The Kuri: A Unique Study in Natural Selection

By Edyth Parker

The Kuri cattle are a rare breed, found along the shores of Lake Chad Basin as well as across north-eastern Nigeria, northern Cameroon, and Niger. Kuri are classified as humpless longhorns, but are known by many other names such as Baharie, Dongolé, Koubouri, or Buduma. The most common name, Kuri, stems from the regional tribe who herded the breed for centuries in the Lake Chad area.

The Kuri male. (Photo credit: International Livestock Research Institute)

This natural habitat of the Kuri is hot, with an average temperature of 84 degrees Fahrenheit, and semi-arid with an extremely seasonal rainfall pattern. Lake Chad is surrounded by semi-aquatic and aquatic vegetation, which is the main food source of the Kuri. Their reliance on aquatic food sources and water as cooling mechanism has required some interesting adaptations in their physical appearance.

The Kuri breed is characterized by its unique horns. Though the horns can be anything from 60-150 cm in length, the internal fibrous material and thin exterior casing leaves the horns surprisingly lightweight. These hollow horns are used as flotation devices, necessitated by their semi-aquatic habitat.

These inherent buoys are not the only adaptation these unique animals have for their environment: Kuri cattle are excellent swimmers. They have extremely muscular legs for paddling, as well as wide hooves. Their nostrils are slightly upturned so they can immerse themselves completely in the water, as they have a very low tolerance for heat. They lack a winter coat and have a light white coloration to assist in heat and solar radiation resistance. They have also adapted to minimize body fat so as not to insulate heat, with mature females weighing on average 400 kg and mature males about 550 kg. Their shallow bodies also make them more hydrodynamic for swimming.

Although well-adapted to their natural habitat, the Kuri are very vulnerable to fluctuating conditions outside of the Lake environment. The breed’s preference for aquatic vegetation and intolerance to heat restricts them to the Lake area. There are no official population statistics, but the International Livestock Research Institute approximates that there are only 10,000 Kuri left. The population has been shrinking as Lake Chad is being reduced by drought and irrigation. If the Kuri lose their habitat, they not only lose their food and water source, but also their protection against the heat and radiation. This has also exposed more rangeland for the Zebu cattle to colonies, leading to interbreeding.

Kuri have an average life span of 20 years and live in herds of 30 females to one male. The Kuri cow is considered a good milker, with yields of up to 6 kg per day and a lactation period of 10 months after calving.

What actions can be taken to save the Kuri? Tell us your ideas in the comments.

Edyth Parker is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

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