Cholistan Desert (also locally known as Rohi) sprawls thirty kilometers from Bahawalpur, covers an area of 16,000 km². It adjoins the Thar Desert extending over to Sindh and into India. The word the Cholistan is derived from the Turkish word Chol, which means Desert. The Cholistan thus means Land of the Desert. The people of Cholistan lead a semi-nomadic life, moving from one place to another in search of water and fodder for their animals. The dry bed of the Hakra River runs through the area, along which many settlements of the Indus Valley Civilisation have been found. The present-day Cholistan is a part of the ancient Hakra civilization (HakraRiver), one of the oldest civilizations of the Aryan settlers in the Indian subcontinent. The Cholistan is home to diverse and unique animal genetic resources. Such animals are highly adapted to the local ecosystem and provide food in very low input systems or even zero inputs. Both the Rohi people and their animal genetic resources are always neglected and underestimated. The climate change challenges push the scientists and policymakers to characterize and document the true worth of these important animal breeds and to convert it in wealth and power of the Rohi people.
Falling in southern Punjab, Cholistan is one of the largest deserts of the country and part of the great Indian Desert. The Cholistan comprises three districtsBahawalnagar, Bahawalpur, and Rahim Yar Khan. The total area of Cholistan is 66,55,360 acres. The largest area of Cholistan is present inBahawalpurwhich is 40,28,217 acres. The temperature ranges in the Cholistan from 6 to 50°C. The length of Cholistan is 480 km and width ranges from 32 to 192 km. The human population of Cholistan is 1,55,000 whereas the livestock population is 13,18,000. Table 1 shows some more facts are summarized below.
Table 1. A glance at some basic facts about the Cholistan
|2||Area spread (kms)||480 x 32-192|
|3||Area in acres||66,55,360|
R Y Khan
|7||Lesser Cholistan||33,00,000 acres|
|8||Greater Cholistan||17,55,360 acres|
28º 15’0 N
70º 45’0 E
The groundwater for these populations is mostly brackish. The inhabitants of Cholistan are called Rohi and the main tribe of the camel herders is Marrecha. The camel that belongs to Marrecha tribe is known as Marrecha breed. The other tribe which usually resides on the peripheries of the desert adjoining to irrigated lands is called Malgade. Malgade usually keeps the Brela camel. The Cholistan is the homeland of many precious animal genetic resources i.e. camel, cattle, sheep, and goat. Most of the Cholistan is covered with the wide range of nutritious and drought tolerant species of vegetation. Deep in desert, the camel mostly rely on Khar, Lana, Jand, and Kareer, while in the peripheries mostly kikar is available along the water courses and roadside (Table 2).
Table 2 showing the vegetation available for the camel in Cholistan desert
|Local Name||Botanical Name||Local Name||Botanical Name|
|Kareer||Capparis aphylla||Khar||Suaeda fruticosa|
|Jand||Prosopis cineraria||Lana||Haloxylon salincornicum|
|Kikar||Acacia nilotica||Lani||Salsola foetida|
Cholistan Development Activities
The water sources available in the desert are comprised of Toba system and water supply provided by the Cholistan Development Authority and that of PCRWR. Toba is a pond, where rainwater is collected and stored after rains and camels were gathered for drinking before stating their browsing of the day. This water used by all the inhabitants of desert until it dries up. Here are some famous tobas of the desert.
- Kala Pahar
- Thandi Khoi
- Toba Meer Gargh Fort
- Toba Moaj Gargh
- Kheer Sar
- Channan Peer and
- Ghurkan Rest House.
Animal Genetic Resources in the Living Desert of Cholistan (Rohi)
Cholistani cattle is the best animal in habitats like the Cholistan and a source of income for pastoral people. This breed is medium size, well-developed udder and color range from red and black spotted with white background. Some species are purely red. Cholistani cattle possess well-developed hanging dewlap. The population of Cholistani cattle is 6,67,000 which is the maximum among Livestock population. Milk production potential of these animals is 8-10 liter per day in the desert area and lactation length is the 8-9 month. But install feeding management 18-20 liter per day with 7-8 month lactation length.
The maximum milk record is 29 liter per day at Jugaitpeer Farm. Despite the problems faced like lack of proper feeding pattern, poor ranges, long drought, lack of concentrate feed and water and low prices in the inner Cholistan, these perform well.
Sheep & Goat
There are three sheep breeds of sheep viz; Sipli (northern periphery of Cholistan), Buchi (in a central part of the desert) and Kadali (in the rear Cholistan or nearby R Y Khan Distt). Very common breed of goat is the local hairy goat.
The population of sheep is 3,51,000 while goat is 2,20,00 heads in Cholistan desert. There are two seasons of shearing one is spring and other is autumn shearing. The average wool production of Ram and Ewes is 5-6 kg in spring shearing and 3-5 kg in autumn shearing. The main purpose of farming of sheep breed is wool production. The wool price of these breeds is Rs 25/- per shearing but it has no future scope. Lots of wool stays in the desert, which is lying there at the mercy of natural vagaries. We suggest that L&DD Dept and CDA should do something collectively to bring this wool to some use. Wool Lab atBahawalpurcan also plays its role.
There are two types of camel breeds of Cholistan, one is Marrecha and second one is Brela. The camel population is almost 70,000 heads. About sixty (60%) population is Marrecha which is a beautiful animal and used for dancing purpose. While 40% population is of Brela which is a milking animal and maximum milk record of this breed is 22 liter. The milking season of Brela is from October to March.
The average herd size of the Marrecha camel is 37. The majority are female with 20-25 lactating camels. The color ranges from blackish brown to light brown while the majority is fawn. Marrecha has long thin neck, long legs, long eyelashes, hair on the ears & neck with medium head and pointed muzzles. The rabbit-like ears are the salient feature of this breed. The top priority of Marrecha herders is to produce drought camels for the transportation of their families in the desert. As Marrecha is highly demanded its racing ability and beauty, the herders stress on its beauty trait also.
Fig. Animal Genetic Resource~ Marrecha camel of Cholistan
This breed is mainly used for the transportation and riding in the desert. The male is trained for many events and riding in the desert ecology. There is high demand for Marrecha camel by the race hobbyist in local market andMiddle East. The Marrecha camel is liked by the hobbyists and the carters of the cities and produces milk in harsh conditions with high temperature and scarcity of feed & water. This characteristic of Marrecha camel enabling its’ herders to live in deep and use the camel milk as food security. As Marrecha camel found in the deep desert, therefore it is milked when the pastoral family needs it. They provide a good amount of milk to male calves for vigor and good health in future.
Types of male animals are sold at the age of 3-4 years at different times of the year. They sell it locally and at the famous camel fairs also. Channan Peer fair is one of the famous destinations of the male Marrecha animals. The average price is almost Rs. 50,000/- to 70,000/- but some animals may attain a price of Rs 4-5 lacs according to its beauty, attraction, and taste of the buyer.
The average herd size of the Brela camel is 26, with the majority of the female. The lactating camel ranges from 23-27% of the herd but depends upon the status of the year (dry or wet). The color ranges from blackish brown to light brown while the majority is deep brown, sometimes white specimen are also found. Brela is one of the massive breed of the country with the thick neck, wide chest, muscular legs and massive head. The hanging lip is one of the salient features of the breed. Brela camel is mainly raised for milk and male animals are sold for meat purpose. This is one of the high milk producing animal and produces up to 22 liters per day. The docility of the breed stands as its special trait. Any stranger can milk it any time of the day. It is also easy in adaptation in any kind of ecosystem, which is a tool, which can be used in the areas for milk production where camel had never been raised.
Fig. Brela camel Breed
The Brela camel originates from the ThaldesertofPakistan. Thal desert is already squeezed and remained only 32%. The rest of Thal desert is irrigated and brought under canal irrigation. The people replaced from that area starred a new strategy of camel production. They migrate from Thal to the Cholistan in August and stay here for 5 months and go back to Thal and their irrigated areas. They move along the road and railway tracks and their camel browse on vegetation available and whenever they find open areas, the aftermath of the crops, or labor the nearby fields, they stay there for a limited time. They also stay near the peripheries of the cities to sell camel milk, which usually is mixed in buffalo milk by the middleman and sold in the cities. They know the cultural events of their migratory routes and hence they participate in the melas (fairs) to sell their male animals and milk. They had adopted a very good strategy to keep the camel production system viable. Brela camel is milked very regularly twice the time. The women usually sell the milk and the earning usually goes to them. As Brela is good milk producer with sustainable lactation yield is resulting from a good source of earning in the form of milk for its herders especially the woman folks.
Problems and Constraints
Squeezing lands is one of the major problems for camel production systems in Pakistan, especially Cholistan desert. The desert had already brought under cultivation and the land allotted in the majority of the cases to the influential people of the country. The Brela camel herders and other livestock keepers were replaced and never compensated for their losses. Because of no representation in the policy-making organizations and legislation. they couldn’t raise their voice against this cruelty. The small ruminants and cattle breeders already left the occupation of livestock husbandry but the camel herders adapted a new way while moving long routes with their camel and traveling up to the desert of Cholistan. The Cholistan is also squeezing in size, the land grabbing is one of the important issues and the grazing lands are decreasing every day.
Fig. The dancer~ Marrecha camel
The Marrecha camel herders usually live and migrate with their camels in the deep desert according to the availability of foliage and accessibility of water. In such a remote and far-flung area, there is no market for camel products i.e. milk and wool, etc. The Brela camel herders take benefits of the roads in the peripheries for their milk sale. No doubt the male camel of Marrecha breed catch good prices in the fairs mostly buys for racing/riding and carting, etc. The female of the Brela catches very high price because of the interest of the Gulf countries in the breed for its appreciable milk production. But this scenario is not good for the sustainability of this breed. The Brela camel herders sell their precious animals to buy a piece of land for settlement in the peripheries of Cholistan, as they fear to lose the Cholistan because of land grabbing Mafia. This is a bad state of the situation for the high yielding camel like Brela.
a. For development workers and public institutions value, addition to camel products will be a great idea to eradicate extreme poverty in such a plunged area and enhance rural livelihood.
b. From scientist’s perspectives, we suggest that Camel is the animal of the future and can be an important tool to combat the new challenges like drought, climate changes, global warming and creeping desertification, emerging diseases and competition for feed & water resources.
c.Development of the camel race industry can bring the smile to the Rohi people as it may attract billion of Rupees in the area. Marrecha camel of the region is the best choice in this regards.
This will require a holistic approach on all facets of camel production by all players on the ground with the help of Rohi people to make a difference in their lives and also convert this future food basket into safe and health promising camel milk. How early it can be done, will depend on how serious we are to bring this dream into reality.