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Valira Torrent:   Contents | Subject index


Perforation image from Serif Art Gallery. © Serif Inc, 1996

Valira Torrent - bulletin of the Andorran Philatelic Study Circle. Issue 37, pp12-14 (April 1992).

Copyright notice

Nature Protection

by W.D.Bent

The French Postal Administration continued their Nature Protection series during 1991/2, producing four stamps - two domestic animals, one alpine flower and one bird.

June 22nd 1991 saw the issue of the 2f30 Le Mouton (Pyrenean Sheep) and the 3f50 La Vache Pyreneene (Pyrenean Cattle) stamps. Both were designed by Huguette Samson and engraved by Joseph Rayewicz, perforated comb 13 and printed in sheets of 25 stamps. The choice of subjects is rather unusual, as neither would seem to be in need of protection, but both are lesser known breeds and do not exist in vast quantities.

Sheep

Sheep are of the genus Ovis and there are no longer any feral or wild sheep, but there are a great number of varieties and cross-breeds. These have been evolved by breeding, domestic needs, environment etc, and all for their meat or wool or both. The nearest wild relative is the Asiatic Mouflon Ovis orientalis now found in Asia Minor and Iran. The domestic breeds now differ in all cases from their wild ancestors by having a dominant covering of wool, rather than straight hair that normally concealed a covering of wool which developed only in winter.

Some primitive localized breeds of sheep have survived little changed since the XVIIIth century. One of the best known of these is the Soay sheep, found on the island of Soay in the St Kilda group off the Scottish coast. Examples can also be found in some parks and zoos, being identified to the wild breeds with their uniform brownish colouring, together with a build like the Mouflon (more goatlike), but now with a coat of pure wool. Almost all domestic sheep have longish tails, although these are often docked.

They all graze on grass as their staple diet, and have one litter of young a year, usually in the spring or early summer. The young are very active from birth, and are fully mature within the first year. They can live up to about fifteen years old. The animal shown on the stamp is very accurate, and is similar to the Leicester, Cheviot and Lincoln breeds found in Great Britain and elsewhere.

Pyrenean cattle

Pyrenean cattle are of the order Artiodactyla (open-toed ungulates). This is a very large order of herbivorous mammals, all with "cloven hooves", that is with two central toes on each foot, hooved and equally developed. Wild boars, cattle, sheep, goats, deer, elk etc all come within this general category. Domestic cattle (Bos taurus) are found in most areas of the world, but the particular species featured on the stamp are large built, almost blonde coloured animals, and are to be found along the southern slopes of the Pyrenees.

Cattle in the Iberian Peninsular are somewhat isolated geographically by the Pyrenees, and have developed on their own according to local conditions and needs. There are five main groups:

  1. The Northern. Mostly light or blonde and includes the Pyrenean.
  2. The North-western. Mainly chestnut coloured.
  3. The Black Iberian.
  4. The Southern Reds.
  5. The Mixed Breeds. Usually formed by crossing two of the above or using French stock.

There is a French equivalent, the Blonde d'Aquitaine, which is usually yellow or yellow-brown and found basically in southern France. Other similar breeds of the region have been progressively crossed with the Limousin and Garonnais and have disappeared as separate breeds since about 1960. This leaves the Bearnais cattle as the only pure breed in the region. The Pyrenean cattle shown on the stamp have a short coat, coloured from dark corn to a reddish shade and with pale shading on the underside. They have large ears, pink muzzle and the lyre shaped horns are white with darker tips. It was one of the first Spanish breeds to take part in a selective breeding programme, in order to develop it into a full beef type animal. It is thought that there might be less than 10,000 breeding cows left of this specific breed. It is interesting to note that Iberian cattle were the foundation of the vast Texan longhorn stock, and great numbers crossed the Atlantic to America as the country developed.

All Pyrenean cattle are solidly built with deep chests and strong muscular bodies. At birth the males can weigh up to 104 lbs (95 lbs for females) and at maturity they can tip the scales at over 2,500 lbs for a bull (1,600 lbs for a cow). Wild or feral cattle became extinct in the early XVIIth century. However, some semi-feral small herds still exist, the best known being the white Chillingham cattle, which are confined to parks in Britain.

All cattle are vegetarian, eating large quantities of a wide range of vegetation. They have one litter per year, which can be at any time, usually only one calf but occasionally twins are born. All young are active from birth and they become fully mature in their second year.

Many visitors associate Andorra with horses because the sheep and cattle are not seen in large numbers. However, this is because they are up in the higher pastures which provide very good grazing. Often they stray over into Spain, but on the onset of winter they are rounded up and brought down to the lower valleys, eventually to be kept in farm buildings for the worst of the winter. Sometimes the cattle, sheep, horses and goats are housed together on the ground floor of the farmhouse, with the farmer and his family living above - no doubt providing the family with aromatic, centrally heated premises, and with easy access to the animals for feeding.

Editor's Note: Cattle rearing in Andorra has been in decline in recent years. "L'Indépendant" of 18 July 1998 reported that the cattle population had fallen to about 1000 from 2900 at the 1969 census. A cooperative of Andorran farmers has been formed to revive the industry and promote home-produced beef.

In 1992 the two Nature stamps were issued on the 4th July. The 2f50 Globeflower was designed by Odette Baillais and the 3f40 Vulture was designed by François Guiol. Both stamps are perf 13 and were issued in sheets of 50.

Globeflower

The Globeflower is known in Andorra as the "rose of Canolich". The botanical name is Trollus Europeaus, a member of the Buttercup family (Ranunculaceae). It is an alpine perennial with hairless stems and deep-cut palmate leaves. The upper leaves are smaller than the lower ones and are stalkless, growing out from around the flower stem. It grows up to 70cm high, with almost spherical flowers that are 3 - 5cm across, and with each flower having up to ten overlapping and incurved petals in bright yellow. They can be found growing in damp meadows and open-style woods up to around 2000 metres or more above sea level. It is not particularly rare as an alpine flower, being found in many areas of Britain and Europe. In Andorra, the main location is in the beautiful Val d'Incles and around the lakes.

Griffon Vulture

The 3f40 value shows the Griffon Vulture (Gypaetus fulvis). There are four main types of vulture found in Europe. The smallest, the Egyptian Vulture, is to be found in small numbers in most countries bordering the coast-lines of the Mediterranean. The Bearded Vulture or Lammergeier, the largest of the four, is limited to remote mountain ranges in Spain, Northern Greece and the Pyrenees. The other two types, both medium sized, are the Black and the Griffon Vultures. The Griffon Vulture averages from 38 - 41 inches from bill-tip to tail-end. It is distinguished in flight by its very long broad wings with wide-spread primary feathers with rounded ends, and a very short, dark squared tail. Its small head is sunk back into a ruff, and the sandy plumage contrasts with the dark wings and tail. The head and neck are covered in whitish down and the ruff looks like a small fur collar. It is a social bird when roosting and feeding. Its natural habitat is high mountainous regions where it breeds in caves and on ledges, and male and female look very much alike. The Vulture is of the general classifiration of Accipitridae along with kites, eagles, harriers etc. Griffon Vultures are now considerably reduced in numbers. They still exist in some of the more remote higher mountain areas of Andorra, and in some of the Pyrenean Wildlife Parks on both the Spanish and French side of the Pyrenees.

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Updated 15th September 1998