Gandhidham: While an overwhelming number of cattle dying of lumpy skin disease in Gujarat’s cities are ending up in mass graves as volunteers work round the clock to contain the outbreak, for people living in the villages of Kutch district, the losses are confusing and heartbreakingly personal.
In cities and towns visited by ThePrint, isolation centres for cattle stricken by the disease are being run by gau rakshaks, with local leaders lending a hand in the form of funds and land as space for the animals to undergo treatment. However, most of the cows at the isolation centres are strays.
These cows do not have owners to mourn their deaths. Many are being unceremoniously dumped in burial pits amid all-out attempts to control the rapid spread of the infection.
In rural areas, however, the loss of each animal is no less than the loss of a family member.
‘Tell me how to save her!’
In Nagavaladiya village, Azambhai Kangar paces helplessly around a sick cow who is unable to move. Infected with lumpy skin disease, she was grazing in a field less than 200 metres away. But at some point, she collapsed.
Kangar waited hours for fellow villagers to help him bring his beloved cow back home. Finally, it took seven people to help the animal stand up and walk back to Kangar’s shed, where she lay shivering and struggling to breathe.
Speaking to ThePrint, Kangar says he is absolutely confused. “Doctors from the city had come and vaccinated her, and were making regular visits to treat her, but she is not getting better.”
There is currently no cure for lumpy skin disease, and treatment mostly targets clinical symptoms. The vaccine being administered is the same as that for goatpox virus.
“What do I do? Tell me what to do so I can save her! How do I isolate her? This is all the space I have. What will I do if my other cows get affected?” Kangar cries in despair, pointing to the healthy cattle in his cramped shed.
Some of the cows in the village that have recovered from the viral disease are now producing just half a litre of milk a day, as opposed to around 3 litres earlier, says Kangar.
In the same village, Deveiiben Jhatia is relieved that her cow has mostly recovered. Caressing the animal, she tells ThePrint that she used home remedies like kadha (an immunity boosting herbal concoction), and neem.
However, this cow’s milk production has gone down as well.
At Mathak, Kasanbhai Ahir, head of the village gaushala, tells ThePrint that several cows have been lost to the disease. While the villagers are puzzled as to how it spread through the cattle population despite vaccination, they are thankful that a doctors’ team from Anjar visits regularly to treat their animals.
No space to isolate
In Mithi Rohar village however, some households are only just learning about the disease.
Gulshankasa Chawra holds a female calf as the animal drinks her mother’s milk. The calf has visible symptoms of lumpy skin disease, with small nodules across her body.
However, the family has not isolated the calf, neither do they have enough space to do so.
Chawra tells ThePrint she made calls to the Kamdhenu Gau Seva Trust, but no one came to help.
“Hamaari hi bacchi hai, hum dhyaan rakhenge iski (She is our child, we will take care of her),” she adds.
The village gaushala too has not separated the diseased animals from the healthy ones. According to deputy sarpanch Amar Singh, the villagers are even letting their diseased cows graze alongside healthy ones.
“The local gau seva committee has now decided to impose a fine on owners who are letting their cows out of the house to graze,” he says.
Kader Sher Mohammed Bhati, whose family lives in a comparatively larger compound in Mithi Rohar with nearly 30 cows and buffaloes, several goats, as well as poultry, says they can’t keep their sick calf away from her healthy mother.
“She keeps crying all day when we do that,” he tells ThePrint.
‘We don’t eat without feeding them first’
Meanwhile, Yusuf Nur Mohammed, a resident of the same village, had two cows with lumpy skin disease that never returned after grazing.
The disease can be debilitating, the cows suddenly fall and then find it impossible to get back on their feet.
“I have sent my boy to look for them. We don’t even eat without feeding them first,” says Mohammed, showing his empty cow shed.
In Ratnal, the loss of over 30 cows has villagers quite worried.
Pointing to a seriously ill cow taking her last breaths, Ratnal resident Shankar Bhai Ahir says they are at a loss about what to do. “She is mute. She can’t even tell us where she is hurting. If we could, we would at least make the last few hours of her life easier for her.”
As we leave this village, a villager calls out and says, “Please tell the authorities to find a medicine. Tell them to help us.”
(Edited by Gitanjali Das)