Cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar in May 2008, causing nearly 85,000 human fatalities. It also destroyed large areas of the Ayeyarwady Delta region and wiped out an estimated 48 million animals, becoming the worst natural disaster in the country’s recorded history.
As one of the few international non-governmental organizations allowed to enter Myanmar in the weeks that followed, WSPA’s team of vets was always destined to make a huge difference to the worst hit communities.
But the conditions they found on arrival – little remaining infrastructure, scarce drinking water, ruins where veterinary facilities had stood – make the achievements of the Disaster Response and Assessment Team (DART) deployed from WSPA’s Asia office all the more remarkable.
WSPA’s initial assessment showed that dogs and other companion animals had weathered the storm relatively well, having been protected by their owners as they tried to shelter from the cyclone’s fury.
The same could not be said for working animals; over 50% in the Delta area had perished. The surviving cattle and buffalo – largely traumatized, stressed or wounded – were found to be vulnerable to life threatening diseases.
The clear animal welfare need, combined with the local reliance on cattle and buffalo to plow the fields and provide the rice harvest, focused WSPA’s efforts on working animals.
The generosity of WSPA supporters in response to our emergency Myanmar appeal meant the team were able to launch a large-scale, comprehensive animal welfare operation, working with Myanmar’s Livestock Breeding and Veterinary Department (LBVD).
In the first weeks of the recovery operation, the WSPA DART:
Set up and managed four Emergency Animal Health Centres with LBVD, assisted by Humane Society International; the team themselves treated over 530 animals – from cattle to cats – for wounds, pneumonia and other ailments
Vaccinated and controlled parasites on over 3,700 cattle and buffalo at the centers, protecting them from life-threatening blood infections and foot-and-mouth disease; further vaccinations were carried out in the field
Provided 120 tons of animal feed, distributed across the stricken area
Donated veterinary medicines to LBVD staff brought in from other parts of the country, and funded their travel
Held mobile clinics for animals in remote villages, taking expertise and equipment to the animals and communities that needed it most.
“When we arrived at a village to treat the animals it would be usual to see just five or six buffalo in the street. However, by the time we had the courteous cup of tea with the village elders, the road would be lined with buffalo, cattle, and excited farmers.
There would also be pigs presented by wide-eyed children, goats just as curious as their owners, and the occasional injured dog.
The farmers knew their own buffalo like the back of their hand. They knew when the animal was unwell, and provided very accurate clinical signs and histories for us during the examination, while giving it a comforting rub along the neck.
I’m not sure they exactly understood our explanation of different diagnoses, given through our translators, but they knew that we had treated the animals with medications, de-wormers and multivitamins, and that their buffalo would soon be getting better.
The farmers knew that the backbone of their community were now protected against fatal or crippling diseases.”