The great genetic scandal

Some years back, Oman made an unusual request to India. The oil-rich West Asian country was interested in acquiring four pure-bred animals of the Tharparkar cattle breed found only in the dry, arid regions of Rajasthan. The Tharparkar species derives its name from a unique genetic endowment that enables the animal to traverse the massive Thar desert in western India, an ability which provoked the interest of the sun-soaked Gulf state. However, the frantic search to procure four genetically pure Tharparkar males failed. Only then did Indian authorities realise that the indiscriminate cross-breeding of domestic cattle with exotic Jersey and Holstein Friesian breeds under the Intensive Cattle Breeding Programme and the well-known Operation Flood had rendered more than 80 percent of Indian cattle a place in the nondescript category. In a country home to the largest population of cattle in the world – and some 26 recognised breeds of cattle – genetic contamination has taken its toll. More than a dozen Indian cattle breeds have by now disappeared, eroding the country's unique genetic diversity and cattle wealth.

There can be no remedy for the genetic pollution of cattle, since unlike vehicular pollution from diesel-exhausts, genetic pollutants have the ability to multiply. Unlike the automobiles which have jammed New Delhi's streets, the nondescript cattle which also throng city roads have the ability to reproduce and pass on their genetic contamination from generation to generation. The Supreme Court of India can crack down on erring vehicles and force the government to bring in less polluting fuel but it has no means to check genetic pollution.

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Himal Southasian