A herd of wild buffalo has become a nightmare for peasants in the western Cuban province of Pinar del Rio because the beasts are invading and devouring their crops of tobacco and vegetables, reports the Communist Party daily Granma.
Dozens of farmers have decided “not to participate in the next tobacco season if there are no guarantees for their plantations,” while others spend the night “frightened” of the animals, said the daily.
The buffalo drama began in 1987 when a group of 26 animals was released in the grasslands in southern Pinar del Rio, about 175 kilometres west of Havana.
The animals reproduced and began ranging farther from their original area in search of food and now authorities calculate that 10,000 to 12,000 of them graze in the zone into which they have spread.
“The scanty control, as well as the limiting of exploitation, has created around the buffalo an image of aggressiveness and destruction,” said Granma, adding that “the slowness of the response makes the cost of the solution higher every day.”
In the opinion of the director of the Technical Executive Group of the Buffalo Program, Santiago Brito, “it will take four or five years” to change the situation.
Ways to implement “a definitive control” of the beasts, such as sowing specific pastures for them to graze in, would require “a lot of work ... (and) a volume of resources that doesn’t exist in the province,” Granma said.
“Today, only good intentions and bad precedents exist,” the paper reported, adding that some experts feel that the “future of livestock farming” in Cuba could lie in the proper exploitation of the buffalo because of the advantages they have over cattle.
In the last five years, the species increased in numbers by 18% worldwide, while the number of cattle – the overall population of which is substantially greater than that of buffalo – grew by only 1.5%.
Two decades ago, 2,900 buffalo were introduced into Cuba and since then they have multiplied their numbers more than twenty-fold, the daily said.