Along with the formulation of comprehensive regulations to facilitate the exercise of animal welfare, organisations working for animal welfare should also be recognised and promoted. Awareness among public about the issue is also a must
Animal welfare has still a long way to go in a country like Nepal, where we are still struggling to provide quality life to people. Many may feel that animal welfare is a luxury of the developed countries where the need of the people is easily met. However, most of the developing countries are currently being pressurised to harmonise international standards of animal welfare and improve the well-being of animals. Further, as we are using animals for our own benefit, it is unethical not to think about them and put aside these issues on the ground of reasons such as poverty and limited resources among others.
According to the data of the Kathmandu Animal Treatment (KAT) Centre and the Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC), Kathmandu alone has more than 22,000 stray dogs and 1,200 street cattle. The figure is huge, and sadly, no strong effort is being made to manage them. These stray animals face road accidents, gruesome behaviour from humans and adverse climatic conditions. They thrive on kitchen waste and garbage and at times tend to eat plastics, which can be deadly.
And then there are culture-, religion- and custom-related activities in which many animals and birds are sacrificed. During sacrifices these creatures go through unimaginable pain as they are killed in the most inhumane way.
Some animals are raised solely for the purpose of meeting humans’ food demand. Broilers and laying hens, which provide a major source of protein to most families, encounter unnatural housing conditions, including poor air quality, overdose of antibiotics and improper care. Chickens are sometimes even buried alive. Buffaloes, which serve us throughout their life by providing milk, are transported in very harsh conditions and are usually slaughtered inhumanely.
Draft animals like donkeys and horses are discarded when they get old and can serve no longer. They are then forced to live in pitiful conditions. Animals which are used for research are also not properly cared. Nor are they regulated by any animal ethics committee. As a matter of fact, many countries lack such ethical committees in most of the animal research institutions to review the protocols allowing animals for study. The use of animals for the overall benefit of a human being may be acceptable in a utilitarian society, but we need to give a thought also to whether well-being of animals is being compromised. Unfortunately, we have no comprehensive animal welfare legislation that brings animal care and handling under the law and protects animals.
The reasons behind poor animal welfare are multifaceted— misconception, limited resources and lack of honest animal ownership among others. Most of the street animals are the discarded lot.
Many people lack empathy for animals and fail to see them as living beings. Lack of proper regulation from the government in protecting these animals is not helping either.
Scientists no longer argue that animals go through a lot of pain and frustration during adverse circumstances. As a human being, it is our duty to become empathetic towards the voiceless creatures.
Stray animals are often considered a nuisance and branded as serious public health hazard. Majority of rabies cases in Nepal, indeed, are due to stray dogs which act as a reservoir for the virus that causes the disease. But by managing these stray dogs, cases of rabies can be substantially reduced.
Managing stray animals does not only mean animal welfare, it as a matter of fact can be beneficial for the wellbeing of humans as well. Various organizations, such as Himalayan Animal Rescue Trust (HART) and KAT Centre are working to control stray animals’ population. But there is a need of government interventions to make these works effective and bring drastic changes.
We also need animal welfare committee, within the capacity of government, which monitors animal welfare inside the farms throughout the country. Nowadays, most of the European countries are highly regarded for meeting good animal welfare standards. We can take these countries as a reference in developing our own standards for animal welfare.
Along with the formulation of comprehensive regulations to facilitate the exercise of animal welfare, organisations working for animal welfare should also be recognised and promoted. Raising awareness among people on issues related to animal welfare is also a must. Not many schools provide education on animal welfare. Schools lack curriculum on the related issues. As a first step, animal welfare science can be introduced in school/ college curriculum.
Nationwide survey on animal welfare standards should be conducted, as the data can help the government drive policies for animal welfare accordingly. With new and improvised welfare standards, there may be the possibility for trade of welfare-assured animal products to the developed countries.
Although the government has a major role on solving animal welfare issues, we as individuals also should realise our duties towards animals. Our small effort in understanding animals’ conditions can help them a lot. Mahatma Gandhi once said: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
Pokharel is doing research in animal science at University of Guelph, Canada
A version of this article appears in print on February 19, 2018 of The Himalayan Times.