Helping mountain mules is an uphill task

Helping mountain mules is an uphill task! Travelling to Gorkha district, where Animal Nepal implements a working equine welfare program, in itself can be a challenge, let alone navigating the challenging trails within the district.

Dr Sajana Thapa and her team members Tara Shrestha and Prem Rokha recently braved heavy rainfall, slippery roads and landslides to reach some 200 sick and injured mountain mules and to conduct education sessions for their owners. This is Sajana’s diary.

Date: 21 June 2018
We leave the head office at 7 am, planning to reach Arughat in Gorkha at about 4 pm but since June is a monsoon season, the roads are in a very bad condition. One of the shortcuts to Arughat is already blocked and we are forced to take the alternative route from Benight to Brught. Due to the road condition we reach Dhading only at 7:30 pm. From here we rush to Arughat to inform the equine owners about the education program and also to tell them that our team will be staying for 2 months so that they can visit us according to their schedule.

Date: 22 June 2018
We conduct an education program in one of the equine owner’s houses. We interact with the owners and handlers and some of their wives, who are deeply interested in the subject. Some of the diseases we discuss are Glanders, Rabies, Strangle and Trypanosomiasis. We explain the participants about different kinds of wounds and how to provide first aid. We also discuss some malpractices and its results. Though some of the handlers are shy, the equine owners are very interactive. As a result the handlers become more open too, which we very much appreciate. The handlers’ opinions and knowledge are very important as they are the ones spending most of the time with the animals.

Date: 23 June 2018
Today we walk to Soti Khola. Here we meet the leader of an equine group, Mr. Harka Gurung, who was provided with a hoof trimming set during our last training. We inquire him about its use and find that only a few people use it. This is due to a lack of education and the fact that equine owners are away on trips most of the time. As the equines and their owners are constantly on the move, flexible education sessions are needed to introduce better basic care. After the discussion, we head off to examine injured and sick mules and find that some equines suffered from Trypanosoma, a communicable disease, and a few from suspected Glanders. We treat and isolate the animals and inform the owners about the education program. They are excited and request us to organize our program on 25th June.

Date: 24th June 2018
Today we follow up a few cases at Arughat and Soti, which are already under medication since 22nd and 23rd June. We also check on some other equines and observe that colic, lameness, harness wounds and communicable diseases are the most prevalent problems here in Gorkha.

We also visit some equine owners in both stations and inform them about the education program. Most importantly we discuss the health conditions of their animals, treatment procedures, the animals’ work and diet schedule and impact and benefits of the education programs. We introduce the benefits of a permanent shelter and try to get their opinion on the matter. But according to the owners, due to a dispute regarding the ownership of the land, and the need for temporary shelters, the construction and management of such a shelter would be hard.

Date: 25th June 2018
Today we conduct an education program at Satkar Guest House, Soti. A total of 8 equine owners and three stakeholders, including a vet tech, are present. They are very positive towards the program and some even realize and acknowledge their malpractices. Sadly many other equine owners who were interested could not attend due to heavy rainfall. After the program we did our follow ups and treated a few new cases.

Date: 26th June 2018
Today we are unable to visit Soti because of the rain and only attend cases in Arughat. We identify a few new cases: wounds and lameness. During treatment we advise the owners on how to prevent the problems and how to manage the injuries..

Date: 27th June 2018
We decide to return back to Kathmandu as due to the heavy rainfall equine owners stop coming down the mountains. We call a few owners but they say they will be back only in a few months. I decide to leave two vet techs behind to make sure the sick and injured mules get the right kind of treatment. Before leaving we try to reach Macchi Khola but it is impossible as the road is under construction and unpredictable landslides are occurring. We try to return the same route but it is blocked and we are forced to take a detour which is even more slippery and dangerous. We finally reach Kathmandu at 8 pm.

Difficulties faced:

  • Bad road conditions due to onset of monsoon
  • The equines of Gorkha make long journeys which take several days to weeks, which was why we could not meet all equines, handlers and owners.
  • Due to heavy rainfall many interested people could not attend the programs
  • The equine owners seem pessimistic about the proposal of a permanent shelter because of land ownership and the priority of building temporary covered shelters

The trip turned out to be quite adventurous because of the rain and poor roads but was productive as we were able to interact with the core people of Gorkha and were able to conduct treatment of sick and injured equines. The visit also gave me an insight into what more we can do to minimize wounds and also how to create more motivation and awareness among handlers and owners. Most owners and handlers look after their animals quite well and I have asked our para-vets to conduct follow up visits with these owners and handlers.


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