As animal breeders have constantly sought to improve their livestock, some of the original breeds have dwindled to low numbers and even died out. In Britain alone over twenty breeds of farm animals have become extinct since 1900. Worldwide, the rate of loss has been estimated as about one breed per week, so the genetic diversity of livestock is rapidly becoming reduced. A common breed can become rare and then extinct in a very short time unless someone is caring for it. This has happened to sheep, cattle, goats, pigs, poultry and horses.
In New Zealand there are a number of domestic breeds that are rare both here and overseas. There are also breeds, such as the Arapawa goats (see photo), Kaimanawa horses and Auckland Island pigs, that were deliberately or accidently released into the 'wild' and which are now considered to have heritage status. New Zealand can therefore play a part in the world-wide effort to preserve the world’s livestock diversity. (See Loss of Biodiversity in Livestock.)
The Rare Breeds Conservation Society of New Zealand, was founded in 1988 and is administered by a Committee elected under its Constitution. The Society maintains contact and exchanges publications with similar overseas organizations – the Rare Breeds Survival Trust (UK), the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC), Rare Breeds Canada, the Rare Breeds Trust of Australia, and FERME (France) – and it is a member of Rare Breeds International. (See our Links page for links to these and other organizations.)
Farmers naturally want to use the most productive, healthy and hardy stock they can, and to produce for the current market – which inevitably changes according to consumer requirements. For a variety of reasons it is worth retaining the original breeds:
Many people find unusual animals attractive to look at, to breed, to keep or to exchange with friends. On their own they can do only so much. Getting organized can help them develop contacts, share experience, get advice, build up their knowledge and avoid mistakes and losses. As a group, lay people, scientists and managers can do much more than individuals working alone. And they can develop a common voice in the interests of endangered livestock.
The aims of the Rare Breeds Conservation Society are:
The Society has established a Rare Breeds Gene Bank to help retain valuable genetic material by cryopreservation.
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