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Saturday, Jul 06, 2002

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Genetic conservation of Nilgiri sheep on

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THE dwindling numbers of `Nilgiri' breed sheep, the fine-wool yielding animal in the hilly Nilgiris district, has prodded the State Animal Husbandry Department to take to genetic conservation to save the species from extinction.

"We plan to take up a genetic conservation project to retrieve the animal numbers with the support of the National Bureau of Animal Genetic Conservation," said Dr Ayyavoo, Professor and Head of the Sheep Breeding Research Station, Ooty.

The `Nilgiri', the 50-year-old cross-bred evolved during the erstwhile British administration, is native to the hilly district and is regarded an almost endangered species as the present numbers with the private holding is said to be around 800. The Sheep Breeding Research Station in Ooty has another 1,000 under its care.

The population of this fine grade wool-yielding breed during mid-1970s stood at 20,000 in the district. According to the conservationists, a combination of factors including loss of grazing ground in the Nilgiris district in the wake of agriculture taking a pointed diversion to horticulture and plantation crop is responsible for the decline in the species.

The animal yields an average 1 kg of raw wool per year and the difficulty in getting remunerative prices for the sheared wool in the absence of an assured market nearby has been a disincentive for the farmers.

The Sheep Breeding Research Station has also evolved the `sandyno', a cross-breed of Russian `marino' and the `nilgiri' which yields raw wool up to 2.5 kg per annum per animal. This breed could be grown in the higher plateaus.

The Union Textile Ministry which has drafted an action plan to promote wool and woollen sector in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka with a view to lifting the quality of wool rearing and processing is also expected to secure the necessary support from the National Wool Development Board.

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