Following the 7.8 magnitude earthquake which hit Nepal this April, Humane Society International’s veterinary relief team have been working tirelessly to help save the lives of thousands of livestock and improve the prospects of farmers in the mountainous Himalayan region.
The huge earthquake, which struck on the 25th April 2015, caused chaos and devastation to over 29 million people, turning historic buildings to rubble and tragically killing thousands of people as well as animals in the disaster.
It has long been recognised that disasters not only affect human populations but also many animal populations. This can occur in several different ways. For example: Human rescue services have encountered times when it is necessary to cater for animals due to people’s refusal to abandon them even to save themselves. The survival and wellbeing of pets is recognised as important for the emotional and psychological recovery of people affected by natural disasters.
In addition, in rural areas the survival of livestock is important for the economic recovery of farmers and communities. It has become increasingly apparent that animal issues need to be addressed.
Therefore, as disasters seem to be a more frequent occurrence, disaster preparedness and relief work has become a high priority in HSI’s global efforts. Humane Society International (HSI) arrived in Nepal on day five after the earthquake, with an experienced team including the HSI Asia director and others drawn from programs in India, the Philippines and the US. Many of these individuals had participated in previous disaster responses.
When the vets arrived it was realised that the most badly affected animals were livestock including cattle, buffalo and goats. The survival and recovery of these animals to good health is vital to the long term recovery of rural Nepalese communities. Many Nepalese families have only one or two animals which they keep under their family homes; or in hand made barns built in a local traditional style from stone or brick with no cement in the mortar. The animals are hand-fed daily, and are treated much like a family member. Inevitably in the frightful moments when the earthquake hit, some districts faced total destruction of these heritage buildings. There was no time to untether animals and lead them to safety before buildings came crashing down - though tragically there would have been people who died trying. Devastatingly thousands of animals and people were injured and killed as their homes collapsed on top of them.
Some of the cows and buffalo were dug out of the rubble after being trapped for days. The incredible robustness of cattle meant that they endured for weeks after the disaster without veterinary care, keeping the window of possible survival open an incredibly long time. The animals had horrifying injuries including broken bones, significant lacerations and bruising. Some of the injured animals were unable to stand up for weeks, and bamboo hoists were made to prop them up in the meantime. Luckily there was enough pain medication and veterinary care to help all animals that were reached by the HSI team of vets and made a remarkable recovery.
The surviving animals often represented the only asset that people had left after the destruction, and the survival or demise of that animal could mean the difference between recovery and destitution of their human companions. The Nepalese were prepared to invest the time and effort into the nursing care of individual animals to a level that would never be seen in typical Western farming practices. They really looked after each animal as a member of the family.
‘Special thanks goes out to the vets John Skuja, Cate Sutton, Don Hudson and Bill Gaddum who dropped everything to head to Nepal, and to Andrea Britton, Michael Heath and Elaine Ong who were the support team back in Australia ensuring the appropriate medicines and equipment were secured and sent. The vet community have been so incredibly generous and donated significant funds to help make all this possible. Also, the supporters of Humane Society knew without prompting that we would need their help, and have been very generous and compassionate in this time of need’, concluded Humane Society International.
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