The first cattle were brought to Nicaragua by the Spanish in the 1500s, and livestock raising was a mainstay of the early colony. Drier areas on the western slopes of the central highlands were ideal for cattle raising, and by the mid-1700s, a wealthy elite, whose income was based on livestock raising, controlled León, Nicaragua's colonial capital. In the late 1900s, as was true in the late 1500s, cattle raising has been concentrated in the areas east of Lago de Managua. Most beef animals are improved zebu strains. Smaller herds of dairy cattle- -mostly Jersey, Guernsey, or Holstein breeds--are found near population centers. From 1979 to 1989, the total number of cattle dropped by a third because of widespread smuggling to Honduras and Costa Rica and illegal slaughter of the animals for sale of meat on the black market.
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