“Call them what you want – my property, my family, my friends … [My goats] are all I have left,” Purnima Tamang told Humane Society International in Nepal.
Tamang was one of countless Nepalis whose lives were changed forever by the 7.8-magnitude earthquake that devastated the mountainous nation on April 25.
The death toll from the devastating earthquake stands at 7,250 and growing, and the number of people injured is 14,122, according to the National Emergency Operation Center.
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In the midst of this human tragedy, what about the animals?
Alongside the thousands of people killed or displaced after the earthquake, thousands of animals are also struggling to cope with the aftermath. Many have sustained injuries from being trapped in collapsed buildings or hit by falling debris; thousands of animals have been crushed to death or buried alive in the disaster.
Some people may feel that it’s wrong to worry about animals when over 7,000 humans have perished in this tragedy, but the reality is that human and animal lives are deeply intertwined in this country.
Surendra Maharjan, 33, lost all five of his cows when his neighbor’s building collapsed on his livestock shed in Shova Bhagawati. He used to make about $35 a day selling milk to nearby shops, but now has no idea how he and his family will survive.
In Paslang, a hilltop farming village 50 miles northwest of Katmandu where most homes were damaged or destroyed, residents said the quake killed two buffalo and a goat, while other cattle were hurt by falling debris.
In many of the small agricultural villages leveled by the quake, animals are an essential part of families’ lives. These animals now face starvation, dehydration and a range of illnesses.
“Carcass disposal has been a big dilemma,” admits Manoj Gautam, president of the Animal Welfare Network of Nepal and executive director of the Jane Goodall Institute Nepal.
That’s one problem; another is that many pets and livestock no longer have homes. For some, their owners died in the earthquake, and others have been abandoned as their owners are now homeless and living in tent encampments.
Thankfully, rescue operations are already in place, offering aid.
Last week, a team of experts from Humane Society International (HSI), along with other veterinarians, arrived in Kathmandu to provide help to the hundreds of thousands of animals affected by the quake.
Animals injured or abandoned as a result of the earthquake are receiving emergency veterinary aid and care from HSI’s Animal Rescue Team, along with partner organizations such as Animal Welfare Network of Nepal in Kathmandu.
Adam Parascandola, director of animal protection and crisis response with HSI, said that within Katmandu, the capital, the priority is pets that were left behind or that are with families who are having trouble keeping them.
Outside of urban areas, the priority is livestock. Contaminated water supplies and loss of barns, in addition to the stress of the disaster, can put cows, goats and other farm animals at risk for respiratory ailments, hoof disease and other problems.
As Rahul Sehgal, director of HSI Asia, explained:
“There is complete devastation in many areas for people and animals alike, and we’re helping both. For many people, their animals are all they have left, so HSI’s animal aid is a vital lifeline. Today the team has visited several affected areas where the surviving animals are living in stressful conditions, often exposed to the elements and in need of basic veterinary care and medicines.”
In every village HSI has visited so far, animals are getting sick from exposure in the heavy rain; many are too sick to eat, and most of the animal feed is buried in the rubble anyway. In addition, it’s hard to get to many of the villages, they are remote and reached only by mountainous dirt roads. It is a desperate situation.
“We are seeing a wide variety of animal issues here such as animals lacking shelter, food and medicines. We were able to provide treatments for some physical injuries such as cuts and lacerations, but we realize that the disaster for the surviving animals has just begun.”