Based on several sources of information an overview has been given on the development, present situation and problems of conservation of animal genetic resources in Europe.
Presently, 1 029 breeds of cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, horses and asses are registered by the EAAP-Animal Genetic Data Bank, Hanover. 42.8 % of the breeds are classified as being ‘at risk’. More than 360 conservation programmes are underway, which, however, in many cases seem to be operated independently of the status of endangerment and of similar breeds in other countries.
The primary objectives of conservation in Europe, i.e. ‘conservation for potential use, later’ and ‘conservation for cultural reasons’, are different from the objective ‘conservation for sustainable use, now’, which is primarily expressed for developing countries. Different objectives call for different answers to questions, such as: are breeds appropriate units of genetic diversity, how should endangerment be defined, what should be conserved and is incrossing and selection compatible with conservation?
In view of the large number of breeds ‘at risk’ and of similar breeds existing in different countries as well as the high costs of conservation it is concluded that characterisation of breeds for genetic uniqueness is presently the most urgent task in conservation. This requires effective co-operation across national borders in Europe.