriously considered for the future in South Africa and should be kept, conserved and respected in its true form.