Nepal's Tarai is over-run by cattle


Nepalganj is expanding as a hub for western Nepal, with a new six-lane highway linking it to Kohalpur and upgrading work on the airport. But these days the city and its surroundings have also become a hub for abandoned cattle.

They are everywhere, sitting along the road dividers and sidewalks of the East-West Highway and other roads by their thousands. The cattle have been abandoned by owners after they could not be transported across the border to India. Cattle from Uttar Pradesh have also been sent into Nepal after the high profile street lynchings of cattle traders by cow vigilantes.

Read also: Waiting till the cows come home, Kunda Dixit

That there are no abandoned water buffaloes or mules along the highways is proof that only animals that have no economic value, but are protected by religious groups, are left by the roadside to fend for themselves. 

The cattle problem in the western Tarai hit the headlines last September when 24 cows and bulls were found dead below a highway in Surkhet after they were thrown over by truckers hired to ferry them to the mountains in Dailkeh. 

Following the incident, officials responsible for ferrying the cows from a Nepalgunj-based shelter were detained. The kanji house was supposed to keep the cows until they are claimed, or found a permanent home, but had decided to send them away.  Although the outrage over the cattle deaths has evaporated and the problem has disappeared from the media headlines, the plight of stray cattle has only grown bigger.

In August 2018, in response to a writ petition by a human rights group stating that the stray cattle were causing higher highway fatalities, the Supreme Court issued a mandamus against Nepalganj Sub-metropolitan city, Kohalpur Municipality and five other rural municipalities last February, directing them to put the cattle in kanji houses.

“The court ordered that the cattle be managed within a year, and we have sent letters to the concerned to implement the order but nothing has been done,” says Biswajit Tiwari of the Information and Human Rights Center (IHRC) which filed the original writ.           

A kanji shelter was built under the initiative of the Nepalganj Sub-metropolis, but the problem is much bigger and the cattle shelter has been overwhelmed with cows and bulls being driven from India into Nepal across the open border after crackdowns there.                                                                                                                

Nepalganj mayor Dhawal Shumsher Rana admits the scale of the problem is difficult to manage. “The kanji house is supposed to give refuge to stray cattle until their owners pay a fine and take them back, but these cattle have no owners, and their numbers just keeps growing. That was why we had decided to ferry the cows to Dailekh.”

The city blames the transport company for abandoning the cows along the way. In another less publicised incident, Sukla Phanta Municipality in Kailali rounded up the cattle last year to put them in shelters but  most of them died of starvation and lack of care. The Nepalganj kanji house currently shelters only 137 cows and oxen, whereas there are tens of thousands out on the roads.

At the kanji house, Pawan Kumar Kanojiya says few have taken up the offer of adopting cows after providing proof of  citizenship and personal details. “We cannot take care of so many cows, so we introduced this provision with a view to help them get better care and treatment, but there are few takers.” Kanojiya says. 

Animal Health Technician at kanji house, Laxmi Shah, says many cattle are out ion the open and die due to cold during the winter fog and others are killed by having ingested so much plastic from feeding on roadside garbage. 

Mayor Rana says the city is planning to build a new Rs 70 million kanji house in Karanbaba neighbourhood of Nepalganj which aims at proper management of the cattle prioritising on health and treatment.

Animal activists say the problem can be solved with cattle being tagged and better monitoring at the border. Because it is a cross border problem, the local and national authorities in Nepal and India also need to get involved, they add.