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November 10, 2014

Facing extinction: the German karakul sheep is the Endangered Domestic Breed of the Year for 2015

Berlin, 10 November - Every other week somewhere in the world at least one breed of domestic animal becomes extinct, and each time this represents a loss of genetic potential and agricultural assets. The Society for the Preservation of Old and Endangered Breeds of Livestock (GEH) is committed to maintaining the diversity of species. “The Endangered Domestic Breed of the Year for 2015” is the German karakul sheep. Their current population in Germany comprises 217 registered brood ewes and 17 selected breeding rams. From 16 to 25 January the GEH is showing one ram, eight brood ewes and one dozen lambs in Hall 25, the Livestock Hall, at the International Green Week Berlin.

The Black Rose of the Euphrates

The karakul sheep is one of the oldest breeds of domesticated animals in the world. Clay tablets found at Uruk on the Euphrates prove that sheep of this type were being kept over 4,500 years ago. The name is derived from the curly wool on the newborn lambs: ‘kara-gjull’, means ‘Black Rose’. The original habitat of the karakul sheep was in Central Asia, where the lean, medium-sized indigenous sheep with their typical fat tailsnewborn were first bred.

Some 60 of these animals were imported to Germany in the early 20th century. Their greatest concentration was at the University of Halle, which has been maintaining this breed more or less on its own ever since. The primary objective was to utilise the wool from the lambs for the production of fur coats, and so-called Persian lamb coats were in demand for many years. When the wearing of fur coats fell out of fashion the numbers of these animals declined drastically in Germany. Nowadays these sheep are only kept for their tasty, low fat meat, which is similar to venison. It is due solely to the efforts of the University of Halle and a few breeders that the undemanding, hardy and long-lived breed still exists in Germany.

For additional information:

Gesellschaft zur Erhaltung alter und gefährdeter Haustierrassen e. V. (GEH), Antje Feldmann, telephone: +49 (0)5542 1864, email: feldmann@g-e-h.de