Gangtey-Phobjikha, once hidden and cut away from the other district is continually experiencing massive challenges with the population of stray animals, including cattle, horses, and dogs, rising in the communities.
A common sight of hundreds of stray animals including over 200 stray dogs in almost every part of the villages, particularly in the winter roosting ground of the crane, tells how deep and widespread the problem is.
Distraught farmers say there is a continuous increase in the number of stray animals because of the breeding of stray dogs and the abandoning of unwanted cattle. They say a strong intervention from the government has become urgent for their communities.
Most recently, a living calf was reportedly attacked by vultures near the Phobji Gewog office. Local people claim it was rescued (Tsethar) cattle set free to roam in their village.
Gangtey Gewog Gup Kinley Gyeltshen said that the stray cattle have recorded a rise in their number in recent years. “Freeing the rescued animals in our place has been rising in recent years,” he said.
On reasons for the increase, local leaders say people from other dzongkhags are abandoning the unproductive cattle and bringing them to release into Gangtey-Phobjikha village.
“Rescued animals do not get proper feeding and become weak thus falling easy prey to the stray dogs and even to the vultures,” he continued, adding that it is attracting more predators and poses a threat to the community.
The stray cattle include cows, bulls, or calves that are abandoned because they are unproductive including horses, mostly owned by Gasaps and Punaps, set free to roam in the open environment for summer pasture.
Given the complexity of the problem, Gup said, the Gangtey and Phobji gewogs have already submitted the stray animal-related issues to the dzongkhag and requested to look into the matter.
“It is a long-standing issue that was discussed several times since the second government tenure and we are still talking about the same issue,” he said. “We will take this issue seriously and try to address it at the earliest.”
Further, he said, there is also a high risk of threat to the Black-necked cranes as their winter roosting ground turned into competitive grazing land, not only for stray cattle and horses, reducing the stock density of the pasture.
The two gewogs have learned that the Lunaps who were in Punakha during the recent lockdown have released their horses at Lawala – the entrance to Gangtey-Phobjikha – after requesting a special movement permit from the Punakha Dzongkhag Covid-19 Taskforce.
Even though there have been multiple interventions from the dzongkhag administration, the problem persists, according to the WangduePhodrang dzongkhag livestock officer Ugyen.
He said that people wanting to release their animals to these places require permission. “Following the Dzongkhag Tshogdu, we requested the Punakha and Gasa Dzongkhag on the requirement of ‘no objection letter’ from recipient gewogs before taking their animals,” he said.
He said that the people from these dzongkhags release their horses for summer pasture in Gangtey-Phobjikha, Khotokha, and Sephu. “They claim that they have the host people who look after their horses. But it is clear that this is not happening as they said,” he said.
Although rescuing animals is with good intentions, it is unfortunate that the conditions of these animals are becoming pathetic. “They become weak and getting killed brutally or dying and were eaten by stray dogs,” he said.
“When the stray animals die, there are no owners for the proper burying of the carcass,” he added. “Bones of the carcass left freely in the valley mostly along the river and stray dogs feeding on the easily available carcass of animals.”
In addition, Ugyen added stray dogs are preying on weak animals and become highly carnivores in food habits. He adds that the change in their food habit has resulted in the dogs not even feeding on leftover foods available for them.
To combat the stray dog issues in the Gangtey-Phobji communities, he said, efforts are underway to control the population of stray dogs in the communities.
Meanwhile, the livestock officer said they are encouraging and supporting the farmers to adopt high productive breeds to ensure a continuous improvement of farm animals and avoid abandoning them.