Iziina Rirungi Rigumaho Association (IRRA) is a community based organization registered in Uganda. IRRA is concerned with natural resources conservation in East Africa.  Towards this end, IRRA initiated a project to protect the long-horned Ankole cattle (LHAC) in 2012. This project is called Cow Protection Conservancy Uganda (CPCU).  The home of CPCU is Mbarara in Uganda.

Who are the LHAC?

The Sanga[1] originated in Ethiopia around 2000 BC when ancient Bos taurus breeds and early Bos indicus (or zebu) breeds were crossed and spread to east, west and central Africa (Felius 1995; Hanotte et al. 2000), reaching Uganda before 1000 BC (Epstein 1971). Payne and Hodges (1997) hold that Sangas reached Uganda sometime between the 10th and 14th century. Epstein’s date was taken from rock paintings found on Uganda’s Mount Elgon. The similar frequency of zebu-specific material in the East African Sangas suggests that the mixing of taurine and indicine genotypes resulted from the original interbreeding that first occurred.

Renowned traditional breeders of the LHAC are the aba-Hima (or Bahima[2]), a cow-keeping community who belonged to Ankole Kingdom (formerly Nkore).  This Kingdom (which was abolished by the central government of Uganda in the late 1960s gave the LHAC their name, “Ankole cattle[3].”  Other large scale keepers of the LHAC are the Wanyambo[4] of Karagwe in the Kagera Region of North West Tanzania and the Watutsi[5] of Rwanda and Burundi.  Therefore, another international name of the LHAC is Watusi of which the giant-horned variety owned by the Tutsi kings and chiefs, called the Inyambo[6], is now thought to be extinct[7].  Many other communities living in “the greater cattle corridor” in nine countries within eastern Africa herd the LHAC on a much smaller scale.

The LHAC is particularly amazing. In Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Burundi, the Ankole-Watusi was traditionally considered sacred. They supplied milk to the owners, but were not considered for meat, since that was regarded as taboo. Before the last half of the 20th century, cows which died, particularly the herd’s leading bull, were buried by their “bereaved” owners,. Among the Bahima, each herd of 100 cows has one sire.

Living in the savannas and open grasslands, the LHAC’s diet consists of grass and leaves. They are able to utilize poor quality forage and limited quantities of water. Their horns are actually natural thermostats enabling them to manage extremes of temperature.  These survival abilities have enabled them to survive for centuries in Africa and also to be established in other places of the world.  Ancient rock paintings and depictions of the LHAC have been observed in the Sahel region and in the Egyptian arts and pyramid walls.

Why is there urgent need to protect the LHAC?

In 2007, world scientists working with FAO announced at Interlaken Switzerland that the LHAC faced extinction within 20 years.  Their argument was based on the fact that among all cattle-keeping communities in the least developed and developing countries, agricultural economists and politicians were advising against maintenance of indigenous breeds because their low meat and milk yields posed an economic dilemma in the quest to escape the poverty trap.

The introduction of commercial agriculture by the West on tropical African ranges has introduced so-called high yielding milkers from the northern hemisphere.  The leading breed is the Holstein Friesian (HF) itself originated by powerful American corporations such as World Wide Sires.  Carried in vials which might have been kept for decades, the semen that is used to proliferate the HF was mainly extracted from only two sires: Chief and Elevation, a rather limited selection of traits indeed!

And the choice is also rather simple were it not absurdly simplistic.  Breed money or conserve biological diversity. In Uganda, the campaign to interbreed the LHAC with the high-yielding Holstein Friesian (HF) or to harvest the LHAC outright in favor of the HF has made so much economic sense that there is not a single ranch without an exotic herd.

While it is desirable, even imperative, that as many of the world’s poor people as possible should increase their monetary income, it is suicidal to do so using an interim solution which portends catastrophic environmental consequences.  Substituting the LHAC with the HF can only be temporary because the latter is not:  (i) suited to the tropical heat, (ii) equipped for the hostile environment tropical heat creates, (iii) tolerant to ad hoc and insufficient veterinary care, (iv) prepared for periods of acute disease loads, and (v) able to utilize low quality forage, especially during periods of acute drought.  But the natural veriegatedness of the tropics and the tropical climate is not about to be eradicated from the African rangelands.

What is being done to protect the LHAC?

In the wake of the Interlaken pronouncements, the government of Uganda, among other players, initiated conservation interventions by establishing a semen and ovary bank at a national conservatory.  The breeding centers at Nshara and Ruhengere, for example, are primarily aimed at securing the genetic existence of the LHAC rather than to keep it on its hooves in any substantive way.

CPCU is using the ecological diversity approach, arguing that the LHAC, like any other species, has its traditional ecological niche which, once destroyed, will be difficult to recreate regardless of availability of gene banks.  Conserving any species starts with ensuring the integrity and stability of its habitat.  Laboratories, however sophisticated, cannot cope with the multitude of permutations involved in ecosystem equations.

Simply defined, the CPCU approach is COWS: “Conserving Our World Sustainably”   That’s our motto…, our rallying call. Regrettably, breeding standards which made the LHAC survive for thousands of years against tropical diseases, heat and its effects, among other hardships, have been significantly interfered with especially since the last half of the 20thcentury. Animal drugs, confinement, beef farming, and worse of all, bush clearance in the name of making farms fit for HF have not only stripped the ranges of numerous plant life but it also has led to disappearance of homeopathic, naturopathic and therapeutic agents beneficial, not only for the LHAC, but needless to say, all animate life.

In Uganda, the Bahima are integrally experienced with breeding standards of the LHAC and how suitable the environment should be in order to carry a given LHAC population.  They attach spiritual significance to their cows, which directly or indirectly attach them to pastoral land and land resources and all in nature.  For instance for the Bahima, every hill and valley, every well, tree, shrub and herb has a name that suggests the LHAC links or delinks them “to historical or mythical events and to the ancestors who gave them these cows and taught them to love them” Mark Infield (2003).

With this in mind, the CPCU approach is to enable traditional local communities (TLCs) in the cattle corridor, who have kept the LHAC there for millennia, to continue doing so without degrading their pastures and ecosystems on pastures depend in pursuit of recent standards of measure for wealth and livelihood.

The CPCU goal

Our goal is ultimately to create a self-sufficient, sustainable, community-wide conservation effort which will serve as a springboard for a return to sustainable environmental conservation among the LHAC dependent communities.  We believe replication will easily come along quickly once it can be proven that economic self-sufficiency centered on COWS is possible.

The CPCU approach

CPCU activities are based on 5 pillars, namely:

  • Mobilize—create awareness
  • Organize—associate, systematize and restructure
  • Coordinate—harmonize, regularize and synchronize
  • Cooperate—work in partnership, liaise, and/or bridge
  • Manage— operate, lead by example and/or mentor

Primary objectives of CPCU

CPCU has set out to achieve the following specific objectives centered on the LHAC and the traditional local communities (TLCs) whose livelihoods continue to revolve around it:

  1. Demonstrate that the LHAC is both economically profitable and sustainable

The TLCs generally recognize a number of important roles the cow plays in their lives.  These include, among others, that the LHAC: (i) is a source of food for the family; (ii) dictates protection of the commons and communal ties; (iii) is the basis of the beauty and utility they consider in the natural world; (iv) serves as a seal of social contract and, often, as a medium of dispute resolution; (v) is an indicator of prosperity and social status; and (vi) inspires spiritual (probably metaphysical) satisfaction, and/or empirical knowledge.  CPCU has set up a conservancy in which to demonstrate all known best practices in the management of the LHAC as learned from the TLCs.

  1. Demonstrate that it is easier to achieve sustainable land management (SLM) of East African rangelands with the LHAC than with the HF

Sustainability of any ecosystem is best ensured by the people who live within and directly depend on it for their livelihood.  Outsiders can only play a support role.  This includes the design of models and methodologies for land management.  The Bahima, for example, inherited a rich fund of indigenous knowledge (IK), which enabled them to live productively, for several millennia, with their LHAC without antagonizing their environment whose lifecycles they keenly observed, maintained and protected.  CPCU has set the conservancy within a TLC that is most interested in sustaining this way of life.

  1. Rediscover the socio-cultural and spiritual framework that has long been the basis of the harmonious balance between man and nature among LHAC keepers

The TLCs long-established practices entail a close symbiotic relationship with the cow and the environment.  This stems from ancient civilizations that based continuity and survival on sustainable cow economics.  For instance, among the Tutsi it was taboo to kill a cow for its meat. The meat craze is only recent: it came with the advent of “modernization”.  CPCU will explore this framework of domestic animal management for land and environmental sustainability.

We hope you like to support this endeavor.


Epstein, H. (1971). The Origin of the Domestic animals of Africa. New York, Africana Publishing Corporation. 465.

Felius M., 1995. Cattle Breeds: An Encyclopedia. Misset, Doetinchem. 799.

Hanotte, O., Taweh, C.L., Bradley, D.G., Okomo, M., Verjee, Y., Ochieng, J. and Rege, R.E.O. (2000). Geographical Distribution and Frequency of Tourine Bos Indicus Y Specific Allele Amongst Sub-Saharan Africa n Cattle Breeds. Molecular Ecology 9 387-396.

Payne, W.J.A. and Hodges, J. (1997). Tropical Breeds: Origins, Breeds and Breeding Policies. Oxford, UK, Blackwell Science Ltd.


[1] Sanga is another name the long horned Ankole cattle are known by internationally. A place called Sanga, well known for these cows and inhabited by the Bahima, their renowned keepers, is situated in the heart of the cattle corridor.

[2] J. Roscoe, The Bahima: A Cow Tribe of Enkole in the Uganda Protectorate, The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 37, (Jan. – Jun., 1907), pp. 93-118 ; Bahimahttp://agtr.ilri.cgiar.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=98&Itemid=116

[3] http://blogs.worldwatch.org/nourishingtheplanet/five-indigenous-livestock-breeds-you-have-never-heard-of/

[4] The Discovery of the Source of the Nile by John Hannington Speke, http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/3284

[5]Accounts of Giants in Africa,http://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/gigantes/Africa.html

[6] http://www.flickr.com/photos/41892843@N08/5548425671/in/faves-rigumaho/

[7] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ankole-Watusi