Indigenous livestock breeds under threat of extinction

Indigenous livestock breed and their statistics. Pic: NBC

National Biodiversity Centre predicts that in the next two to three years the Jituphag pig species might go extinct while Jakar sheep is expected to follow suit within a decade


In Bhutan, there are 39 livestock breeds of eight different species of which six livestock breeds are native to Bhutan. However, their very existence is now on the razor’s edge.

An event dubbed “an Evening for Biodiversity-Celebrating Bhutan’s unique domestic and wild biodiversity” held on 26 August emphasized on the livestock-biodiversity in view of their declining numbers over the years.

The evening for biodiversity also came up with measures, proposed by the National Biodiversity Centre (NBC), in order to conserve these indigenous livestock breeds.

In addition, there are around 10 different species of chicken in the nation, according to the NBC. Out of that, the Baylaitey species is now believed to be extinct and is no longer seen in Bhutan.

NBC officials said that over time, the majority of other native chicken breeds have seen a steady decline.

As for horses, according to NBC, there are four different species of horses roughly amounting to 9,800 of them in the country, but their numbers have also been dropping at a worrisome rate.

Further, two varieties of pig are found in the country; Doemphab and Jituphab of which the Jituphab or Saphab species numbers less than 500. NBC predicts that by the next three years this species might also disappear.

The centre also highlighted on four different breeds of sheep that can be found in the country of which the Jakar breed is critically threatened.  

This particular sheep can be found in only three places in the country; Phobjikha in Wangdue, and Chumey and Dhur in Bumthang. NBC predicts that by the next 10 years the Jakar breed might as well vanish from the country.

As for yaks there are presently two breeds in the country; the eastern yak and the western yak which are genetically different from one another but such endemic species to Bhutan is also declining by the years.

In order to avoid such decline in the numbers of native livestock breeds in the country, the NBC initiated the animal genetic resources (AnGR) in 2005, with a mandate to oversee ex-situ and in-situ conservation and sustainable utilization of AnGR in the country.

Ex-situ describes conservation in which the species has been transported, while in-situ refers to the animal’s natural habitat.

In 2015 a fully equipped DNA laboratory was also established to undertake basic research on genetic diversity in the country.

“Animal genetic resources in the country are disappearing at an alarming rate and the only option is to cryo-preserve them in the gene bank,” said NBC.

National Biodiversity Centre has collected and archived over 22,751 genetic materials of different animal breeds in the country which contains Semen doses of 21,183 of sheep, goat, cattle, poultry and pigs.

In addition, DNA samples of 1,546 (comprising five species, like horse, yaks, chicken, pig and cattle) and Embryos samples of 22 Nublang cattle are also preserved.

Under ex-situ conservation the NBC initiated the study on genetic diversity and population structure of native animal breeds.

In addition, they initiated embryo transfer (ET) technology for key native livestock such as ET for Nublang and ET for sheep.

NBC also initiated in-situ conservation activities for native livestock breeds in 18 gewogs.

Rearing of native livestock includes Nublang conservation area in Haa Sombaykha, Saphag conservation area in Udzorong gewog in Trashigang, and Gomdar gewog in Samdrup Jongkhar and Yubja conservation area in Mendrelgang gewog in Tsirang Dzongkhag.

Aside from indigenous livestock decline, there is overall decline in the agrobiodiversity in the country over the years which also includes indigenous crops in the country.

However, necessary interventions are placed as Bhutan’s division for the conservation of agrobiodiversity serves as the country’s genetic resource bank for crops and animals.

Agrobiodiversity conservation of in-situ and sustainable use are other things they organize and carry out.

In order to produce the necessary data and actions, they also conduct investigations and research on agrobiodiversity. The division also develops protective strategies for the breeds and variants that face extinction.