Sharing the Load of Mountain Mules of Gorkha

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On 21st November 2016, Animal Nepal team headed to Soti for 3 day long “Wound and Hoof Management Training” for the mule owners and handlers of Gorkha district.

The journey was definitely not easy! After reaching Soti we learned that there were only a few handlers arriving to Soti to collect some goods who were then supposed to head back to upper station called ‘Machi Khola’ early next morning.

AN team left their hotel at 7:00 am in the morning with an aim to reach the handlers and owners on time for a training session. On our way we encountered mules suffering from harness wounds. Some wounds were bad enough to leave us with chill and goosebumps.

An old mule had a bleeding, maggoty wound caused by an ill-fitting harness but was still being made to carry load. We immediately talked to the owner who we came to know  had already decided to dump his mule at river called Gandaki as according to him he “had no reason to waste his time, money and energy taking care of an “old and injured” mule”. Disheartened, we tried to convince the owner. We cleaned the wound and provided some painkillers and antibiotic. We taught the owner how to clean the wound and that it isn’t a ‘big deal’. With some helpful information and mindful gestures, our team tried to convince him not to dump his animal. He agreed!

We also came across a mule who had fallen down a hill and broken his back leg. Our team successfully treated the animal. On our way we suggested to the various owners and handlers we met, to attend our training session at Machi Khola at 6:30 pm in the evening.

Squeezing ourselves with the loaded mules on a deadliest and the narrowest lane for more than 8 hours we finally reached Machi Khola at 4:00 pm in the evening. We were exhausted, but the breath taking views and the tinkling sound of bells tied around the neck of mules rejuvenated us. Without wasting any time, we immediately set up our computers and projector as soon as the owners and handlers started coming in, in a small local hotel for a training session on a cold evening.

Our team included Uttam Kafle- Executive Director at Animal Nepal, Atish Kumar Yadav- Sr. Veterinarian, Sajana Thapa – Veterinarian and Mana Nepali-para veterinarian who helped the owners and handlers understand the basics of animal welfare. The young handlers and owners who came with a mini torchlight tied on their head seemed extremely enthusiastic about the issues we explained to them. It was sad to know that many of them never realized the importance of hoof trimming or wound management. “They had always been practicing traditional ways of treatments in their animal and most of the mules are left to die when they are sick and injured. When they die they are ultimately dumped in the river”, says Dr. Atish Yadav.

Based on the research conducted by Animal Nepal on 2015 on Mountain Mules of Gorkha, over 85% of the mule owners’ treat their animals by themselves without any medical assistance. The main welfare problems seen during the survey included lack of appropriate feed, water, shelter, poor understanding of animal welfare, preventable wounds caused by harness, lameness, colic, injuries and diseases. We encountered maximum number of harness wounds in the mules of Gorkha. The harness used was less scientific and made out of plastics and other improper materials.

As they say, it’s never too late to practice a good behavior, ‘The change in behavior’ was what we expected from our training session. Most of the owners and handlers were young men between ages of 16-30 and their level of excitement to learn and then practice new methods was infectious and encouraging for us. We also wanted to enhance personal competency level of equine owners, handlers and local para-veterinarian and to share their experiences with regard to the challenges and opportunities they are facing on equine management.

On 22nd July 2016, Animal Nepal organized a multi stakeholder meeting at Gorkha where the condition of working mules and ways of improvements were discussed. We were able to get some raw facts and data from the meeting which needed immediate addressing. According to Dhan Kumar Gurung, Secretary of Mule Management Committee, Gorkha, “There are at least 1500 mules working in Gorkha district and 36 of them died this year due to narrow landscape, especially after the earthquake and landslide. Few equines broke their legs in the treacherous journey and since there is no any medical facilities available for them, they were thrown alive in the river as they can walk and work no more”. We also realized a dire need of better shelter for working mules as they are kept under open sky in an extremely cold temperature which results in some deadly respiratory diseases in the animals.

During the 3 days’ workshop, Animal Nepal conducted different session and hands-on trainings with the mule owners and handlers of Gorkha. We came across a boy who seemed quite interested to learn about farrier work in equine. He even managed to trim an overgrown hoof of his own mule after a serious observation of a quick demo by Dr. Atish Yadav.

Couple of wounded mules were treated during our stay at Gorkha. Two respiratory cases were also handled quite far from the village. With the support from The Donkey Sanctuary Uk, Animal Nepal intends to conduct more sessions for the welfare of mountain mules in future which will ultimately bring sustainability in the equine business at Gorkha. We expect the owners and handlers to expand their knowledge and adapt to better behavior and share that little load of their fellow animals.

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