Padma Shri recipient Dr. Sosamma Iype of Kerala has been at the forefront of efforts to save the vechur cow. She has been bestowed with the Padma Shri for reviving the cattle breed from brink of extinction.
In the 1980s, the Vechur cattle, an unique and indigenous species that is regarded one of the tiniest in the world, were on the verge of extinction.
The cow, named after the hamlet Vechoor in Kerala’s Kottayam district, is recognized for its excellent milk output and therapeutic properties.
The cows also require less feed and upkeep.
Dr Sosamma Iype says, “In the 1960s, the state government changed the cow breeding program to increase milk output,”
Following that, there was a significant cross-breeding of local cattle with alien bull kinds. This reduced the number of native types, such as Vechur cows, to the point of extinction.
Dr. Sosamma has been at the vanguard of vechur cow conservation since the 1980s.
The 80-year-old retired professor from Kerala Veterinary and Animal Science University, Thrissur, was awarded the Padma Shri for her tireless efforts in rescuing the breed from extinction and boosting its number.
Dr. Sosamma teamed up with a few university students to undertake a hunt for this native breed, realizing the importance of preserving the last accessible specimen.
Dr. Sosamma says, “We began an extended search for vechur cows in 1989, after a number of my university classmates approached me about it.”
Over the years, around 15 – 20 students actively participated in the hunt.
Dr. Sosamma says her pupils would often enlist the help of their relatives to locate the cows in their separate hometowns.
She says, “Our objective was to rescue this breed and return it to farmers. The search was largely concentrated in the southern districts of Kottayam and Alappuzha.” And it took Dr. Sosamma and her colleagues a long time to find even one vechur cow.
She continues, “We finally discovered our first cow thanks to a farmer named Manoharan. The university allocated Rs 65,000 for our program, which we utilised to purchase and care for the cows.”
Dr. Sosamma says they gradually began to find additional cattle, and had around 24 vechur cows, within 12 months
These were then preserved and cared for at the farm at Mannuthy’s agricultural university.
“Our initial objective was to get the cows to breed and thereby increase their population. It wasn’t easy,” adds Dr. Sosamma, who faced various obstacles along the way.
She elaborates, “The initiative was without the government’s approval as the state had prohibited the cross breeding of cows. The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) did, however, eventually acknowledge vechur cows as an indigenous bovine breed.
Sosamma Iype goes on to say that there was another problem with the vechur cows.
She says, “In 1998, an environmentalist alleged that Scotland’s Roslin Institute had trademarked the DNA of the vechur cow breed. This caused quite a commotion in the Indian scholarly community. There was a lot of opposition to our efforts to save them.”
However, after two years of inquiry, the assertion was proven to be false.
She says, “In 1998, we established the Vechur Conservation Trust to promote support and engagement from farmers as well as scholars. The Vechur Conservation Trust currently helps farmers by providing vechur cow germplasm, particularly sperm from purebred bulls. There were additional cattle breeding and research initiatives. In Kerala and elsewhere in the country, there are already over 5,000 vechur cows.”
Dr. Sosamma has earned several awards from organizations such as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) (UNDP).
She is active and collaborates with the Vechur Conservation Trust.
Dr. Sosamma Iype stated, “I didn’t anticipate this honor, and I’m incredibly glad to have earned it.”