November 26, 2012

South Asia: A Day in the Life of a Veterinarian

Helping nomadic people by treating their animals is something that benefits individual families and the community at large.

  • Caring for Livestock

    Helping nomadic people by treating their animals is something that benefits individual families and the community at large.

I was able to accompany a veterinarian and his three-man-team of animal doctors to treat the cattle, sheep, goats, and horses of Nomadic people.

The sometimes dangerous but always interesting work occurs under extreme conditions that will fascinate everyone who spends some time with the four men at work.

The base village, which the doctors access the hut camps from, can only be reached on foot or in a 4x4 jeep that carries the medicine. From here, the nomad camps have to be approached on foot. Usually villages are situated at altitudes of almost 4,000 meters, so the body struggles with oxygen provision if unprepared.

Doubtless the work of treating the animals with de-wormers is an exciting challenge, though. The animals receiving the medical treatment want to be dealt with in an appropriate way that demands knowledge, patience, and intuition. The medicine, which is in liquid form, is usually to be taken up with a big harmless syringe that the doctors then try to stick into the sometimes unwilling animal's mouth so that it can take it in easily. While some individuals don't make a fuss accepting the liquid, others give the men forceful fights. Here is another area of danger: If powerful individuals such as horses or buffalo bulls don't like the medicine or the doctor distributing the medicine, he can easily fall prey to the animal's feet or horns. The doctors often carry evidence of kicks and bites.

In order to prevent emotional outbursts of the cattle or horse and consequential serious injury, the medical people often find a variety of ways to trick the animal. The animals usually accept the medicine if mixed with some flour and made into a piece of dough. If this doesn't work, the doctor can hide the syringe behind a piece of bread, and if the buffalo opens its mouth, the doctor quickly sticks the syringe into the mouth and fires! Horses are sometimes tied together at their feet so that they can't aim for their well doers. Most cows hold still if they are held firmly by their tongue.

The question arises: what makes this work worth the risk? The sight of some of the cows gives quick answers: Their bodies are polluted with hundreds of worms of which a single one can cost the animal half a milliliter of blood per day.
 
But the much more troubling problem is the spreading characteristic of the parasite: The animals' droppings diffuse into the soil where the worms and their offspring don't stay but spread into the water and rivers. These go down the hills where they eventually go into the big rivers that are used by people. Since worms are also contagious to humans, they often end up with the same disease as cattle, sheep, and goat. Thus the veterinarian's effort up in the mountains has its lasting effects down in the valley.

The animals are not the only ones that need to be convinced of the good that the medicine does. The friendly and hospitable owners of the cattle and goats often show a skeptic attitude toward the medicine that is supposed to help their livestock. The excuse of suspicion that the veterinarian hears the most is, "The cows are pregnant. If you treat them, they will abort." Sometime it takes some words of convincement, and sometimes the villagers cannot be won. But every now and then a strong-willed man, who first refused to take any treatment for his animals, quickly runs some time later to get his own cattle, after seeing all the other habitants bringing their cows, goats, and buffaloes.

It is very important that treatment for these animals is provided. And since most nomads live in poor conditions, it is a great blessing that people with a heart for relieve of distress invest in programs like the one of the veterinarian. Often the thankfulness of the receiving people can be read in their facial and material expression. At the end of that one day, we were offered a piece of homemade cheese that they urged us to take with us. On our way back to the car, we were followed by a great crowd of villagers who decided to walk the way to our car with us. And when it started to rain, they offered us their sweaters and coats to protect ourselves from the rain. What a great opportunity to share God's love!

-Written by Pauli G.