Ankole-Watusi cattle are the show-stoppers of the bovine kingdom. Medium-sized animals, with long, large-diameter horns, they attract attention wherever they appear. These regal animals can easily trace their ancestry back more than 6,000 years and have often been referred to as "cattle of kings."
THE HISTORY OF AN ANCIENT BREED
By 2000 B. C., humped cattle (Longhorn Zebu) from Pakistan and India reached Africa. When these Zebu reached the region now known as Ethiopia and Somalia, they were interbred with the Egyptian Longhorn. The admixture thus produced -- the Sanga -- spread to the Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, and other parts of eastern Africa, and became the base stock of many of the indigenous African breeds. The Sanga demonstrated most of the typical Zebu characteristics, such as pendulous dewlap and sheath, upturned horns, and a neck hump of variable size. Modern descendants of the Sanga, however, vary greatly in size, conformation, and horns, due to differing selection pressures by different tribes.
Particularly remarkable are the cattle found in Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi. In Uganda, the Nkole tribe's Sanga variety is known as the Ankole. In Rwanda and Burundi, the Tutsi tribe's Sanga variety is called the Watusi. The Rwanda common strain of Watusi is called Inkuku. The giant-horned strain, owned by the Tutsi kings and chiefs, is called the Inyambo. (Some current tribal reports claim that this type is now extinct.) Traditionally, Ankole-Watusi were considered sacred. They supplied milk to the owners, but were only rarely used for meat production, since an owner's wealth was counted in live animals. Under traditional management, the Ankole cow grazed all day, and was then brought home to her young calf. The calf was allowed to suckle briefly to stimulate milk letdown, then the cow was milked by the herdsman. The calf suckled after hand-milking was finished and was again separated from its mother. The process was repeated in the morning. This minimal nourishment of calves resulted in high death rates in the young. Milk production was not high, with a typical cow producing only 2 pints of milk daily, although an exceptional one could manage up to 8 pints. In addition, the lactation period was short. Over the last 15 years, the national government has attempted to select for animals which produce more milk and have better meat production. Famine, disease, and wars, as well as the conflict with traditional practices, have slowed this effort.
ANKOLE CATTLE OUTSIDE OF AFRICA
In January, 1983, North Americans interested in the Ankole-Watusi cattle breed met in Denver, Colorado, and formed the Ankole Watusi International Registry. Many of these people had been raising Ankole-Watusi cattle since before 1978. They felt that it was time to begin a breed registry which could collect and maintain pedigree information and conserve this interesting breed. Within five months, the Registry had 74 members nationwide. These members shared a strong commitment to the breed, though they had different priorities for it. Some wanted to concentrate solely on the prevention of breed extinction; some selected for their utility in the production of superior cross-bred roping animals. Still others championed the low-fat and low-cholesterol meat values after these were discovered.
The milk is about 10 percent fat. Some dairy farmers have used crossbred Ankole-Watusi cows in their herds to boost the butter-fat levels.
Because they were developed in a climate where daily temperatures may range from 20 to 120 degrees F, Ankole-Watusi tolerate temperature and weather extremes well. The large horns act as radiators; blood circulating through the horn area is cooled and then returned to the main body. This allows excess body heat to be dispersed.
CURRENT BREED STATUS
DNA analysis of Native Pure (15/16) and Foundation Pure (100%) animals is required for registration, in order to guarantee the accuracy of the stated pedigree.
Three meat studies were done in the 1990's, and the results were good for the breed. Ankole-Watusi meat was demonstrated to be very low fat and to have lower cholesterol than other commercial beef. The AWIR has the establishment of utility value as a high priority. This will be a way to protect the market for breeding stock as "curiosity" prices begin to disappear.
An upgrade program has been established. The 1/2, 3/4, and 7/8 female offspring of Ankole-Watusi crosses are registerable, and the 15/16 female or male offspring are registerable.