Obituary: W. Ross Cockrill

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The Independent Culture
THERE IS among veterinarians, and particularly Scottish ones, a tradition of spending part of their career working among rural communities in developing countries. W. Ross Cockrill was a prime, if rather unusual, example of those altruistic public servants. In addition to some 20 years as a senior Official of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (latterly as assistant to the director of the animal health and production division), he was an author, playwright, an accomplished raconteur and something of an expert on Italian food and wine.

He qualified from Glasgow Veterinary School in 1935 and after a short time in practice and research posts, joined the Ministry of Agriculture as a veterinary field officer. When war came, although in a reserved occupation, he managed to join the Royal Air Force, in which he served as a flight navigator. He also married Eudora Sime, a fellow veterinarian, with whom he enjoyed 60 years of happy marriage.

Returning to civilian life, Bill Cockrill found himself in the first of the unusual jobs that enlivened his professional life. He was seconded to the South Atlantic whaling fleet to study the methods used in the industry - this was before whaling became a controversial subject - and to investigate the pathology of the whale. From this experience came a number of scientific papers and a book, Atlantic Hazard (1955), together with a Fellowship of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons.

During this earlier part of his career, Cockrill had simultaneously been pursuing his literary interests with a series of adaptations for radio of the novels of Anthony Trollope, and with an original humorous play, There's an Alligator on the Landing, that was repeated several times after its first broadcast. He was not, however, to follow this promising line of activity but put his creative talents, effectively, to more practical ends.

His connection with the FAO began in 1953, when he was loaned to that organisation to help control foot-and-mouth disease in Austria. The loan became a transfer and from their base in Rome, Cockrill began the work of helping the FAO in its aim of promoting sustainable agriculture and rural development in the Third World.

This work was to involve extensive travel for the next 20-odd years, particularly in Asia. And it was on an early visit to the Far East that he first became interested in the buffalo. He was driving along a country road when, he said, there suddenly rose up in front of him "this massive horned animal"; he avoided hitting it, but from that unexpected encounter came an intensive study of, and affection for, the buffalo.

Cockrill believed it was the most, important agricultural animal in the world. His 1974 text, The Health and Husbandry of the Domestic Buffalo, remains the standard work. And his expertise on the subject extended to intimate knowledge of the production - and consumption - of Italian buffalo cheese, mozzarella. Not surprisingly, "Buffalo Bill" was one of his nicknames.

As well as helping Third World farmers to improve their methods, Cockrill was one of the first in the West to describe the techniques of acupuncture applied to animals that he saw on visits to China, where they were used to anaesthetise, cattle undergoing surgery.

Throughout his career, Bill Cockrill used his natural skills as a communicator to educate and inform people; both in spreading knowledge of improved methods of husbandry and in describing to a wider world the problems that had to be overcome to relieve hunger in the developing countries. Socially, he was the very best of company.

William Ross Cockrill, veterinary surgeon: born Edinburgh 23 October 1913; FRCVS 1950; married 1939 Eudora Sime (two daughters); died London 24 April 1999.