Udhagamandalam (TN): A couple has been carrying on a more than three decade long fight to save ‘Toda buffalo,’ facing extinction due to evil practice of sacrificing them after death of head of a family or any other prominent member.

Unique to Nilgiris district, the Toda buffalo has dwindled alarmingly from about over 50,000 some three decades ago to just around 2,000 now.

“Such was the superstition that prevailed decades ago, that considering the prominence and respect veiled by a member of the community, the number of sacrifices of buffaloes was more, ranging from 10 to 50, in the belief that the animals could lead the departed soul to heaven,” Pothalli Kuttan told PTI.

Kuttan and Vasamalli, the first graduate from Toda community, decided way back in 1977 to create awareness among the Toda community, a native group in the district, on the need to preserve the buffaloes, considered by them as a god sent gift.

Vasamalli said they started Toda Seva Sanmarga Sangham to create awareness and became victims of attacks, were barred from entering the villages and even survived an attempt to burn them alive by dousing them with petrol.

Not losing heart, they continued their campaign and managed to rope in the younger generation in their fight to preserve the buffalo, she said.

Kuttan explained that the Todas, who live in “Munds” (villages) are basically agriculturists raising crops like carrot and potato and rear hundreds of buffaloes, using milk and its by-products for themselves and sometimes sell butter.

They get prominence and respect among their community by the number of buffaloes they possess, he said, adding the bovines are also given as dowry during marriages and as gifts on birthdays.

He said shortage of labour, fodder and grazing land, where pines and eucalyptus are grown now and being encroached, also contributed to the rapid decline in buffalo population.

Vasamalli said animal husbandry department has carried out genetic research on these three types of buffaloes– used in temples, domestic and seen in forests- for crossing with other types of buffalo, but their efforts are yet to fructify as it involved lot of funds.

Some officials and doctors in the Sheep Breeding Centre in Sandinala on the outskirts, who did not wish to be quoted, confirmed this category of buffalo would soon become a ‘thing of past,’ if urgent steps were not not taken to protect it.

They said the Centre had been urging both the Centre and the State governments for the last five years to do something to preserve and protect the Toda buffalo before it becomes just another extinct species.

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