A Snapshot of Endangered Breeds

The danger of extinction threatens domestic livestock and poultry breeds, as well as wildlife.

American Mammoth Jackstock

While still endangered, the American Mammoth Jackstock has been moved from Critical to Threatened on the latest Conservation Priority List from the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy.

courtesy American Livestock Breeds Conservancy

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Pittsboro, North Carolina – The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC) recently released its 21st annual Conservation Priority List. The list is an assessment of endangered breed populations for domestic livestock and poultry breeds throughout the United States.

“People know that wild species of birds and mammals are in danger of extinction, but few people realize that more than 180 breeds of domesticated livestock and poultry are threatened with the same fate,” says Marjorie Bender, research and technical programs director for ALBC. “The goal of this list is to take a snapshot of a breed’s population at a given point in time.” The information helps drive conservation priorities for endangered breeds and helps raise public awareness about the need for domestic livestock conservation in the United States.

For 2010, there are 186 breeds of livestock and poultry on the Conservation Priority List. Thirty-three mammalian breeds are listed as critically endangered and 30 poultry breeds. Two new breeds were added to this year’s list: the Dutch Hookbill duck and Steinbecher goose were added to the Study category and warrant further investigation to determine their genetic status.

This year’s most significant changes are to the listing of chickens. ALBC is now able to obtain international population numbers for chicken breeds. Using U.S. and global population numbers, ALBC was able to reassess conservation priorities for these breeds. 

Aside from reporting conservation priorities, the list also reports conservation successes. The American Mammoth Jackstock, a historic breed first developed in the United States by George Washington, has moved from a Critical status to a Threatened status. Ancient White Park cattle have also moved from Critical to Threatened. Both of these moves illustrate the success of conservation efforts to save these breeds. 

The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy publishes the Conservation Priority List once a year. The organization gathers census information from breed registries, through direct contact with breeders, and by international collaboration to determine a breed’s status. Guidelines have been established to define the conservation priorities. 

“The annual Conservation Priority List is one tool in the genetic conservation tool box,” says Charles Bassett, ALBC executive director. “By understanding population sizes and conservation priorities, we can better choose which of the other tools to use to help save these breeds.”  

 

Poultry Highlights:

Moving from the Study category into the Critical category are the Sultan and the Yokohama.

Advancing from the Critical category to the Threatened category are the Andalusian, Buttercup, Delaware, Faverolle, and Malay. Moving from Study into Threatened is the Phoenix.

Advancing from Critical to Watch are the Aseel, Catalana, Houdan, and La Fleche. Advancing from Threatened to Watch is the Ancona, and moving from Study into Watch are the Old English Game and the Shamo.

Advancing into Recovering from Threatened is the Sussex.

The Egyptian Fayoumis is being removed from the list as international numbers exceed 100,000.

The numerical guidelines for poultry breeds are:

Critical: Fewer than 500 breeding birds in the United States, with five or fewer primary breeding flocks (50 birds or more), and estimated global population less than 1,000.

Threatened: Fewer than 1,000 breeding birds in the United States, with seven or fewer primary breeding flocks, and estimated global population less than 5,000.

Watch: Fewer than 5,000 breeding birds in the United States, with 10 or fewer primary breeding flocks, and estimated global population less than 10,000. Also included are breeds with genetic or numerical concerns or limited geographic distribution.

Recovering: Breeds that were once listed in another category and have exceeded Watch category numbers but are still in need of monitoring.

Study: Breeds that are of interest but either lack definition or lack genetic or historical documentation.

 

Equid Highlights:

The American Mammoth Jackstock advanced from Critical to Threatened.

The Exmoor pony advanced from Critical to Threatened as its global population is now 3,300.

The Dales Pony was moved from Study to Threatened.

The Fell Pony advanced from Threatened to Watch.

 

Livestock Highlights:

The Ancient White Park cattle advanced from Critical to Threatened.

Numerical guidelines for both equid and livestock are:

Critical: Fewer than 200 annual registrations in the United States and estimated global population less than 2,000.

Threatened: Fewer than 1,000 annual registrations in the United States and estimated global population less than 5,000.

Watch: Fewer than 2,500 annual registrations in the United States and estimated global population less than 10,000. Also included are breeds that present genetic or numerical concerns or have a limited geographic distribution.

Recovering: Breeds that were once listed in another category and have exceeded Watch category numbers but are still in need of monitoring.

Study: Breeds that are of genetic interest but either lack definition or lack genetic or historical documentation.

For more information about how the Conservation Priority List is determined, visit the website.

The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy is a nonprofit membership organization working to protect over 180 breeds of livestock and poultry from extinction. Included are donkeys, cattle, goats, horses, sheep, pigs, rabbits, chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys. Founded in 1977, ALBC is the pioneer organization in the United States working to conserve historic breeds and genetic diversity in livestock. ALBC’s mission is to ensure the future of agriculture through genetic conservation and the promotion of endangered breeds of livestock and poultry. 

Why are domestic breed of livestock and poultry in danger of extinction? Modern agriculture and food production favors the use of a few highly specialized breeds selected for maximum output in intensively controlled environments. Many traditional breeds do not excel under these conditions, so have lost popularity and are faced with extinction. 

Why is genetic diversity important? Like all ecological systems, agriculture depends on genetic diversity to adapt to an ever-changing environment. Genetic diversity in domestic animals is revealed in distinct breeds, each with different characteristics and uses. 

Traditional, historic breeds retain essential attributes for survival and self-sufficiency – fertility, foraging ability, longevity, maternal instincts, ability to mate naturally, and resistance to disease and parasites. As agriculture changes, we need to be able to draw on this genetic diversity for a broad range of uses and future opportunities. Once lost, genetic diversity is gone forever.