As you read this, a rescue and relief team of a different kind will be heading towards Gaurikund to rescue one of the most helpless victims of the Uttarakhand disaster: its animals.
Gaurikund is the last point en route to Kedarnath accessible by vehicle. Many pilgrims trek 14km to Kedarnath from this point, while the infirm, aged and unfit opt for mules for the treacherous journey. Before the disaster, the number of mules in Gaurikund was estimated to be 8,000. And as the frenetic search and rescue for people continues with the death toll reaching 550 (and counting), there’s absolutely no word on how many animals have perished or the conditions of those that have survived.
Army choppers will airlift the team to Gaurikund on Sunday morning. “Every village there needs our help,” says Gauri Mulekhi, member-secretary People for Animals (PFA) Uttarakhand, who is leading the team. “Our focus is the 8,000 mules at Gaurikund.”
The team is a joint effort between PFA Uttarakhand, PFA Dehradun and the Humane Society International (HSI) India. It will take stock of and provide relief to trapped and injured mules and livestock.
One veterinarian, two para-veterinarians, an alpine expert and two volunteers form the team. They have been promised six additional veterinarians by the state’s animal husbandry department and two people with expertise in survival training.
They are carrying basic vaccines and antibiotics for the animals, very little food (owing to lack of space), medicines for themselves and a handful of SIM-cards. “We’ve been told that there are carcasses everywhere and the stench is unbearable. The water is contaminated. So, we have to be very careful,” says Mulekhi, who also works with the Animal Welfare Board of India.
The lack of any kind of rescue or treatment camp for animals in the area, despite the large number of animals there, has made the situation all the more difficult.
Once the team assesses the situation, they will make additional trips. At present, the urgent need is for medicines and food. The Uttarakhand Livestock Development Board has provided them with fodder that is blow-dried and formed into briskets that can be broken and fed to the animals, and that is easy to carry.
Another team is stationed at Govindghat, en route to Hemkund. The connecting bridge has been washed away and the team is waiting for news on an alternative route. Till then, members are collecting funds and supplies for their trip and are awaiting volunteers from across the country.
You can help
PFA volunteers are looking for any contribution to help their efforts to care for the flood-affected animals. You can donate to ‘People for Animals, Uttarakhand’, Account no. 711201011000823, Vijaya Bank, Rajpur Road Branch, Dehradun. You can also message PFA on their Facebook page.