Today we joined an international team on a visit to a remote valley 2hrs south of Kathmandu. With HSI, World Vets, Animal Welfare Network Nepal and Nepali government veterinarians from the Domestic Livestock Department it was a big group but with the expectation that a large area could be covered.
The road into this region has the usual assortment of pot holes, bumps and wash aways, but after the earth quake many sections have had landslides, like earthen hands trying to reclaim the mountains. It was not a comfortable journey in, made worse for 6 of us in the back of a HSI rescue truck. It reminded me of the many animals that endure long journeys in different types of transport, usually destined to be butchered at the end. Live animal export over extended distances is particularly cruel and is surely something belonging to a past century.
At the main village the first action was to provide vaccinations to the many street dogs in the area. People were keen to get out further into the valley but before we moved on, I noticed some of the dogs had weepy eyes so these were quickly treated.
Different teams broke up and went with local people to respond to injured and sick animals. Dr Umesh and I went with a couple of HSI and World Vets veterinarians. Driving then continuing on foot we visited farm after farm. Many farm buildings all through these mountains have earthquake damage. Some have lost complete walls, whereas many have just sections that have collapsed in or out from the building. This is true also of the animal shelters and this is where much of the injury has come from.
Not everyone had animals with earthquake injury but other issues have arisen due to it, such as a cow with an infected foot. Forced from her damaged shelter, she has been left in boggy ground and her foot has become infected making it difficult to stand. The concerned farmer has set up an elaborate brace to help her.
The combination of international disaster response and local veterinarian expertise is very helpful, although I suspect both see each other as a bit of a hindrance at times. The real bonus is that the international teams can respond with the most up to date medications and techniques with field-won experience, while the local veterinarians can explain to the locals more carefully what follow up actions are most beneficial and understand the locals capacities and superstitions. For example, many locals fear certain antibiotics for fear it may affect the pregnancy of their animal. I also noted that the international vets are very good at dealing with the immediate issue but less communicative with what will be required to nurse the animal back to full health, a very time consuming and long process for serious cases.
On the return journey I joined the Nepali government staff and learned more about their role. It was well after dark when we stopped at one village and checked a weak water buffalo calf in someone’s ground floor barn. Some vitamin injections were given and some instructions to the owner. Sadly, one of the owners was dressed in mourning attire as his brother had died in the quake. At least we could provide him a little comfort by helping his buffalo. I feel this is really important – by helping the animals of Nepal it not only relieves their suffering but alleviates a little the suffering of those people who have lost and endured so much.