Lumpy Skin Disease (LSD), is far from over in the country and is being called one the worst animal epidemics to have hit in recent times. It has even spread to Kashmir, where it claimed the lives of numerous cattle. Jammu and Kashmir is one of the wealthiest milk-producing regions in the country. Kashmir reportedly produces an estimated 7.5 lakh litres of milk each day, it is among the world’s largest producers of milk.
The total daily revenue earned by the dairy business, according to officials of Animal Husbandry Kashmir, was Rs 2.62 crore. However, the recent outbreak of LSD has shaken the valley’s dairy economy. The worst-affected areas, according to government reports, were Baramulla, Kulgam, Kupwara, and Anantnag. Uri, Boniyar, and Kupwara in north Kashmir have been the hardest hit, with a high number of fatalities.
The frontier villages of Uri and Kupwara are lagging in terms of medical care and supplies, however, according to locals some private vets are profiting from the outbreak as the locals need medicines for their infected cattle.
Residents of the border town Uri have allegedly blamed the local government’s “callous attitude and insufficient facilities” and said that “if the government had been more cautious when moving livestock across state boundaries, it may have prevented this catastrophe”.
Many dairy farmers say they have completely lost their source of income, and that “this loss will be irreversible for a long time”. Since cows are expensive, people have taken “dairy loans” to start their businesses, but this epidemic has crushed their hopes.
“We are from the Gujjar and Pahari communities and our livelihood depends on cattle and agriculture. We are cut off from the rest of India. Uri is one of the largest constituencies in District Baramulla, and yet the government has neglected this area. Since we live in a border area, the lack of veterinary staff and medications has harmed our animals. There is only one doctor for the Uri area, the department doesn’t care about us and our animals,” said a dairy farmer.
Reportedly almost 300 animals have succumbed to LSD in Uri. Dozens of milk cows perished as a result of the outbreak, claimed locals. However, most of these deaths have gone unreported because residents who live close to the line of control and meadows lack access to mobile and internet service. “Since the government has severely ignored us, we implore the authorities to set up suitable facilities so that our animals would be saved,” said Shabir Naik, the village chief of Garkote.
“At times medicine is not available at veterinary centres and we have to go to the market where the medicines are costly. We request the authorities to make medicines available at every centre, as we farmers can’t afford to buy medicines from the market”, said a farmer. Another said he felt it was better to sell their cows off at cheap prices right away before they got sick.
The authorities have restricted the movement of cattle, and some districts, like Srinagar, Budgam, and Bandipora, have reportedly kept the outbreak under control. According to reports LSD was first reported in Gujarat and Rajasthan in late July, and by early August had reached Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Andaman & Nicobar, and Uttarakhand. Jammu & Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh, and Haryana were affected later. Then it was reported in Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra.
“This is the deadliest outbreak we have ever seen, therefore we must be extra cautious while treating the diseased cattle. I request the people to bury the dead cattle and not dump the body in the forest or a lake. We ask the public to not waste milk because it is safe and needs to be thoroughly boiled before use. Once the winter sets in, this disease is expected to pass, as there will be less flies, ticks and mosquitoes that spread the disease.
According to veterinarian Dr Ab Qayoom the disease is curable, and “there is no need to fear; instead, we should always use nets and sprays to keep animals & humans safe. No cases of the disease spreading to humans have been reported. Work is underway for a vaccine, and for now we use the goat pox vaccine, which has good recovery rates,”
Due to Lumpy Skin Diseases fatalities dairy products are in short supply, and the meat producers are also suffering. “We paid about one lakh rupees a few months ago to purchase a cow, but it died due to LSD. This disease has destroyed our hopes, our cow used to produce 15 to 18 litres of milk every day, which was the main source of revenue for us,” said aid Ab Majid, a farmer.
“I spent close to 10,000 rupees on treating my livestock, but sadly, both the cow and the calf passed away within two weeks. My cow was my main source of income, I used to sell 15 litres of milk to a nearby milk vendor daily,” said Amir Lone, adding “I urge govt to compensate our loss and consider LSD a national calamity. This is a real loss to families who have been ultimately dependent on cattle rearing.”
Mushtaq Gojri, a milk merchant the problems are affecting the entire dairy chain, “I used to buy 200 to 300 litres of milk per day from local farmers, but as the disease progressed, that number dropped to 100 litres. Consumers suffer because milk isn’t available in the market, we are dependent on nearby cow herds. The cattle’s health will have an impact on our business too.”
To stop this pandemic, a district-to-district ban has been proposed. As the meat industry also suffers, it can impact the ongoing wedding season. “Kashmir is experiencing its wedding season. Even though cattle are in high demand, this disease has come upon us like a tragedy. I haven’t opened my shop for weeks,” said a meat seller. “Now that the government has also banned interstate cattle transportation, inter-district too, it is unfair to us,” said Ahad Bhat, a meat vendor.
According to Syed Zaueed, the village head of Boniyar, Banali Tehsil the local farmers have received very little assistance from veterinary centres. “Nearly 15 deaths have occurred in our villages in Tehsil Boniyar, but it has been falsely recorded by the authorities” he alleged adding “only those who paid for the vaccination have received it.”
However, according to the authorities in Kashmir, around 3014 cases have so far been reported, of which 1,764 have recovered, 1,121 are still being treated, and 129 deaths have been recorded. “We are administering goat pox vaccination as door-to-door treatments to affected animals free of cost. In the UT, we have already vaccinated 14,550 lakh animals. To start a broad vaccination campaign, we have ordered 2 lakh more vaccines. We do a ‘ring vaccination or tertiary vaccination’ where we identify the potential risk areas and treat them.
“The government has approved a testing lab in Zakura, Srinagar which will be a huge relief for the department. Previously, we had to send our samples to Bhopal testing facilities. The most affected areas are Kupwara, Kulgam, and Baramulla, but still, the situation is currently under control. We have received fatality reports from every district.
“We have started using specific helpline numbers. Specialists in RRTs are working hard to halt this illness. Since this is a viral illness with a 15–20 day recovery period, goat pox and lumpy pro vaccines are our first line of defence.
“We have between 10 and 11 lakh animals, and we are delivering supplies to district veterinary centres, even though there was a scarcity of medications,” said nodal officer Animal Husbandry Kashmir Dr Mohd Hussain.
The claims of deaths provided by villagers and officials have been contested by the authorities. The chief Animal Husbandry Officer Baramulla, revealed that the district’s official death toll is “nine and that 80% of cattle have received goat pox and lumpy pox vaccinations. We urge farmers to abide by all instructions we give them strictly.
“We only record deaths that have occurred as a result of LSD, other deaths will also be investigated. We are making every effort to stop the spread of this disease, our teams are on the job, and the government is providing everything that we need. Baramulla was the first district where the vaccination drive was started, and it has produced positive results,” he added.
The local people have been instructed to keep their animals indoors until the epidemic is controlled. All they can do is wait for winter, to bring relief for the animals. As a result, the pastures and meadows are silent for now.