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The Cambaytherium thewissi of Khambat, Gujarat
The Times of India, Dec 12 2015
World's horses have a common ancestor in Gujarat
Just 40 km from the industrial town of Ankleshwar in south Gujarat lies the vast, cavernous and abandoned Vastan lignite mine spread over 1,500 hectares towards the edge of Cambay basin, colloquially referred to as Khambat. It is here that a team of scientists extracted a treasure trove of over 200 teeth and bones of an animal which is the ancestor of all horse breeds, including the finest -Akhal-Teke, Appaloosa, Mushtang, and even the Arab ones. Christened Cambaytherium thewissi, the ancestor is a Khambati that lived 54.5 million years ago during the Eocene epoch of earth.
This was revealed by a nine-member team of researchers from Johns Hopkins University , HNB Garhwal University , Rowan University , Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology , Ghent University , Panjab University, and the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences.
Come January 2016, Kenneth Rose of Johns Hopkins University and J S Rana of HNB Garhwal University will be back to dig for more clues on other mammals and rodents. Scientists say Cambaytherium thewissi existed in the period when India was still an island separated from Madagascar, and headed swiftly towards collision with Asia. It took palaeontologists and geologists 15 years to come across these clues, which also suggest that apart from modern-day horses, even tapirs and rhinoceros originated from the same animal.
“Modern horses, rhinos and tapirs also belong to a biological order called Perissodactyla -animals that had an uneven number of toes on their hind feet and a special digestive system,“ said J S Rana, Department of Geology , HNB Garhwal University .
“We had found Perissodactyla remains dating back 55 million years, but their earlier evolution had remained a mystery . Cambaytherium thewissi is believed to be that missing link,“ Rana added.
The hunt for the missing link between modern-day horses and the Perissodactyls had begun in 2001, when Rajendra Rana of HNB Garhwal University and Kenneth Rose of Johns Hopkins University started looking into active lignite mines in Rajasthan. But the intensive search in Rajasthan did not yield much results, with scientists landing on fossils of fish and other sea creatures instead. It was then that the team shifted their focus to the Vastan lignite mine at Mangrol, Gujarat.
“We first found some teeth of bats and other rodents.There were also fossils of primates, along with that of snakes and frogs. It was a few months later that our team found big bones and jaws of what we guessed as early Perissodactyls,“ said Rana.
2018: registered as a breed
KACHCHHI-SINDHI BREED GETS OFFICIAL TAG
India has finally given a stamp of approval to its original desert horse breed. On August 4, the breed registration committee of the central government’s Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) registered Kachchhi-Sindhi horses as a breed.
The registration was done on the basis of a report by Karnal-based National Bureau of Animal Genetic Resources (NBAGR) scientists. The report says that the breed has excellent drought and heat tolerance capacity in arid and semi-arid regions.
So far, India had only two officially recoginsed horse breeds — Marwari and Kathiawari — along with four other pony breeds — Zanskari, Spiti, Bhutia and Manipuri. The addition of the Kachchhi-Sindhi horses into this exclusive club has been done after a fresh procedure was established to recognise new breeds last year.
A top scientist at NBAGR said that DNA and physical traits of Kachchhi-Sindhi horses were studied to recognise it as a breed separate from the similar looking Marwadi and Kathiawari horses.
The Kachchhi-Sindhi breed is a complete desert horse, scientists say. Its broader hoofs make it easy to tread through desert sand while the covered nostrils and strong stamina allow it to perform in tough conditions. Aficionados have often called this breed ‘Mustangs of India’, though it is not a feral or mixed breed.
According to the NBAGR website, “Total population (of Kachchhi-Sindhi breed) is about 4,000. Unique features include roman nose appearance of face, ears curved at tips but not touching each other, 56 to 60 inch height, short back, short pastern bone length, broader hoof for better grip and docile temperament.”
Convener of the National Confederation of Indigenous Horse Societies, Col Sapartap Singh (retd) called the decision a big win for Indian breeds. “This will go a long way in conservation of indigenous breeds that have been neglected for ages. More Indian breeds should be added, including Bhimtali of Maharashtra.”
NBAGR scientists, however, said there were no other new breed claims pending with them. Even before a separate breed claim is taken up for evaluation, detailed information has to be provided on over 25 points, including physical traits and different strains within the breed, he added.
National Research Centre on Equines, Hisar, director Bhupendra Nath Tripathi said, “This indigenous horse breed is native to Kutch district of Gujarat and Jaisalmer and Barmer of Rajasthan.”