Measures to conserve threatened breeds

FAO has defined population sizes at which breeds could be labelled endangered and at risk of extinction. Although, such numbers need not be taken literally, they provide useful guidelines. To prevent breeds from becoming extinct, various measures are recommended. In situ conservation schemes involve support of live populations of such size that viable breeding programmes should be possible to maintain, while avoiding inbreeding problems. The aim of ex situ conservation schemes is twofold: maintaining gene banks by cryopreservation (semen and embryos) and, if possible, maintaining the remaining small populations (see FAO, 2007a; FAO, 2011).

As the effects of breeding programmes are determined on a long-term basis, it is quite important to continuously monitor changes in population sizes and immigration of genes between populations. The Global Strategy for the Management of Farm AnGR provides a technical and operational framework for assisting countries as laid out in chapter 3.4.

Additionally, FAO has developed a communication and information tool, the Domestic Animal Diversity Information System [DAD-IS], to implement the Global Strategy [FAO, 2007b-GPA]. The objective of DAD-IS is to assist countries and country networks by providing extensive searchable databases, tools, guidelines, a library, links and contacts for the better management of all AnGR used in food and agriculture. That way, it would be possible to effectively apply certain measures to conserve threatened breeds. However, for the systems to work, the country-level participation must remain highly proactive and professional and use participatory approaches with livestock keepers, Otherwise, one may consistently get stuck with projects aimed at rescuing the remaining small number of animals of a breed, but at a stage when it is too late to develop the breed.

As stated initially in this module, there is no method more efficient for conservation and sustainable development and use of a breed than keeping it commercially or culturally interesting for present and future generations!