Livestock Research for Rural Development 23 (12) 2011 Guide for preparation of papers LRRD Newsletter

Citation of this paper

Conserving indigenous animal genetic resources as a coping strategy to adapt to climate change: the Azikheli Buffalo in Northern Mountains of Pakistan

M Khan, I Rahim*, H Rueff**, M Saleem, D Maselli**, S Mohammad and U Wiesmann**

Directorate General of Livestock and Dairy Development, Khyber Pukhtunkhwa, Peshawar
* University of Central Asia and National Centre for Competence in Research (North-South)
** Centre for Development and Environment, University of Berne, Switzerland


There are clear signs that the agro-pastoralists in the Himalayan and Hindu-Kush mountain ranges will have less cropping opportunities due to reduced possibilities for irrigated agriculture as a result of climate change. The importance of extensive livestock production based on well adapted livestock species may once again increase. This calls for a better documentation and understanding of the adaptation capabilities of indigenous breeds considering a changing environment. The current study investigates the adaptive traits of the Azikheli buffalo to mountain environments through calculating mean, standard error and percentages for different variables.


Results from this study suggest that the brown coat color, the small body size and the high fertility are adaptive traits of the Azikheli buffalo that may well suit harsh mountainous environment conditions with greater climate variability. Local farmers find it hard to sustain the Azikheli buffalo’s key adaptive traits because of a low bull to buffalo ratio, possibility of insemination with semen from imported breeds and a lack of institutional support to conserve the Azikheli breed. The breed is crucial for sustaining custodian communities in these mountains and thus needs to be conserved.

Keywords: Adaptive traits, Azikheli buffalo, body size, fertility


This study describes the adaptive traits drawn from a well adapted but undocumented Azikheli buffalo breed of the mountain region in Northern Pakistan. The shift in management of the breed from extensive to semi-intensive and intensive due to changing land use and indiscriminate crossing with the Nili-Ravi bulls contribute to the dilution of these traits. This calls for a better understanding of such adaptive traits to prevent their further erosion (Hassen et al 2007; Kohler-Rollefson et al 2009). The traits adapted to mobility and seasonal fluctuations in fodder availability and quality are important in the context of climate change as it will make pastoralists resilient to climate shocks and make them less vulnerable to climate variability (Proud 2009). Such animal genetic resources are therefore less likely to suffer the brunt of climate change (Jones and Thornton 2009). Considering the above, their conservation is all the more needed.

Materials and Methods

The broader home tract of the Azikheli buffalo is a narrow strip of 20 km wide Chir Pine moist mountainous zone that stretches from West to East over 120 km from Afghanistan to Kashmir. It includes the watersheds of the Swat River, the Panjkora River and small tributary streams of the Indus River (Alai Khwarh, Khan Kwarh and Barandu Khwarh). The primary home tract of the breed is the Azikhel Tehsil in the Swat valley comprising the study area. It is approximately 84 square km and is located at 340 56’N and 720 28’E with an elevation range of 1100 to 1600 m. The mean annual rain fall ranges from 1000-1750 mm yr-1.


In addition to mountain slope grazing and stubbles, the feed stuffs intensively offered during different seasons are hay, wheat and rice straw, tree leaves and maize stalks. Winter and early summer are the feed scarcity seasons. The total population of Azikheli buffalo in Pakistan is 107’000, with 15’673 in the District of Swat alone (Livestock Census Report 2006).


Data on adaptive traits including physical characteristics (coat color) and body size (heart girth, body length, height at withers) of 108 Azikheli buffaloes in their home tract were investigated from 108 households according to the Food and Agriculture Organization animal genetic resources data banks requirements (FAO 1986). Daily milk yield based on 305-day lactation length was recorded (n=108) according to the International Committee for Animal Recording (ICAR 2004). Information on fertility traits such as first service conception rate and service per conception (n=429), herd size, availability of breeding bulls and cost of rearing a breeding bull was obtained from breeders through structured questionnaire (n=502). Data on artificial insemination for the last 5 years was obtained from the office of the District Livestock Officer, in the District of Swat. Mean, standard error and percentages were calculated for different variables.

Results and Discussion

Adaptive traits of Azikheli buffalo

Table 1. Adaptive traits of Azikheli buffalo in comparison to Nili-Ravi buffalo





Physical characteristics

Coat color

Brown (62%)


Body size (cm)

Heart girth



Body length



Height at withers



Milk production

Daily milk yield (liters)

7.190.2 (4-11)

4.0 -9.03


First service conception rate (%)



Services per conception



1Khan et al 2005; 2Khan et al 1982; 3Khan et al 2008; 4Usmani & Mirza 2000; 5Usmani et al 2001

Nili-Ravi and Kundi are the two recognized buffalo breeds in Pakistan. In this study, comparisons are made with the Nili-Ravi, because it is the only buffalo breeds available in the immediate surroundings of the home tract and is frequently used for crossing with the Azikheli breed. The dominant brown coat color of the Azikheli buffalo (Table 1) could be an adaptation to the mountain environment lacking swamp areas. The black coat of the Nili-Ravi buffalo makes them intolerant to heat, and they need to stay near swamps to dissipate body heat (Chang and Hang 2003). The small body size of the Azikheli as compared to the Nili-Ravi buffalo is an adaptive trait for survival to seasonal fodder fluctuation. Smaller animals are reported to be less susceptible to fodder shortages (Hall 1998), and can move easily and faster (Ouma et al 2004) on mountain slopes for grazing. Their higher fertility rates are also explained by lower maintenance requirements (Carvalheira et al 1995).


Threats to conservation

Conclusions and recommendations


This study was conducted within the framework of the Joint Research Partnership (JRP) and the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) North–South: Research Partnerships for Mitigating Syndromes of Global Change. The JRP and the NCCR North-South and are co-funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF), the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), and the participating institutions (project TN3RP15). 


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Received 23 October 2011; Accepted 26 October 2011; Published 1 December 2011

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