The Bokolo cattle of West Africa are an indigenous breed facing declining populations. This in-depth guide covers their origins, characteristics, uses, status and conservation needs.
The Bokolo are an iconic tropically adapted cattle breed originating from Nigeria. They have been raised by Fulani herders for centuries but now face dwindling numbers.
This article provides an overview of the resilient Bokolo breed including:
- Origins and history in Nigeria
- Physical traits and attributes
- Adaptations to heat, disease and poor feed
- Declining global population
- Advantages and limitations
- Conservation and optimization
Understanding the unique qualities of the Bokolo can help inform conservation efforts for this important West African breed.
History and Origins
Development in Nigeria
The Bokolo cattle breed originated in Nigeria where it was developed and bred by the Fulani people for hundreds of years.
The Fulani are nomadic pastoralists who have herded cattle across West Africa for over a millennium. The exact origins of the Bokolo are uncertain, but they have long been kept as a local breed.
Other common names
The breed is also known as Bokoloji, Bokolonji or Seréré cattle. They are named after the Bokolo region of Nigeria where they were primarily raised.
Though the genetics are unclear, the Bokolo likely descended from Hamitic Longhorn cattle breeds based on physical similarities. They were later shaped by the hot, humid conditions of West Africa.
Purpose in subsistence agriculture
This tropically adapted breed was specifically bred for the climate of Nigeria and surrounding regions. Their ability to thrive on marginal forage and withstand diseases made them highly valued.
The Bokolo were utilized as triple purpose cattle – for meat, milk and draft power. Their docile nature and strength made them suitable draft animals.
Physical attributes and characteristics
The Bokolo have a distinct appearance reflecting their adaptability and hardy nature.
The Bokolo are a medium to large breed with cows weighing 400-550 kg and bulls 600-800+ kg.
Coat and Colour
They have a short, smooth coat that comes in colour variations of white, black, brown or spotted.
The breed is easily recognized by long, lyre-shaped horns.
Skin and Dewlap
Bokolo have loose skin with large folds (dewlap) which provide cooling effects.
Well-developed humps on the shoulders store fat reserves which can be utilized when feed is limited.
Hooves and Nostrils
Large hooves and exposed nostrils help dissipate heat and prevent heat stress.
Bokolo cows yield around 1200 kg of milk over a 200 day lactation. Their milk has higher protein and butterfat than other West African taurine breeds.
Bulls reach puberty early and have good libido. The cattle have an extended productive lifespan if nutritional needs are met.
Adaptations for survival
The Bokolo possess many adaptive traits allowing them to thrive in the harsh conditions of tropical West Africa.
The loose skin, dewlap, humps and exposed nostrils provide natural cooling effects that prevent heat stress. Their slick coat reduces absorption of solar radiation.
This allows Bokolo to graze during the day when other breeds would need to seek shade. They maintain body condition and reproductive ability even during temperature extremes.
The breed exhibits immunity to many diseases and parasites including trypanosomiasis, dermatophilosis, tick-borne infections and gastrointestinal parasites.
This robustness reduces mortality rates and the need for veterinary interventions. Bokolo tolerated significant internal and external parasite loads.
Utilization of poor forages
Bokolo can meet their nutritional needs by grazing native grasses, browse and shrubs that other cattle find unpalatable.
They efficiently utilize low quality crop residues and agricultural by-products. This minimizes the need for supplementary feeding even during dry periods.
Traditional uses and purpose
The Bokolo were originally bred as productive triple purpose cattle in Nigeria.
Though not as tender as specialized beef breeds, Bokolo meat provided an important protein source for herder families.
The average 1200 kg of milk per lactation supplied crucial nutrition for Fulani women and children.
Their strength and docile nature made Bokolo suitable as draft oxen for field work and transport.
This versatility allowed the breed to thrive in subsistence agricultural systems with minimal inputs required. They aligned well with the needs of Nigerian smallholder farmers.
Current global population and risk Status
The global Bokolo cattle population is estimated at around 183,000 head.
Over 178,000 of these remain in Nigeria where the breed originated. However, their numbers have been declining over recent decades.
This has led the FAO to classify the Bokolo as at risk or threatened with extinction. Urgent conservation action is needed to preserve the remaining animals and their unique genetics.
Threats to the breed
Major risks include indiscriminate crossbreeding with more productive exotic dairy breeds like Holsteins and Brown Swiss. While crossbreds have higher output, they lack adaptive traits for the West African climate.
Advantages of keeping Bokolo cattle
Despite lower productivity than specialized breeds, Bokolo offer many benefits for smallholder farmers:
- Disease resistance – Reduces veterinary costs
- Heat tolerance – Ability to graze even during high temperatures
- Longevity – Extended productive lifespan over many years
- Fertility – Ability to breed and calve regularly
- Docility – Calm temperament for use as draft oxen
- Low input – Thrive on marginal forage and crop residues
- Multipurpose – Provides meat, milk and draft power
These characteristics made them an affordable breed requiring minimal interventions. Their low maintenance costs were aligned with the reality of resource-poor farmers.
Limitations and disadvantages
The Bokolo also have some limitations compared to high-output exotic breeds:
- Milk production – Average of 1200 kg per lactation is low compared to specialized dairy breeds like Holsteins that can produce up to 3000 kg.
- Growth rate – Slower maturity and daily weight gain than breeds selected specifically for beef.
- Feed efficiency – Require more intake per kg of weight gain.
- Carcass quality – Less fat cover and marble compared to top beef breeds.
While the Bokolo remain an excellent breed for low-input village farming, they lack the production potential of cattle bred solely for dairy or beef in optimal conditions. This has encouraged crossbreeding and substitution in more intensive systems.
Conservation needs and strategies
To preserve the remaining Bokolo genetics, several conservation strategies should be implemented:
- Improved breed population data collection and monitoring
- Establishment of core breeding herds in protected areas
- Community education and promotion of the breed
- Value-added niche products and specialty local markets
- Breeding programs to boost productivity without compromising adaptability
- Policy support and investment in conservation
With adequate promotion, planning and support, the decline of the resilient Bokolo cattle can be reversed. Their important role in Nigerian agriculture must be preserved.