Yakutian Cattle in the land of permafrost
Siberia’s last remaining indigenous breed of domestic cattle, Yakutian Cattle, inhabit the lands surrounding the Lena River in Sakha Republic (Yakutia) in the Russian Federation. A Finnish multidisciplinary team of researchers investigated genetic divergence of the Yakutian Cattle from other Eurasian breeds and evaluated their socio-cultural values.
The Yakutian Cattle are endangered and the current census size of the breed is 1,200 animals. Up to 74% of the Yakutian Cattle are distributed in the Eveno-Bytantay district locating about 150 km north of the Arctic Circle. In this region, the permafrost depth is several hundred meters. The breed is adapted to the harsh Siberian environment, long and cold winters and short summers. Yakutian is a purebred aboriginal breed and produces milk and meat. It is also used as draft animal.
The neutral genetic diversity of the Yakutian Cattle was examined by analysing autosomal, Y-chromosomal microsatellites and mtDNA D-loop sequences. Data were compared with Eurasian cattle breeds. Materials for identifying socio-cultural values of the breed were obtained from several different sources. Interviews were conducted with animal owners, villagers, researchers, animal breeding experts, local residents and public officers in the Eveno-Bytantay District and in Yakutsk, the capital of the Sakha Republic. Two anthropological field trips were conducted. In addition, demographic data were investigated as well as media analysis, history and literature research conducted.
Six different values in the Yakutian Cattle were identified: ecological, economic, social, political, cultural and ethical. At the local level the values of the cattle were more related to everyday livelihood strategies of single households and families, whereas the representatives of the republic, in line with the newspapers, highlighted the importance of the cattle for food production and for national identity. Thus, individuals at different levels were in favour of conserving the cattle for different reasons. Local residents and experts were more concerned about developing economically sustainable cattle production, whereas the experts in Yakutsk were concerned about the conservation of genetic resources. Genetic studies have indicated that Yakutian Cattle show genetic distinctiveness and have high genetic value for the maintenance of cattle diversity. The shared desire to preserve this breed has led to the elaboration the world’s very first domestic breed conservation law.