The zebu of Madagascar
The zebu is native to the Indian peninsula. There existed during prehistoric times a differentiated branch of aurochs in India, Bos primigenius namadicus (en). Is the zebu the descendant, or did it separate later from the bovine branch Bos primigenius taurus? Current research in archeology does not allow us to decide.
On the other hand, the history of the contemporary zebu, Bos taurus indicus, is known with more acuity. Its domestication began 8,500 to 6,000 years ago in Mehrgarh. From there, he colonized the entire Indian peninsula.
Subsequently, he arrived in Africa (see also West African Zebu) where his acclimatization capacities have adapted well to the gradual drying up of part of the continent. The three theories about the date of his arrival in Africa are:
Ancient arrival (3,000 to 4,000 years ago) It would probably have arrived through Mesopotamia and Egypt. (Payne and Wilson, 1999 and Henri Lhote, L’Extraordinaire aventure des Peuls3)
Arrival in the first millennium BC. AD of a zebu from Egypt. (theory based on archaeological research: Muzzolini, 2000) This zebu, would have slowly diffused its genes over the crosses in the indigenous cattle populations of Africa.
Later arrival of Indo-Pakistani zebus brought to the Horn of Africa by the Arabs. (Ethiopia, Somalia) This thesis is supported by research on molecular genetics; (Hanotte et al., 2002) it shows a rapid diffusion of zebu genes in the indigenous populations.
A second, much more recent arrival in Africa dates from the 1880s. Italian missionaries introduced European cattle to increase productivity in Eritrea. With them, they brought rinderpest which decimated the local livestock. A massive import was made from India to restore local livelihoods to local people.
The Americans and the Australians were seduced by the qualities of the humpback cattle and also imported it. They have developed a thriving breeding in Brazil, the United States, Central America and Australia.
Since independence from India, cattle exports have ceased. The cow is sacred in this country, and its overseas journey is not desired.
Morphology and skills
Brahman (Bos Indicus), in Avaré
The zebu exists in colors as varied as those of beef. However, the colors red and light gray are in the majority. Generally, the hair is light in color, allowing it to withstand the heat. Under the hair, the skin is black because it is rich in melanin in order to minimize the risk of cancer. The skin is loose, even loose under the neck: it increases the surface, allowing better heat exchange. This skin has the ability to vibrate like that of horses to scare away flies and horseflies. Its resistance to external parasites is important.
The ears are large and often pendulous.
A greasy bump raises the level of the withers, especially in males, this bump being small or large, straight or drooping depending on the breed. It constitutes a caloric reserve which allows them to withstand periods of famine: it swells in the wet season and deflates during the dry season.
Depending on the breeds and the richness of the pastures, individuals can weigh from 200 kg to more than one tonne.
Despite these excellent rustic abilities, zebus are sensitive to humid atmospheres, trypanosomes, ticks and tick-borne diseases 4.
Zebu horns used for Malagasy crafts
In India, he is raised for his milk and his labor power. Animals that are too old are released into the wild. They roam the countryside and the cities, looking for the food that the Hindus give them. The zebu is also used in Jalikatai which is a sport practiced in the south of India in the state of Tamil Nadu.
In the other countries, production was also oriented towards meat. When European selection has worked, their productivity almost equals that of European cattle, but in climatic environments where only zebus can be profitable.
It is raised by farmers for its milk, its meat, its leather and as a draft animal. Zebu horns are used to make knife handles. They are preferred to beef horns because they are larger.
Among the peoples of Africa practicing nomadism and pastoralism, such as the Maasai or the Fulani, the prestige of families is measured by the size of the herds. Thus, animals are only very rarely slaughtered. Their breeders use their milk; even if the production per animal is low, the milking is done in rotation on all the females, thus ensuring a sufficient quantity for the tribe. In the Maasai people, blood is taken with an arrow from a vein in the neck of animals.