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Rescuing animals from Kosi fury

Sep 09, 2008

Kosi waters that inundated several northern districts of Bihar have not just affected humans but also animals. Teams from International Fund for Animal Welfare and Wildlife Trust of India are trying to save the livestock left behind from starvation and diseases.

Forbesganj, Bihar: An International Fund for Animal Welfare and Wildlife Trust of India (IFAW-WTI) Emergency Relief team camping in the flood hit northern Bihar has treated over 6,000 cattle and livestock that escaped the fury of the catastrophic floods, but were starving.

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The August 18 flash flood resulting from a broken embankment on the river Kosi in neighbouring Nepal swept away thousands of human beings and animals with many villages wiped off the face of the earth. Millions of people and cattle are staying in makeshift camps made out of plastic sheets and bamboo. The army and para-military forces have also put up tents.

Coordinating with the government rescue and relief machinery, the 10-member team, which includes three veterinarians, has been making daily forays inside the flood hit areas by boat and by four wheel drives wherever possible.

Huge flood footprints

“The footprint of the flood is huge and we have been concentrating only in a small but very badly affected area in the Araria and Supaul districts,” IFAW-WTI team veterinarian Dr Anjan Talukdar said.

Although the water is slowly receding and has drained out of several villages in the two districts, the people are unable to return home. “With the water level going down the larger boats are unable to operate. However, even with smaller boats it is difficult to load them with relief material because they then need more draught. In many places we have to pull the boat for miles because if we sit in it, it touches the bottom,” Atul Sinha a border police officer said.

“We had estimated the number of cattle in our area to be about 24,000. Many of these are still stranded in the interiors with no food for nearly a month now. Many of the owners had just left their cattle and gone as the water rose. Once the mortality starts the rotting carcasses will spread disease unless the administration is able to effectively tackle carcass disposal,” said Dr Abhijit Bhawal, who was the first to reach the location.

Northern Bihar consisting of Supaul, Madhepura, Araria, Purnea, Kishangaj districts bordering Nepal is agriculture rich with cattle considered maal or wealth.

People value their livestock

“People value their livestock here and won’t just let it go. Those who left animals behind were forced to. They are as dear to them as their children,” Ajatshatru Singh, a local leader said.

Pradyut Jha was one such farmer who stayed back at the Chainpur village with his cattle. The village looked like a tidal surge had gone through it. Smaller trees had been uprooted.

All the bamboo and mud huts had collapsed. The brick and mud houses were damp and dripping. Water was flowing through parts of the village. As the boat came close to the village, the IFAW-WTI team waded through waist deep water to get inside.

Snakes swam away as they waded forward. The team found 10 cows and three goats on a platform with one recently dead cow amidst them. The animals were listlessly mouthing some dry straw and looked very weak.

“Although we did get a warning that a dam had broken, we did not believe it would create such a mammoth flood. For the past so many years we have been hearing someone or the other crying wolf so we never took this seriously. The water took more than 24 hours to reach us but was continuously rising. When it rose to more than five feet and the flow was strong and many of the bamboo and mud houses broke, most of the village then decided to leave.”

“I decided to stay back, because I just could not let my cattle die and moreover I had a lot of grain and other things lying here which would have got stolen. The water kept rising and even as I was moving my goats to the roof, five of my calves were swept away. At one point the cows had just their noses above the water. For 24 hours the water remained at that level. If it had gone up by a few inches they would have drowned. Then it started receding, but the animals stood in three feet of water for at least ten days,” Jha said.

Preventing slow death for animals

“If animals don’t get food for a long time they start losing interest in food and don’t have the strength to eat. This is thus a vicious cycle, which makes them weaker and therefore prone to infections and a slow death. So we need to first break this cycle by making them interested in food and once they have the strength to eat they will slowly regain their stamina,” Dr Talukdar said.

The cows seemed to respond to the taste and had started eating a little more purposefully.

Among the first things given were herbal tonics for the liver, with salt to rejuvenate the animals. Most of the animals had foot infections, which were treated.

“Once the water dries and animals start feeding on the grass you must de-worm them or they will fall ill again. Make sure they don’t drink stagnant water. After a flood of this sort there is a high possibility of diarrhoea and you must guard against that,” Dr Talukdar said as local volunteers translated it.

“It is actually providential that the water continues to flow and is not stagnating, because that is the root of all infections and disease. I think we are looking at a long haul here. I don’t see this situation stabilising for at least four months.
Certain areas which have been completely devastated might take even longer,” said Chandan Singh, who has been active in the human relief effort and also has two veterinarians working with him.

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