Animals are feeling the heat of drought, absence of grazing lands

There is a survival threat for animals in Madurai district if the 19th Livestock Population Census is any indication.

The provisional animal census report which was compiled last month by the Department of Animal Husbandry reveals that there has been a sharp decline in the population of major animals such as white cattle, buffaloes, sheep, goats and dogs.

A comparison of the 18th Livestock Census conducted in 2007 and the 19th Livestock Population report of 2012 indicates that the animals in the district are feeling the heat of drought conditions and the absence of grazing lands.

As per the 18th census, the Madurai district had a total white cattle population of 3,48,514.

This number has come down to 2,20,073 as per the provisional report of the 19th livestock census.

The number of buffaloes in the district, which was 6,205 in the 18th census, has reduced to 4,006 in the 19th census.

“Livestock census is taken up once in five years. For the 19th livestock census, the enumeration was done for a couple of months from September last year. After the compilation of data, the provisional report was released recently,” P. Rajasekaran, Joint Director of Animal Husbandry, told The Hindu on Tuesday.

What is more worrisome is the dwindling sheep population. In 2007, the district had 4,38,276 sheep, whereas the number has shrunk to just 1,77,115 this year.

Same is the trend with goat population, which has come down to 2,87,763 in the 19th census from a whopping 5,12,405 during the previous enumeration.

Dog census also reveals a declining trend. While the 18th census said the district had 49,542 dogs, this number has now shrunk by more than a half to 22,935.

Veterinary experts attribute this to the increased animal birth control and sterilisation campaign carried out by civic authorities to bring down stray dog population.

The falling trend has not spared poultry as well. As per the 18th census, the number of poultry was 10,61,670 while it has marginally fallen to 9,57,661 this year.

“These days, farmers are not interested in rearing native breeds, especially buffaloes, as they require plenty of water and grass. As these two are scarce here, naturally the number will be coming down,” says Dr.V. Palanichamy, professor, Veterinary University Training and Research Centre, Madurai. He points out that farm mechanisation is another prime reason for the fall in the cattle population.

Other animals covered in the 18th census of Madurai district include pigs (4,261), rabbits (171), horses (19) and donkeys (116). Their numbers in the 19th census are being worked out.

Dr.Rajasekaran explains that the drought in the last two years had a negative impact on agriculture and allied activities besides animal population.

“Despite the falling number of milch animals, milk yield in our district has not come down as farmers had switched over to high-yielding cross-bred cattle,” he says.

The Animal Husbandry Department is implementing several State government schemes such as Accelerated Fodder Development Programme, Drought Mitigation Scheme, Scheme for Poultry Development, and supplying hybrid varieties to farmers. Dr.K. Vairavasamy, veterinary assistant surgeon at Government Poly Clinic in the city, says protecting animals from diseases has been taken up in full swing and the awareness level among the farmers is high these days. “Our department is proactive in preserving the native breeds. The breeding centre at Saidapet in Chennai is doing a tremendous work,” he explains.

The livestock survey was carried out in all the 13 blocks, Corporation and three municipalities – Melur, Usilampatti and Tirumangalam.

A statistical wing officer in the department here points out that one important reason for Madurai losing out substantial number of animals could be migration as the people of the cattle rearing community take their livestock to neighbouring districts in search of water, grass and fodder.

The department is closely monitoring the animal welfare activities through its network in the district, including one poly- clinic, three veterinary hospitals, 50 veterinary dispensaries, 72 veterinary sub-centres and one mobile unit.

Also, the district has a well-equipped Animal Disease Intelligence Unit to prevent outbreak of diseases, he says.

Dr.Vairavasamy exudes confidence that the extra push being given through State government schemes and close monitoring by the Collector will create favourable conditions for animals in the days to come.

“Our aim is to maintain the animal population if not increasing it. Schemes and subsidies given to farmers will yield good results,” he observes.

Along with large and small animals, the animal husbandry authorities are also focusing on Native Chicken Development Scheme.

If the district receives at least an average rainfall, then the train of problems faced by the animals will come to an end.

Till such time, there will be some dark clouds over their future.