Open access peer-reviewed chapter - ONLINE FIRST

Status of World’s Unique Animal Genetic Resource of Ladakh

Written By

Feroz Din Sheikh

Submitted: January 21st, 2022 Reviewed: February 16th, 2022 Published: May 4th, 2022

DOI: 10.5772/intechopen.103767

IntechOpen
Population Genetics Edited by Rafael Trindade Maia

From the Edited Volume

Population Genetics [Working Title]

Prof. Rafael Trindade Trindade Maia and Dr. Magnólia De Araújo Campos

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Abstract

Ladakh is the only typical cold arid zone of our country with extreme climate and hostile condition, the area makes its flora and fauna a unique one and distinct from rest of the country. Around 60% of the farmers of Ladakh are Pastoralist and 40% of the farmers are agriculturist and the majority of the economic income comes from animal rearing in Ladakh. It has some of the world’s best animal genetic resource in the form of Changthangi Pashmina goats, Changthangi Sheep, Malra Goat, Malluk and Purig Sheep, Semi domesticated Yak and its crosses, Bactrian (Double Humped Camel) Zanskari horse, Ladakhi Cattle and Changthangi Dog. All these livestock contributes a lot to the income of the farmers of Ladakh especially the Changthang nomads who are completely dependent on livestock rearing. The livestock in Changthang is reared on extensive system on high altitude pastureland. During the past few decades these unique germplasms are facing several threats for its eco-friendly existence with the human populations. These threats and constraints are figured with possible recommendation and solution in the present study. Ladakh has been deprived of basic research facilities in animal science sector for so many years due to which this unique genetic resources are declining in terms of numbers as well as in production. Another reason is shifting of Ladakh economy from agro pastoralist to tourism business. If necessary steps are not taken immediately a time will reach that all this precious animal will be lost forever. The present article describes the present status and critical issues pertaining to animal genetic resource of Ladakh.

Keywords

  • Ladakh
  • Changthang
  • animals
  • population
  • livestock

1. Introduction

Nature has its own role to play in selecting the best germplasm which can thrive and which are adapted to extreme type environment. The process of selection though it takes thousands of year but the result is a birth of a perfect organism, one such unique example is the highly diverse and unique domestic and wild animals of Ladakh. Ladakh meaning “Land of Passes” covers around 45,000 square miles (117,000 sq.km) and contains the Ladakh range, which is south-eastern extension of the Karakoram Range and upper Himalayan Range. It is administratively divided between Pakistan (northwest), as part of Gilgit Baltistan, and India (southeast), as part of Ladakh Union Territory (until October 31, 2019, part of Jammu Kashmir State; in addition, China administers portion of north-eastern part of Ladakh. Ladakh has two main districts Leh and Kargil and it is the only typical cold arid zone of our country. The total land area of Leh district alone is 45,110 km2 and along with Kargil district it forms more than 70% area of erstwhile Jammu & Kashmir state (Figure 1). The geographical location with an altitude extending from 11,000 to 16,000 ft asl and typical climatic condition with temperature ranging from +40°C in summer to −40°C of the area makes its floura and fauna a unique place on mother earth. Around 60% of the farmers of Ladakh are Pastoralist and 40% of the farmers are agriculturist and the majority of the economic income comes from animal rearing in Ladakh [1]. It has some of the world’s best animal genetic resource in the form of Changthangi Pashmina goats, Changthangi Sheep, Malra Goat, Malluk Sheep, Semi domesticated Yak and its crosses, Bactrian (Double Humped Camel) Zanskari horse, Ladakhi Cattle and Changthangi Dog. These livestock are the main source of income for Ladakhi people and in the case of Changthang people, they are completely dependent on livestock rearing. The present status of each of this unique species are presented below:

Figure 1.

Map of Union Territory of Ladakh.

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2. Changthangi Pashmina goat

The Pashmina internationally known as “Cashmere”, a fine luxury fibre, is the prince of the specialty fibres obtained from domestic goats known as “capra ibex”. The word “pashmina” comes from “pashm” meaning wool in Persian language and it is also known as ‘tivit’ sometimes. The cashmere breeds of goats (Figure 2) are found throughout the world and some of the important breeds are, Vatani of Afghanistan, Don, Orenberg and Altai mountain of Russia, Tan goats of China, Markhore and Raini of Iran, Kurdi of Iraq, Feral goats of Australia, Chegu and Changthangi goats of India. The three major producers of cashmere wool are China (60–70%), Mongolia (30–40%) and Iran, Afghanistan, Nepal etc (10–20%). Ladakh is a world leader in producing the finest Pashmina (fibre diameter less than 12μ) and a store house of the best germplasm with potential to exploit the superior genetic material for improvement of a whole range of pashmina producing goats in the world [2]. Changthangi goats also called as ‘Changra’ goats is primarily used for Pashmina production and secondarily used for meat production purpose, they also produce some amount of milk used by the nomads for making butter, cheese and curd for domestic use. These Pashmina goats are of great importance for vitalizing the economy of poverty stricken region of Changthang region of Leh districts of Ladakh (Table 1). In our country the Changthang region produces around 45,000 kgs of raw Pashmina fibre every year from about 2.03 lacs of Changthangi goats [3], which forms 99% of the total Pashmina production of India with 1% from Chegu breed of goat from Himachal Pradesh state. These goats are reared by Changpa Nomads on vast pastureland of Changthang region of Ladakh India (Figure 3). Compared to rest of the world the Pashmina fibre produced from this goats are relatively longer and finer, which aids the Kashmiri weavers to spin easily for preparing various high quality winter garments. This fibre has three times insulating values of the finest wool on a comparable weight basis and also possess 90% of the strength of merino wool and 60% strength of mohair [4]. The importance of this valuable fibre was discovered by the people of Europe during 17th century. It is believed that emperor Napoleon presented a shawl to Empress Josephine and there is a rumor that pashmina garments are as soft as baby skin and provide warm to hatch an egg. The craftsmen in Kashmir developed their own technique to process the raw material and used it for the manufacture of shawls. Thousands of artisans get involved in Kashmir for preparing shawls and pashmina business sustained the economy of thousands of artisan families in Kashmir and thousands of Changpa families in Ladakh as the possibilities for agriculture farming in Changthang is quite low [5]. The People of Changthang rear huge herds of goats and remained in migration in specific routes in search of better pasture for their livestock (Figure 4). The available pasture was sufficient for the number of livestock reared in Changthang by the Changpas till 1959, but during Chinese invasion in 1962 a lot of people from western Tibet migrated to Changthang side along with their livestock. They settled in Changthang and ultimately extra stocking of livestock on limited pastures caused damage to the pastureland due to overgrazing. Regarding pashmina production and its role in the economics of Changthangi people, the analyzed data shows that the highest average income at individual family level is fetched from Changthangi goats, which comes to around Rs 79,886.98, followed by Sheep Rs 33,412.88 and Yak, Rs 2621.63 annually. The overall average income of each family comes to Rs 116,021.49, in which Rs 79,886.98 is solely contributed by Changthangi goats, showing 68.85% of the total income annually. This result indicates that pashmina goats add to majority of the total income. The contribution of sheep is followed by pashmina goat represents 28.8% of the total income from livestock [1]. These results give a clear picture that the income generated from Changthangi goat in the form of Pashmina fibres, chevon, milk and manure forms the basis of their livelihood (Figure 5). In some villages like Koyul, Kharnak, Anlay, Korzok, Tsaga the income from pashmina goat contribute more than 90% of the total income.

Figure 2.

Changthangi Pashmina Goat.

Livestock Product/ VillageWoolPashminaMuttonChevonBeefTotal
Nyoma3649.3311600.0023460.0013050.002440.0054199.33
+910.86+3639.07+5855.52+4093.96+1116.00+14790.00
Nidder4289.6024336.0027576.0027378.00912.0084491.60
+1183.78+2891.57+7610.00+3253.02+307.35+1 1006.43
Mud6205.8130305.45539894.5440936.301156.36111655.81
+2044.7+6150.71+13145.02+6150.7 1+364.43+22760.24
Rongo3201.3337300.0020580.0041962.50760.00103803.83
+405.80+9626.53+2608.76+10829.84+362.8 I+21224.95
Koyul4786.6043800.0030771.0049275.00.3570.00132202.60
+1407.29+5752.61+9046.91+6471.68+801.73+18265.05
Kharnak3676.442876.0023634.0048235.504668.00123089.90
+528.7242548.87+3398.97+4791.23+561.3610282.58
Samad5471.2026160.0035172.0029430.003552.0099785.20
+587.15+2747.36+3774.54+3090.78625.50+8862.40
Anlay3123.4035352.0020079.0039771.002028.00100353.40
+304.88+3108.34+1959.94+3496.89+420.98+7743.20
Korzok6121.8142840.0039354.5448195.001298. 18137509.54
+654.57+3744.26+4207.97+4212.30+235.430+10754.97
Tsaga2194.1841192.7214105.45546341.815585.45109419.63
+661.99+4385.23+4255.65+4933.39+2193.93+13367.00

Table 1.

Average income statement of each family from different livestock product (INR).

Category of animalsYearwise number of heads/birds
2012–132013–142014–152013–162016–172017–182018–19
Sheep105,241103,47710,8937112,185103,375110,943103,375
Non Pashmina Goat334031622685312619,099161,99190,99
Pashmina Goat249,206217,771235,687226,951202,561219,198202,561
Total:-357,787324,410347,309342,262325,035346,340323,035

Table 2.

Sheep and goat population as per livestock census/departmental survey.

Source: Sheep Husbandry Deptt.

S. No.ItemUnitsPhysical targetAchievement up to ending December 2019
1WoolKgs101,670102,009
2PasminaKgs43,51746,003.6
3MohairKgs775803
4MuttonKgs664,950624,265.79
5MilkLitres520

Table 3.

Sheep husbandry estimated production.

Source: Sheep Husbandry Deptt.

Figure 3.

Flock of Changthangi Pashmina Goat.

Figure 4.

Pashmina Goats at High Land Pasture.

Figure 5.

Milking of Pashmina Goats.

2.1 Population status

The number of Changthangi goats in the year 2000 was 163,663 with a sudden increase to 223,093 in 2001. The populations remain static till 2004. In 2005 a sharp decline to 187,299 was noticed with marginal increasing trend to 208,611 in 2009 [6, 7]. The population of Changthangi goat was 217,771 in 2014 and has shown a slight increase to present 219,198 in 2019 [3, 8]. The Population status of pashmina is static for the past two decade, however the population of local goat (Malra) has drastically reduced from 68,838 in the year 2006 to 3162 in 2014 [8, 9] and now to slight increase to 16,199 in 2019 [3] which is a concern. The detail population status of pashmina goat is given in Tables 2 and 3.

2.2 Diversity study

Genetic diversity study in Changthangi goats of Ladakh was done by this institute in 2020. The genetic distance analyzed based on the microsatellite allele variability between different clusters shows genetic nearness and farness between the Changthangi goats of different subpopulations, which could be very useful for formulating future breeding plans in these goats. The Diversity study was done using highly polymorphic 15 microsatellites as recommended by FAO. The microsatellite are good candidates for breed characterization and diversity study. The study proved very useful for genetic investigations and assessing admixture in this goat populations. Bottleneck analysis revealed no recent bottleneck in Changthangi goats of Ladakh [10]. The strong inference that the Changthang breed of goat has not undergone bottleneck is important for goat breeders and conservationists, as it indicates that any unique alleles present in this breed may not have been lost. Therefore, it can be recommended that within breed diversity is actively maintained to enable these extensively unmanaged stocks to adapt to future demands and conditions and there is ample scope for further improvement in its productivity through appropriate breeding strategies. The substantial genetic variation and polymorphism observed across studied loci in the Changthangi Goats of Ladakh and the inference drawn from this study could be used for formulating future breeding plan and overall genetic improvement of this goat for Cashmere and meat production in whole of Ladakh.

2.3 Constraints and solutions

S. NoConstraintsPreferable solution
1.Kid Mortality due to Hypothermia, undernourished, diarrhea of unknown etiology and Contagious Ecthyma.Provision of Low cost Shelter for Kids
Supplementary feeding of pregnant does and nursing does. Better health intervention by state sheep husbandry department.
2.Difficulty in Data recording due to extreme hard terrain.Provision of proper animal identification tags with data recorder under various govt schemes.
3.Lack of scientific breeding plans.Involvement of experts from research institutes and by adopting genetic diversity map developed by SKUAST-K Leh.
4.Shortage of elite males (cruel method of traditional castration at 3 months of age) leading to inbreedingAdoption of closed method of castration and culling of excess animal under proper guidance of culling committee.
5.Health Problems like, CCPP, FMD, PPR Coccidiosis, Endo and ecto parasites.Adoption of health calendar developed by our institute.
6.Mass abortion of unknown etiology.Brucella and other diseases needs to be rule out
7.Lack of feed and fodder during long Winter season.Provision of proper feed and fodder bank. Use of Complete feed, pelleted feed and silage feeding during winter developed by SKUAST-K Leh.
8.Lack of proper shelter for Kids, pregnant and sick animals during winter season.Provision of Low cost Shelter for Kids, pregnant and sick animals during winter season.
9.Overgrazing and Pasture Degradation.Strictly following age old tradition of rotational grazing. Preservation of winter grazing land.
10.Wild attack by Tibetan wolf and Snow leopard.Protection using latest infra-red light, iron mesh in collaboration with wildlife department.
11.Hard living condition and lack of basic facilities to the Nomads.Provision of basic amenities by Govt Department.
12.Tourism a better avenue for the Local people.Needs proper education of livestock rearer.
13.Lack of Value AdditionHands on Training programme on various livestock products processing.
14.Marketing Problems.Implementing Value Chain strategy from production to consumption with involvement of various stakeholders.

2.4 Future strategies

  1. Breeding Plans like ONBS with Research Institute holding the nucleus herd or elite stock.

  2. Selection of animals for optimum fiber production i.e lesser fibre diameter and longer staple length.

  3. Proper Health Management (Dosing, Dipping and Vaccination)

  4. Development of Disease Diagnostic kits.

  5. Vaccine Production against CCPP.

  6. Checking mass abortion and kid mortality.

  7. Shelter management during peak winters.

  8. Assisted reproductive technology for assisting the service of elite animals to more flocks.

  9. Scientific optimum feeding during long winter (complete feed, pellet feed, feed block, silage feeding)

  10. Establishment of Proper Feed Bank at each Cluster for winter storage of feed for livestock.

  11. Pasture Development Programmes.

  12. Value Addition of Pashmina fibres, Chevon, pelt and Goat Milk.

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3. Changthangi sheep

Changthang region of Ladakh is the home tract for a potent dual purpose breed of sheep ‘Changthangi’ also known as “Changluk” locally. These breed of sheep is famous throughout the Ladakh region for its quality wool and mutton production Figure 6. A total of about 113,554 of Changthangi sheep population sustain the economy of Changthangi people in the year 2003 which has drastically reduced to 49,654 in 2009 [7, 11]. Presently the population of Changluk is less than 70,000. This sudden reduction in the sheep population may be attributed to low income from sheep rearing compared to Pashmina goats, whose population is increasing year by year [12]. The low income return from sheep rearing is due to lay man approach for maintaining this breed as till date no specific breeding policy has been adopted for up gradation of these sheep in the field and no effort has been made even by the state govt, which is clear from the fact that no such established farm of these sheep exist in the whole of Ladakh division. Low income from sheep is also attributed to religious belief as these people prefer other source of income from livestock other than meat production. A scientific approach in managing and rearing this Changthangi sheep is need of the time as the cost of rearing this animal is getting higher than its production. Also the required growth rate of the sector is possible only through selection based on important production traits. Among many of the constraints to sheep production in Ladakh, scarcity of feed, lack of breeding policy and high mortality has been the major limiting factors [13]. This is partly because sheep breeding in Ladakh is non-controlled, and health and nutrition management are very poor. Diminutive breeding efforts attempted as early as 1960s focused on crossbreeding of the indigenous breeds with exotic breeds (Russian Merino, Karakul) to improve growth and wool yield. Currently, exotic and crossbred’s sheep in Ladakh constitute little proportion (<10%) of the total sheep population. The crossbreeding programme suffered from poor planning, not involving livestock owners and stakeholders in decision making and ownership of the initiatives on top of low regard to the potential of indigenous breeds. Studies made on Changthangi sheep breeds revealed within breed variation for growth and indicated feasibility for productivity improvement of indigenous sheep breeds through genetic means [12]. In the present situation owing to the importance of livestock in cold arid region of Ladakh, a framework for sheep breeding is seriously needed.

Figure 6.

Changthangi Sheep.

As per the recommendations of National commission on Agriculture from time to time, Northern Temperate Region of India including J&K has been earmarked for propagation of fine wool germ plasm. Big strides have been made in fine wool sector by the state. The production potential of the indigenous stock has been increased by more than double. However, till date Changthangi goat has been deprived of basic research for breed upgradation. Further, sheep breeding policy in the Union Territory of J&K and Ladakh should not be mono-cultured only for fine wool production because of its diverse agro- climatic conditions but it should be region specific and diversified.

3.1 Population status

On the contrary to the population trend of Pashmina goats in Ladakh the Changthangi sheep shows an initial sharp inclining trend from 66,822 in the year 2000 to 113,544 in 2004 with a subsequent declining trend to 49,652 in 2009 [7, 14, 15]. The population is somewhat static with 55,353 Changluk in 2014 [8]. However, the population of local Malluk has increased to 48,124 during the past few years making a total district sheep population of 103,477 in 2014. Presently the Changthangi Sheep population is 67,521 mostly restricted to Changthang region [3]. If suitable measures are not adopted, then the precious germplasm of Changthangi sheep may be lost during the coming years. The detail population status is given in Table 4.

Category of animalsNumber of heads/birds
2011–122012–132013–142014–152015–162016–172017–182018–19
Cattle36,23136,23112,97712,97712,97712,97747,15147,151
Buffaloes00000
Dzo-Dzomoes949534,14734,17434,17434,17434,17418,87718,877
Yark/Demos13,42018,87718,87718,87718,87718,877
Horse/Ponies5534553455345534553455345534
Mules247247247247247247247
Donkies5296529652965296529652965296
Camel189189189189189189189
Dog2949294929492949294929492949
Rabbits80808080808080
Poultry609320,82920,82920,82920,82920,82920,82920,829
Others (specify)17,08300

Table 4.

Livestock population as per livestock census/Departmental survey.

Source: Livestock Census Reports/departmental Survey 2012 After every 5 years.

3.2 Wool production

During our recent study at this institute, Changthangi sheep is one of the unique breeds having double coat with marked difference in fibre diameter and surface characteristics fibres. One of the striking observation reported in Changthangi sheep was that unlike other sheep breeds, Changthangi sheep produces double coat with marked difference in fibre diameter. The average fibre diameter of fine fibres was 14.35 ± 0.50 μm which was significantly lower (p < 0.05) than that of coarse fibres (40.04 ± 1.4 μm). The fibre diameter of fine fibres is comparable to that of pashmina growing from the Changthangi goats whose diameter range between 11–15 μm. The reason for presence of double coat and finer fibres may be attributed to the sub-zero temperature (even goes down up to −40oC) of the Changthang belt of Ladakh. Like Pashmina goats, Changthangi sheep might have adapted themselves to produce down fibres which help to protect them against the extreme cold conditions [16]. The production scale of finer fibre in Changthangi sheep should be studied further so that it can be used for improving the income of the livestock rearer of Ladakh. Till date the Changthangi sheep has been under rated for its quality wool production. The Quality of Changthangi sheep wool is categorized as carpet wool but our study indicates that it is medium type wool and have scope of good market by developing a fine textured apparels. Further, the undercoat produced from secondary follicle can be utilized for the development of fine textured fabrics with smooth and warmth which in turn will fetch more prices only next to pashmina.

3.3 Important features of breed

  1. It is the only breed of sheep adapted to cold arid condition low hydric and hypoxic conditions with good returns to farmers Figures 6 and 7.

  2. It has the longest staple wool fiber among the Indian sheep breed.

  3. The breed is the tallest of Indian breed with very little or no health issues.

  4. The breed produces the strongest wool among the Indian breeds.

  5. The breed co-exists with pashmina goats for thousands of year and act as a protector of weak animals from severe winter when housed together.

  6. Great variability is there in the body weights and thereby heralding great chances of improvement in meat production.

  7. Variability does exist in wool production and wool quality, therefore, if required, these traits can also be set at desirable level (but within physiological limits of the breed).

  8. Breed produces good quality mutton greatly relished by the local people of the area.

  9. The breed produces secondary fibre with fibre diameter less than 13 μm.

  10. The adult wt of the breed is 30–35 kg within 18–24 month making it a potential breed for mutton production.

Figure 7.

Changthangi Sheep on winter pasture.

3.4 Constraints and solutions

S. NoConstraintsPreferable solution
1.Difficulty in Data recording due to extreme hard terrain.Provision of proper animal identification tags with data recorder under various govt schemes.
2.Lack of any breeding PolicyFormulation of breeding plan involving experts from concerned research institutes .
3.Shortage of elite males (cruel method of traditional castration at 3 months of age) leading to inbreedingAdoption of closed method of castration under proper guidance of culling committee.
4.The low income returns from sheep rearing which is due to lay man approach for maintaining this breed.Area specific Scientific sheep rearing practices to be developed. Educating local youth for profitable sheep farming.
5.Reduce market value of wool.Development of locally made woolen products.
6.Reduce interest toward mutton production due to religious taboos.Business strategy to be developed for sale of live animals.
7.Health Problems like, Pneumonia, FMD, PPR Coccidiosis, Endo and Ecto parasites.Adoption of health calendar developed by our institute.
8.Mass abortion of unknown etiology.Development of proper diseases diagnosis centre at each cluster.
9.Lack of feed and fodder during long Winter season.Provision of proper feed and fodder bank. Use of Complete feed, pelleted feed and silage feeding during winter developed by SKUAST-K Leh.
10.Lack of proper shelter and feed for lambs, pregnant and sick animals during winter season.Provision of Low cost Shelter for Kids, pregnant and sick animals during winter season.
Supplementary feeding of pregnant does and nursing does.
11.Overgrazing and Pasture Degradation.Strictly following age old tradition of rotational grazing. Preservation of winter grazing land. Development of sound Pasture development programmes.
12.Wild attack by Tibetan wolf and Snow leopard.Protection using latest infra-red light, iron mesh in collaboration with wildlife department.
13.Hard living condition and lack of basic facilities to the Nomads.Provision of basic amenities by Govt Department.
14.Tourism a better avenue for the Local people.Coexistence of both tourism business and sheep farming. Needs proper education of livestock rearer.
15.Lack of Value AdditionHands on Training programme on various livestock product processing.
16.Marketing Problems for livestock products.Implementing Value Chain strategy from production to consumption with involvement of various stakeholders.

3.5 Future strategies

  1. Scientific breeding Policy.

  2. Establishment of a nucleus breeding farm under a research institute to facilitate ONBS (3 tier system)

  3. Establishment of Breed Society or Breed Cooperative like for Pashmina goats.

  4. Proper Health Management (Dosing, Dipping and Vaccination)

  5. Disease Diagnostic kits.

  6. Checking mass abortion and kid mortality.

  7. Shelter management during peak winters.

  8. Scientific feeding during long winter (complete feed, pellet feed, feed block, silage feeding)

  9. Establishment of Proper Feed Bank at each Cluster for winter storage of feed for livestock.

  10. Pasture Development Programmes.

  11. Value Addition of wool, Mutton and Pelt.

  12. Pasture improvement programme

  13. Shelter Management during winter

  14. Better Marketing Route Map for wool.

  15. Evaluation of Mutton quality

  16. Diversity study using Molecular marker (Micro satellite)

  17. Identification of Molecular Marker for production traits followed by Marker Assisted Selection (KAP, Myostatin and GH genes)

  18. Introgression of Fec B Gene to increase twining in this sheep.

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4. Yak

The yak species (Bos grunniens) represents a unique bovine species adapted to the Tibetan plateau of China and India at an altitudes of 3000 m above sea level where oxygen content is only 33% of that at sea level and intensity of ultraviolet radiation is 3–4 times that in lowland areas [17]. Consequently, yak adapted to this environment likely have special physiological mechanisms to protect their central nervous systems against hypoxic and oxidative injury. Semi-domestic Yak is commonly known as “the Ships of the Plateau” has been domesticated under hostile climates of high altitude in the Ladakh plateau and adjoining regions of greater Himalayas also Figures 8 and 9. Apart from being pack and draught animal it provides milk, meat, fibre, hide. It is best known for its hardiness and resistant to extreme cold climate and hypoxic conditions. Yaks of Ladakh are very hardy and they rarely need any health care and its very rare to find any health issues in Yaks.

Figure 8.

Male Yak at High Land Grazing.

Figure 9.

Yaks at High Land Grazing.

In India, Union Territory of Ladakh has the highest population of Yaks and its hybrids distributed in both Kargil and Leh districts. But, the National Research Centre on Yak was established at Dirang Arunachal Pradesh and till date Ladakh is devoid of any kind of support from NRC yak and Govt. of India leaving this precious germplasm to perish in times to come. The other areas, where Yaks are found include Drass valley and Doda district of Jammu & Kashmir, North-Western Himalayan region mainly Spiti Valley, Pangi Valley in Chamba and Sangla Valley in tribal district of Kinnaur, Pithoragarh district of Garhwal hills, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. The base line data on the Yak of Ladakh is not available, whatsoever meager information available is based on few Yaks; therefore, status of real production, reproduction and other potential of this animal are wanting. The animal besides having agricultural utility has religious utility for the Buddhist community of Ladakh. No scientific improvement programme is in force to improve this animal, and the biggest hurdle in it is the lack of systematic and sufficient information about the species.

Yak when hybridize with domestic cow exhibit great degree of heterosis. The popularity of these hybrids among the farmer can be gauzed from the specific name to each back cross and hybrid. The real heterosis exhibited is not documented because of lack of information on potential of Yak.

In the cold arid zone of Ladakh the precious species of livestock viz. Yak (Bos grunniens) needs to be documented and improved by adopting the technologies which are already in vogue for cattle and buffalo improvement. To exploit the benefits of species hybridization by crossing Yak with cattle, the performance of different levels of inheritance of Yak with cattle germ-plasm needs to be studied in depth to harvest maximum benefits.

4.1 Population status

In India, the Yak population decreased drastically to about 30,000 in 1987 from 130,000 in the late seventies. The highest Yak population was about 21,400 in Arunachal Pradesh in 1972 and this population has shown sharp decline since & about 8921 Yaks had been estimated in 1997–98. These sharp declines in Yak population may be due to large scale cross breeding of Yak dams with local cattle to produce the hybrid Dzo and Dzomo, which is more useful and easily manageable than Yak due to its docile nature.

Likewise, in Ladakh also the same pattern of decline in Yak population has existed and at present it is very difficult to find elite Yaks in the population. The yak population has a sharp decline from 18,904 in 2007 to 13,420 in 2008 in Leh district similar pattern is also noticed in Kargil district [1, 18]. Presently the Yak population of Leh has slightly increased to 18,877 in 2019 [3]. However, the crosses like Dzo & Dzomo has increased abruptly from 9495 in 2008 to 34,174 in 2019 [3, 19]. This is mainly due to uncontrolled crossing with local cattle.

4.2 Constraints and solution

S. NoConstraintsPreferable solution
1.Lack of Scientific Breeding and Management resulting in inbreeding.Development of Breeding Policy is need of the time.
2.Lack of any policy by govt organization for research and development.Yak sub Centre needs to be established at Leh
3.Lack of Knowledge about genetic diversity among different Yaks found in different areas of Ladakh.Genetic characterization using molecular tools and genetic diversity study using microsatellite markers as suggested by FAO should be done. Breed registration should be done on priorty.
4.Lack of Livestock Product development systemTrainings on Value addition. Promotion of Yak milk products like Yak cheese, yoghurt, butter etc
5.Low income comparative to other LivestockDevelopment and marketing of Yak Meat, Pelt and wool which doesn’t exist in Ladakh.
6.Competition with Wild animals for grazing, shrinking of Pasture Land and Degradation.Strictly following age old tradition of rotational grazing. Preservation of winter grazing land. Development of sound Pasture development programmes.
7.Lack of proper nutritious feed during winterDevelopment and provision of Yak supplementary feed using locally available agriculture products.
8.Indiscriminative breeding with local cattleThis should be checked and allowed until or unless warranted as per need.
9.Most of the Elite stock goes to slaughter especially in winter.Proper culling committee should be framed for culling the unproductive Yaks.
10.Considered as Non Descriptive due to lack of data and basic study.Genetic Characterization and registration as a Ladakhi Yak will be the first step in its conservation and improvement.

4.3 Future strategies

  1. Genetic Characterization at molecular level of Yak found in different areas of Ladakh and its comparison with Yak found in those of China and rest of India.

  2. Accordingly, adoption of Scientific Breeding Policy and Management System.

  3. Value addition to a variety of Yak product, like milk, cheese, fibre, hair, pelt and bones.

  4. Tourism oriented business like Yak safari.

  5. Inclusion of Yak as a Pack animal for Army at border areas.

  6. Based on the function of MT-III, it is predicted that MTs may play an important role for yak adaptation to the Tibetan plateau environment. Hence genes like Metallothionein-III (MT-III) Hypoxia HP1 gene in yak should be studied.

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5. Zanskari horse

Zanskari and Chumurti breeds are the two main horse breed of Ladakh area, the Zanskari horse are found mainly in the Zanskar region of Ladakh and Chumurti being lesser and found mainly towards Chumur village of Changthang bordering China. The majority of the horses in Ladakh are Zanskari Figure 10. These horses are very well adapted to run in hypoxic and freezing condition of Ladakh. The main utility of Zanskari horse is as a draught and sport animal. In some far flung village this horses are traditionally used for ploughing the agriculture field and for thrashing the crops Figure 11. The famous traditional game of Ladakh ‘Stapolok’ (Polo) of Ladakh from ancient times is played using these horses. These horses are very hardy and was of great importance in earlier times for trades and transportation. In eighties owing to conserve this horse State Govt has opened a Zanskari horse breeding farm at Chuchot which is presently at critical stage due to lack of efficient breeding policy. Further, due to mechanization and development of road system, Zanskari horse, one of the precious germplasm adapted to the hypoxic conditions of high altitudes of Ladakh, is already endangered and needs immediate attention for its conservation. Though presently it has found its new way of income through tourism in trekking routes. Presently the population of Zanskari horse is 5534 which is almost equal to local donkey population of 5296 [3].

Figure 10.

Zanskari Horse at Zanskar.

Figure 11.

Zanskari Horse at field work.

5.1 Constraints and solution

S. NoConstraintsPreferable solution
1.Lack of Scientific Breeding and Management resulting in inbreeding.Formulation of a sound Breeding Policy involving Research Institutes.
2.Lack of any policy by govt organization for research and development.Restructuring of present Zanskari Horse farms of Ladakh.
3.Lack of Knowledge about genetic diversity among different Horses found in different areas of Ladakh.Genetic characterization using molecular tools and genetic diversity study.
4.Lack of use due to modernizationIntroduction of this hoses in army, police and other departments.
5.Low income comparative to other LivestockPromotion of Polo sports. Tourism related sports trekking can increase their income.
6.Lack of the Elite stock for propagationUpgradation of Equine breeding centers in every blocks of Ladakh.

5.2 Future strategies

  1. Breed Morphological, Physiological and biochemical Characterization of the Pure Zanskari horse breed which will be the first step towards formulating breeding policies and prioritizing the breeds for conservation in an effective and meaningful way.

  2. Genetic Up-gradation of Zanskari Horse through Open Nucleus Breeding Scheme (ONBS).

  3. Maintaining the population status of this breed of Horse to a safe level.

  4. Physiological Studies to ascertain its performance and importance in cold arid region compared to other breed.

  5. Provision of better Health and improvement in managemental practices.

  6. Introduction of Artificial Insemination for genetic improvement in this breed.

  7. To evaluate its present field of importance taking into consideration the present developed and changed scenario of Ladakh (promoting polo sport).

  8. Strengthening of existing Zanskari Equine Breeding Farm AHD Leh,

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6. Bactrian (Double Humped) camel

Another important livestock species of Ladakh region is Bactrian camel, which has played a great role in silk route trading transportation connecting China and Central Asia via Ladakh during 18th century. The present camel has been raised from a base population 18–22 camel since from 1937 when Ladakh was open for silk route trading, since then no importation of Camel has been done due to border restriction. These camel had a critical population of hardly about 125 in 2008 [18] and presently increased to 189 [3]. In early 20th century these animals were abandoned by the local farmers due to lack of its use in day to day life. However, after opening of the Nubra village (Habitat) for tourism sector the business of Camel riding flourishes thereby increasing the economy of farmers. Presently, and Nubra valley becomes a centre of attraction for both national and international tourists Figures 12 and 13. A total active business of camel riding for around 4 months from June to October was able to purchase feed and fodder for this camel for 12 months along with lots of extra savings to the Camel breeders. Though this Camel can be reared for milk, meat and wool, but the farmers rear it for tourism related business only, the reason being easy management and profitable income. It must be conserved on scientific lines with complete registration of all the available animals and maintenance of their breeding plan for extra income through its milk, meat and wool production.

Figure 12.

Double Humped Camel at Leh.

Figure 13.

Double Humped Camel Safari at Hundar.

6.1 Constraints and solution

S. NoConstraintsPreferable solution
1.Still not recognized as any breed.Genetic Characterization and Registration as a breed
2.Lack of any policy by govt organization for research and development.UT Ladakh administration should come up with a sound policy on conservation and improvement of Ladakhi Bactrian Camel. They can be used as pack animal for army personal at border areas.
3.Lack of elite malesImportation of Elite male preferably from China or Mongolia is the only solution for improvement of this Camel.
4.Lack of scientific breeding method leading to inbreedingTrainings on Value addition. Promotion of Yak milk products like Yak cheese, yoghurt, butter etc
5.Lack of proper housing even for mother & young ones and they live in open Snow (2–3 feet) covered plains during winterProvision of proper housing especially during winter season.
6.Lack of health facilitiesA Camel health Centre should be established immediately in Hunder Nubra.
7.Mortality of young onesProvision of supplementary feeding, disease control and treatment can check the mortality of young ones.
8.Lack of knowledge about Value addition of Camel ProductsDevelopment and marketing of Yak Meat, Pelt and wool which doesn’t exist in Ladakh.
9.Lack of Marketing for Camel productLack of Knowledge on camel product and processing
10.Scarcity of feed and fodder (grazing land).A state grazing land should be earmarked for Camel with provision of fodder production including seabuckthorn.

6.2 Future strategies

  1. Genetic Characterization at Molecular level

  2. Scientific Breeding Method.

  3. Importation of male from Central Asia to check Inbreeding

  4. Low cost Shelter especially for Nursing mothers and young ones and for winter seasons.

  5. Introduction of feed processing equipment.

  6. Identification and use of locally available feed resources.

  7. Provision of Health facilities.

  8. Methods to increase its use for agriculture.

  9. Value addition of its products like milk, wool, pelt, bones etc.

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7. Cattle

The local cattle which is a non-descriptive breed was registered as a Ladakhi Cattle breed recently in 2019 by National Bureau of Animal Genetics Resource Karnal, Govt of India. The Ladakhi Cattle is very well adapted to the hypoxic condition of Ladakh, it can thrive very well on meagre feed and highly resistant to most of the contagious disease Figures 14 and 15. Certain reports on the local cattle indicate it to the Bos taurusspecies. In Ladakh the performance of Jersey crossed with these local cattle is very much appreciated by the farmers and more than 80% of the Ladakhi cattle are cross between Jersey and Local with an overall average milk production of 5–6 litres per day. There is complete trend of increase in cattle population of Leh district since from the year 1992 (24,836 Nos) to 2008 (36,231 Nos) leading to a sharp increase in total milk production of the district. The cattle population of Leh district in 2014 was 12977 with a static milk production. Presently there are 47,151 of Ladakhi cattle [3, 8]. This data reveals that after breed registration its number has increased drastically. The Ladakhi Cattle produce around 1–2 litres of milk (7–8% fat) per day with no input expenditure on feed and medicines and under improved managemental system its production goes to 5–6 litres of milk per day. The milk and colostrum of these cattle are explored for biomolecules having high medicinal values in humans. Presently, these local cattle which are adapted to Ladakh condition are being replaced by Jersey cattle which have many managemental and health issues regarding their adaptation in Ladakh. If this trend continues then this local genetic resource in future will be lost forever.

Figure 14.

A Ladakhi Cow.

Figure 15.

Ladakhi Cattle.

7.1 Constraints and solution

S. NoConstraintsPreferable solution
1.Lack of any policy by govt organization for research and development.UT Ladakh administration should come up with a sound policy on genetic improvement of Ladakhi Cattle involving breeders from research institutes.
2.Low Production compared other breeds of the country.Breed Improvement through establishment of a nucleus herd at Leh under a research institute.
3.Indiscriminate breeding with other breedsA complete check on unwarranted crossing with Jersey, Holstein and other breeds.
4.Lack of adapted optimum producer Lack of elite malesPresently the exact picture production in this cattle is not known. A complete picture of different areas with production data may help in improvement programmes.
5.Lack of scientific breeding method leading to inbreedingTrainings on Value addition. Promotion of local cow milk products Yak cheese, yoghurt, butter etc
6.Lack of proper housing system especially during during winterProvision of proper housing during winter season.
7.Lack of knowledge about Value addition of Camel ProductsDevelopment and marketing of Yak Meat, Pelt and wool which doesn’t exist in Ladakh.
8.Jersey as a better option for increased milk production.Ladakhi Cattle can perform in higher altitude where Jersey breed cannot perform.
Hence its propagation will be accepted in area where altitude is above 12000ft asl.
9.Scarcity of feed and fodder especially during winter season.Complete feed, pellet feed, silage feeding should be practiced using locally available agriculture produce like Barley, wheat, mustard, peas, their straws, maize and alfa alfa.
10.Lack of research on milk and milk productsThe milk and colostrum of high altitude livestock is considered to have special biomolecules, which may have a tremendous health benefits to the consumer.

7.2 Future strategies

  1. A sound breeding policy (ONBS) to improve the production system of local cattle.

  2. A planned study on the performance of various inheritance level of Jersey graded local cattle at Leh.

  3. Study on resistance nature of native cattle against various infectious disease like FMD, Brucellosis, Mastitis etc.

  4. Study on rumen flora so as to ascertain the reason for thriving on meagre feed resources.

  5. Study and research on the milk parameters in detail.

  6. Screening and Identification of novel biomolecules in milk and colostrum.

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8. Poultry

Like other states of India with the pace of time there is great demand for poultry meat and eggs in Ladakh also, and all the demands are made by suppliers from Punjab and Kashmir. In the past there used to be a local poultry layer bird, very well adapted in every village house of farmers with broodiness. But due to lack of any policy the local birds of Ladakh has extinct and for the past 4–5 years it is very hard to find any local bird with broodiness. Though there is an increase in birds numbers mostly Vanraja Breed (dual purpose breed) from 6093 in 2007–08 and 20,829 in 2014 but the real poultry germplasm of the area is already lost. Normal Hatchery unit doesn’t work well in Ladakh and hatching is a major problem in Ladakh condition due to cold, arid and high altitude of the region. Hence a hatchery suitable for Ladakh needs to be developed. Till date no research has been done to establish a broiler or layer line fit for cold arid zone of Ladakh, though DRDO claims to have done it but there is nothing to see at farmers/village level. Though a broiler business is not a profitable business in Ladakh condition but revival of age old backyard poultry has a great scope.

8.1 Constraints and solution

S. NoConstraintsPreferable solution
ABroiler
1.Costly HousingDesigning of a special poultry house to maintain the required temperature with low cost and maintenance.
2.Costly poultry feed
(mainly due to long distance and costly transportation)
Production of Poultry feed using locally available agriculture produce.
3.Poor growth rateImprovement in room temperature and right feed.
4.Difficulty in procurement of Day old chickUT Administration should help in procuring day old chicks directly from Hyderabad or Chandigarh by air route.
BLayers
Lack of suitable Parent stockGovernment Institute should develop a Hatchery Unit in Ladakh itself.
Lack of Hatchery UnitDesigning of a Hatchery Unit suitable for Ladakh Condition.
3.Lack of BroodinessA gene lost once is lost forever.
4.Difficulty in procurement of Day old chickUT Administration should help in procuring day old chicks directly from Hyderabad or Chandigarh by air route.
5.Lack of proper housing designA low cost poultry shed, semi underground type with mud bricks, one developed by KVK-Leh may reduce the housing cost and maintain required for birds

8.2 Other non-descriptive native livestock

  1. Purig sheep: This is a small size sheep as described by Dr William Moorcroft the traveller who visited Ladakh in 17th Century (Figure 16). In his book he has described the origin of Ladakhi Sheep from the ancestor Hunyaand Purig. The name ‘Purig’ has been derived from one of the tribe of Ladakh Purig whose ancestors are supposed to be originated from Western Tibet. The Purig sheep is famous among local people for its delicious mutton, though the mutton production is very less but it is greatly relished by local people during winter season and local festival. They also produce a small amount of wool which is used for making local woollen dress like sweater, socks, gloves, caps etc. This sheep are presently very few in numbers found in certain pockets of Sanjak, Sankoo and Panikhar blocks of Kargil district and Turtuk, Tyakshi and Thang Village of Leh District. Their population is estimated to be around 200–300 in numbers and is at the verge of extinction.

  2. Malluk sheep: The Malluk name has been derived from local word meaning ‘Local Sheep’ is a medium, carpet wool type sheep found mostly in Lingshet, Photoksar, Skiu, Markha, Lamayuru and Khaltse area of Leh District and some parts of Zanskar block of Kargil district. The present sheep population is estimated to be around 600–700 in numbers and declining every year due to crossing with Changthangi, Karakul and Marino Sheep. If proper action is not taken this germplasm may be lost in years to come.

  3. Malra goat: The Malra name has been derived from local word meaning ‘Local Goat’, it is a medium size goat (Figure 17) commonly found in Khaltse Lamayuru, Lingshet, Photoksar, Skiu, Markha, villages of Leh District. The goat produces a small amount of Cashmere fibre (50–100 gm/animal) and mainly used for chevon production. Their number is also declining and presently estimated to be around 700–800, and the figure of Malra given under the Census includes all types of non-pashmina goat breeds found in Leh.

  4. Chumurti like horse: These breed resembles one kind of horse found in Lahul and spiti district of Himachal Pradesh hence the name Chumurti. These horsis are mostly found in Korzok, Koyul, Hanley and Chumur Villages of Ladakh. Their number is around 100–150 and needs proper census and study. This are medium size horses and mostly used by the nomads of Changthang for transportation of goods especially during migration from one pastureland to another.

  5. Ladakhi donkey: In the earlier times, the Ladakhi Donkey was one of the most useful livestock for the Ladakhi people. Ladakh due to its mountainous terrain and lack of any mechanization was urgently in a need of transportation mechanism and this donkeys and yaks serve the purpose. The Ladakhi donkey was used for transportation of all the day to day needs, agriculture produces, fodders, equipment, water etc. Now presently with development of roads connecting every nuke and corner of Ladakh and with emergence of transport vehicle, its use has been restricted to some remote areas only, due to which people has started abandoning this donkeys. The lack of use of this species for domestic purpose has made it a stray animal resulting in reduction in its number. The present population is estimated to be around 3000 to 4000 in Leh district.

  6. Changthangi dog: The Changthangi dog locally known as Changkhi is medium size hunting dog (Figure 18), thought to be a descendent of Tibetan Mastiff breed of dog from Tibet. They are found mostly in Changthang areas of Ladakh bordering China. This dogs are used by the nomads as a watch guard dog for their livestock on open pasture lands. They guard the livestock from wild animals attack like Tibetan wolf and snow leopard. They are very loyal to their masters

Figure 16.

Purig Sheep at Turtuk.

Figure 17.

Malra Goat at Lamayuru.

Figure 18.

Changthangi Dog.

The above mentioned livestock needs to characterised and conserved on priority and the first step in this is the registration of all these non-descriptive animals as proper Breed. Krishi Vigyan Kendra -Leh SKUAST-K in collaboration with National Bureau of Animal Genetics Resource-Karnal Govt of India has started the process of Characterization and Registration of all this precious germplasm in the year 2021 and it will be completed by the end of the year 2024.

8.3 Conclusions and recommendations

  • Ladakh has been deprived of basic research facilities in animal science sector by the Central Govt for so many years due to which some of the best germplasm like Pashmina goats, Changthangi Sheep, Yak and Zanskari horse are declining in terms of numbers as well as in production.

  • Beside of above mentioned animals the presence of Chumurti breed of horse, the Hunya sheep of Ladakh goes unnoticed and their status at present date is unknown. Hence, a strategy to bring these important breed back to normal tract is need of the time.

  • Like population status, the production data from all these animals has remained static for the past so many years, the reason being lack of scientific intervention.

  • Both the AHD and SHD are lacking basic facilities like animal disease diagnostic laboratory and treatment facilities and they should be strengthened.

  • The present trend of Livestock population is not healthy and if necessary steps are not taken immediately a time will reach that all these precious animals will be lost forever.

  • Though developmental work has been done by State Department of Animal Husbandry and Sheep Husbandry, there is an urgent need of State Research Institute and ICAR to come forward for undertaking basic research and conservation programmes on these animals.

  • Intervention and Collaboration with CSWRI, CIRG, NRC Yak, NRC Camel and NRC Equine in coming days is also need of the time to preserve these precious genetic resources of Ladakh.

  • One of the biggest hurdle in implementing livestock improvement programme in Ladakh is lack of true livestock population census. It is has been observed from present annual census data of Leh and Kargil district, that the concerned Department has never worked sincerely in generating true livestock population census. Due to which there is erratic population data and sometimes the total no of particular species remain constant for years together.

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Acknowledgments

The author is very thankful to Indian Council of Agriculture Research for funding various research projects run by SKUAST-K in Union Territory of Ladakh. The author also acknowledge the contribution of SERB-DST Govt of India for funding the project genetic improvement of Changthangi Sheep.

References

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Written By

Feroz Din Sheikh

Submitted: January 21st, 2022 Reviewed: February 16th, 2022 Published: May 4th, 2022