Be kind to buffaloes

Nepal cracks down on cruelty to livestock during transportation, but more compassion is needed

ALL PHOTOS: ABINASH THAKUR

Every day more than 20 trucks loaded with water buffaloes for slaughter make their way to Kathmandu from the Tarai, each packed with up to 35 animals tied tightly with ropes through their nostrils.

The overloaded trucks have a capacity of only 15 animals and most are on the road for up to 20 hours during which the buffaloes have no food or water. Many die along the way.

Chicken are also carried packed in the backs of vans or tied by their legs hanging upside down on motorcycles from poultry farms to market. Often the birds’ beaks are scraping the asphalt.

Seven years ago, the government introduced the Animal Transportation Standard-2064, a comprehensive set of guidelines designed to regulate and ensure the safe and humane transportation of animals. Compliance is not only encouraged but also legally mandated.

The regulations underline the need to be compassionate during the transportation of livestock and poultry with adequate floor space to move comfortably, protecting the animals from harsh weather, providing adequate food and water, and making rest stops during the journey.

The law also requires that precautions be taken to prevent animals from causing harm to each other during transit. It also says that animals should not be on the move for more than eight hours at a time.

Be kind to buffaloes
Overloaded pick-up vans with cows stacked on top of each other.

Any indication of distress or harm to animals such as bruising, stress, sunburn, bloat, exhaustion, poisoning, injury, or dehydration, are considered reckless endangerment of animal rights and a direct violation of established standards. Besides transportation, the regulation also stipulates that lactating animals should be milked twice a day, and special attention paid to proper nourishment of young animals.

Many of these rules, like many others in Nepal, are ignored, and not enforced.

Despite government claims that the country is now self-reliant in buffaloes for meat, most of the animals are imported from India where they are not eaten. However, there are no holding centres for livestock along the highways that join the Tarai with the rest of the country, including the capital.

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Transporters are also wary of stopping anywhere to give the animals some food and rest because of local protests.  

Holding centres are not the priority, and real estate along the highways are expensive. Ramnagar in Chitwan last year received a budget to construct a holding centre, but the money was not enough to pay for the land.

Makwanpur district is the transit for animals being transported from the Indian border to Kathmandu and to the east. An inspection of the Veterinary Hospital and Livestock Centre in Makwanpur revealed a multitude of problems, including overcrowding of animals, the mixing of males and females, fights, and inhumane practices such as tying animals by their noses, ears, and tails. 

be kind to buffaloes
A team from the Veterinary Hospital and Livestock Centre in Makwanpur inspects the live animals.

India has banned the export of buffaloes which means that there are no veterinary certificates, and most of the buffaloes are smuggled across the border. The Makwanpur centre has levied fines and turned away a majority of heavy trucks and pickups found to be in violation of established animal transportation standards. 

Owners are penalised for the lack of proper documentation, including veterinary certificates and purchase bills and this has controlled the abuse of animals temporarily. But the Makwanpur experience shows that if enforced properly veterinary hospitals and livestock expert centres can be replicated across the country.

According to the guideline, every shipment of animals must be accompanied by a valid certificate issued by a qualified veterinary doctor. This is supposed to confirm that the animals are in good health, fit for travel, and free from infectious or contagious diseases. In the absence of such a certificate, carriers are required to decline the consignment for transportation.

be kind to buffaloes
An overcrowded truck heading towards Kathmandu.

But veterinarians have sometimes issued certificates for animals without conducting a comprehensive health assessment and provided fake certificates. In some cases, farmers and traders have been found to use ‘incentives’ to expedite the certification process. To restore the integrity of the certification system, stricter guidelines and oversight measures are needed in the veterinary community. 

Veterinarians should be held accountable for upholding ethical standards and conducting thorough health assessments before issuing any certification. Regular training and awareness programs about established protocols are needed for vets.

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Abinash Thakur is the President of Nepal Veterinary Students' Association, HICAST

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