Channel NewsAsia

  • 0 My Playlist

Nepal quake: Volunteer vets lift spirits in rural Kathmandu Valley

A team of international vets are providing vaccinations and treating injuries suffered by animals hurt during the Apr 25 earthquake. 

GONDIKHEL, Nepal: Prakash Parajuli sits with an arm warmly wrapped around a baby calf in an animal pen that has almost entirely collapsed.

The calf's mother is receiving critical treatment for trauma and injuries sustained in Nepal's deadly 7.8-magnitude earthquake, which struck on Apr 25. She was crushed by a large piece of wood in her enclosure and has been in pain for days.

A team of international vets are tending to her injuries, providing vaccinations, vitamins and various general health checks after Mr Parajuli asked for assistance. This part of the Kathmandu Valley is isolated, several hours drive from the capital and help is hard to come by.


 Prakash Parajuli and young calf. (Photo: Jack Board)

He is one of many locals whose animals are victims of the earthquake. It is estimated that tens of thousands of animals across the country were killled - including cows, buffaloes, goats, dogs and chickens - jeopardising Nepal's future ability to sustain food production and economic survival for many rural communities.

"I found my cow with the house collapsed on it," said Mr Parajuli. "With the help of my neighbours I was able to rescue it. But my cow was unable to stand up."

A street dog in Gondikhel. (Photo: Jack Board)

Dr Ben Brown, an Australian vet and volunteer with World Vets, a non-profit organisation (NGO) providing veterinary aid around the world, said the animal was likely to survive.

"She can't walk so we've treated her with some anti-inflammatories and put her on antibiotics. She had this calf so she's still recovering from that and the sooner we can get her making milk the better it is for the people who live here because they use her for food," he said.

International and local animal welfare groups are mobilising to try and make an impact on this often overlooked outcome of such a disaster. Humane Society International also has a team of specialist vets and disaster relief experts deployed to the country, equipped with emergency medicines and necessary survival equipment.


Ben Brown treats an injured cow. (Photo: Jack Board)

"When devastation happens on this scale, especially in rural areas, the only property that people have to survive off and get back to regular life is their animals," said Rahul Sehgal, the Asia Director of Humane Society International.

"The mik comes from the cow, the eggs come from the chicken and those become critical for people to survive these tough times until the aid actually reaches them," he said. "Animals and livestock are forgotten easily because what happens a week from now, or two weeks from now, when the monsoon rains come, people will have made some arrangements by that time, but animals will not be a priority."

He added: "This is the time that we try and step up and try and create a balanced system to increase the chances for these animals to make it during this difficult time. They've survived this disaster; there's no reason they should die because there was no one to help them overcome the immediate challenges."

A woman tends to a cow in Gondikhel. (Photo: Jack Board)

Animals can be affected by trauma, exposure to the elements and a lack of food and water.

"The animals are tethered all the time and what usually happens when animals are kept tethered and they're exposed to direct sunlight or exposed to water, it causes stress and whenever stress persists over a couple of days , their immunity system will start going really low," said Mr Segal. "That means there are tons of infections and diseases that these animals can be exposed to."

Local NGO Animal Welfare Network Nepal acts as a central membrane to coordinate smaller groups and lobby the Nepalese government.

Its president Manoj Goutam said that their work is gaining more traction, despite other government resources being re-allocated to humanitarian work, and the immediate resistance by people, struggling themselves in the aftermath.

"There was a time when people were scared and angry, which made things risky for us. We had to give in parallel with human aid or we would have got beaten up," he said. 

He added: "The agitation is all gone now. People have realised that all they have left now is their livestock and they want to save it. Animals are an asset but also a liability."

RISK OF NEGLECT

The Kathmandu Valley is one of the major producers of dairy products in Nepal and many local people rely on their animals for their livelihoods. However, the risk of neglect is an inevitable outcome of the uncertainty and displacement of the disaster.

"They are generally getting the least amount of care. People don't have time to take care of their animals or find food for them," said Mr Goutam.

Rural areas are some of the worst affected areas by the earthquake but access remains difficult due to unsealed roads and the pure remoteness of many communities. Many villages are not accessible by road and the official death toll is expected to continue rising as authorities slowly make their way to isolated areas.


Ram Prasad Bajgain in his cracked home. (Photo: Jack Board)

Although most buildings in Gondikhel are still standing, many have sustained moderate or major damage. Ram Prasad Bajgain showed Channel NewsAsia large cracks on the inside of his home, but he said he was thankful that his buffaloes, which he relies on for income, were mostly unharmed.

"During the earthquake I was working in the field by my house. After the earthquake I went back home and found many cracks, then I found my neighbours' houses had collapsed," he said.

"During the next aftershock I was outside my house and I was completely shaken and was able to stand up only with by holding onto bamboo. I have never seen an earthquake like this in my entire life," he added. "But I'm thankful all my animals are safe though most of the houses are damaged or collapsed."


Villagers with their belongings in Gondikhel. (Photo: Jack Board)

Charity groups are badly stretched and require further donations to maintain their work. They called for international donations but are also buoyed by local generosity, according to Manoj Goutam.

"Nepalis have been very, very generous. They're hardy, sensible people and they've given despite their poverty," he said.