ECLIPSE related : valorising and preserving the Mahorian zebu thanks to the DEFI ANIMAL project

Characterizing and managing local breeds of ruminants in Mayotte (French department) is one of the objectives of the RITA (Network for Agricultural Innovation and Transfer) DEFI ANIMAL (DA) Mayotte project. The first phase (2015-2017), within the framework of the action "Conservation and development of animal genetic resources in the ruminant sector in Mayotte" has enabled an initial characterisation of the Mahorian zebu breed on zootechnical, phenotypic and genetic levels. 

This article was written by Zsuzsanna ZSUPPAN, CIRAD antenna in Mayotte. 

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The Mahorian zebu © Zsuzsanna ZSUPPAN, CIRAD

Today, thanks to the results of the DA project phase 1, the originality of the Zebu breed in Mayotte has been highlighted by the recognition of the Mahorian zebu cattle breed and a breed code 90 has been attributed to it by the CNAG (National Commission for Genetic Improvement) of the French Ministry of Agriculture and Food. This recognition allows phase 2 of the project (2019-2021) to continue in order to develop management tools for the Mahorian zebu population, such as the scoring grid that will be implemented in a programme for the conservation and promotion of the local breed in Mayotte.

What is scoring?

Scoring corresponds to a description of the phenotype (set of apparent characteristics) of an animal living at a given age (from 2 years old). Different morphological criteria are evaluated and scored; some are of a qualitative nature such as colour and coat pattern, pigmentation of the skin, mucous membranes, hooves, horns...etc); others are measurements (measurable characters).

How to establish the pointing grid of the Mahorian zebu?

Genetic analyses (high density SNPs) made it possible to evaluate for 150 animals with a "zebu" type morphological profile, the degree of crossbreeding with the zebu, European and African taurine breeds, present in international databases.
The comparison between these genetic data and the phenotypic evaluations made it possible to identify the morphological characteristics linked to a high degree of crossbreeding with the African and European taurine breeds, and to identify criteria for exclusion of the zebu breed. However, the degree of crossbreeding with the African taurine breeds is not considered as penalizing as that with the European taurine breeds, because the Mahorian zebu is the result of ancient crossbreeding between Indian zebus and African taurines. 
The rating is linear, from 0 (exclusion) to 5 points, and reflects characters that are little to very representative of the Mahorian zebu

How to recognise a Mahorian zebu?

The exclusion criteria, which are linked to a high degree of crossbreeding with European bullfighting breeds, can be quickly spotted in the field. No Mahorian zebu has pink pigmentation of the skin, the muzzle, the eyelids and the hooves. The profile of the head is always straight, never concave, which is very common in European breeds. An all-white head is also a sign of cross-breeding with dairy breeds; these signs are therefore eliminatory criteria, as are abundant curly hair and hanging ears. Finally, a Mahorian zebu is a humpbacked and horned cattle with varied morphological profiles.

What is the purpose of the Mahorais Zebu scoring grid?

This scoring grid is a breeding management tool that makes it possible to score, identify and conserve animals of the "zebu" racial type.

This grid will not only allow the selection of future breeders to be kept on farms, but also to register the animals in the Mahorian zebu cattle herd book, with a view to setting up a Selection Body to conserve and enhance the value of this local breed.