Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

In Pilibhit, as in most districts of the Tarai, a large number of vehicles are still horse drawn. This is not just true of this area, but over most northern states. There are horses being used in Delhi as well – even though we have had them banned from most parts of the city.

I have a People For Animals hospital in Bareilly, and not a day passes when my team does not get a call from all the neighbouring districts to pick up a horse which has been in an accident, broken its leg because of the unevenness of the dreadful village roads, or has simply been abandoned because it collapsed from general weakness and an overload of passengers. Many horses lose their hooves because they are badly shod. Their feet swell and develop gangrene. Many horses have the dreaded disease glanders and are undiagnosed and untreated till they fall and die.

Some horses have bruised eyes from the constant hitting, and swollen legs from nails that make holes in their hooves and go right into the bone. Health assessment reports, done for PETA by a team of government veterinarians from the Maharashtra Department of Animal Husbandry on local working horses, found that they were all suffering from malnourishment, wounds all over their bodies, inflamed tendons, ligaments and joints. The veterinarians stated that if the horses were put to work again, their painful ailments would likely worsen to the point of permanent disability. A field clinic, done by Welttierschutzgesellschaft e.V.  and IPAN in Ooty, showed 350 horses suffering from traumatic injuries and hoof problems caused by poor hoof trimming or incorrect shoeing.

Many equines at blood-extracting facilities suffer from anaemia, as well as untreated wounds, diseased hooves, malnourishment, infections, parasites, swollen limbs, lameness, and eye abnormalities.

No horses are kept by their owners in any covered area. In Pilibhit I see them tied to stakes at the edge of roads. They have no way to protect themselves from the burning heat of the sun, heavy rainfall or the extreme cold of winter. They get no fresh water, and their food comes in a bag tied round their neck, which they can eat between passenger stops. 

The risk of traffic accidents is huge. The search for fresh grass also poses deadly dangers for the animals. Horses need to spend upto 18 hours a day eating. The subsequent chewing of the food contributes to their well-being. But, since they are rarely let free from work, they have no time to eat or forage, and end up near overflowing rubbish. By eating food scraps found in the rubbish bins, they also consume plastic parts which, over time, form an indigestible plastic lump in the stomach, ending up with intestinal obstruction and intestinal perforation.

Many of the horses are impregnated forcibly. The mother and foal don’t stay very long together, as the foal is sold.

If the horse is white and female she is used for the most hellish purpose: the Indian marriage baraat. The violently loud music, the screaming and dancing crowd, the muzzle on her face, the hours of walking and waiting, the chomping on an iron bit that breaks her teeth… imagine the fear and pain that the horse goes through. Many horses are so traumatized that they bite their tongues and cannot chew food for weeks after that.

No horses get any medical help. Not only are the government veterinarians untrained in horses (or any other animal) but all the local veterinary clinics have no equipment or medicine. They do practically nothing. If you want to wish for a job which pays excellently and in which you have to do nothing, pray to be a government vet in India.

So how do we solve this problem ?

India has about 12 lakh working horses and mules. They are overworked, underfed, underwatered and never treated for any ailments. It is about time we regulated this. I made the laws on how many people could sit on a horse drawn cart, thirty years ago. They have been completely ignored by the local police and administrative departments. Technically, not more than 4 people can sit. But I have never seen less than 15.

What is needed is a regulatory regime that brings in money. That money can be spent on shoring horses properly, giving them a regular check up with deworming and anti-tetanus injections. Farriers can be trained in proper hoof care. I have suggested to the DM of Pilibhit that he make it compulsory for every horse owner to register his horse, and the registration is to be renewed annually. He will have to pay some money, and this will be used to give the horse a complete checkup and the necessary medicines, including shoeing the animal. Unlicenced horses will be confiscated. If the horses of an owner die too soon, he can be banned from keeping more horses.

This will achieve a minimum level of care for the animals and make the owner responsible. It will bring some money to the administration of each district’s veterinary hospital and hopefully, it will act as a deterrent for keeping/using horses. I hope to see this practice complete during my lifetime.

The first horse emerged from the depth of the ocean during the churning of the ocean. Called Ichchaihshravas, the winged horse was taken by Indra to Svarga. His descendants were wingless and were sent to earth. One of the famous avataras of Vishu is Hayagriva, the horse headed, and he stands for Knowledge. How sad that his descendants have become such pathetic victims of man's cruelty. 

To join the animal welfare movement contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., www.peopleforanimalsindia. org

Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

While we all know that crows are very bright, few people know about the abilities and intelligence of the pigeon.

Pigeons can multitask – do more jobs at the same time – than humans. In an experiment by scientists at Ruhr-Universitat Bochum, test groups of humans and pigeons were trained to do jobs like pressing a keyboard once a light bulb came on. They were also put in situations wherein they'd need to stop working on one job and switch over to another. Humans and pigeons switched between jobs at the same speed. In the tests, where the subjects had to wait one second before switching jobs, pigeons were much quicker.

A 2015 study revealed that pigeons can identify cancer and distinguish between malignant and benign growths. Researchers at University of California, Davis Medical Center, put pigeons in a room with magnified biopsies of potential breast cancers. If the pigeons correctly identified them as either benign or malignant, they got a treat. According to Scientific American, "Once trained, the pigeons' average diagnostic accuracy reached an impressive 85 percent. But when a "flock sourcing" approach was taken, in which the most common answer among all subjects was used, group accuracy climbed to a staggering 99 percent, or what would be expected from a pathologist. The pigeons were also able to apply their knowledge to novel images, showing that the findings weren't simply a result of rote memorization."

They ride the metro to get to their feeding stations, getting off at the same place every day. Which means they can count, remember fellow passengers and where they get off and landmarks.

They recognize people who are nice to them and avoid people who are mean, according to an experiment done in Paris in 2011.  Researchers of a similar age, build and colour either scared pigeons away or gave them food.  They repeated this for several days. The pigeons knew the feeder from the chaser—even when they swapped outfits—and would flock or run away accordingly. The study team led by Dr Dalila concluded: "The fact, that the pigeons appeared to know that clothing colour was not a good way of telling humans apart, suggests that the birds have developed abilities to discriminate between humans in particular.

Pigeons have extraordinary vision and can distinguish between nearly identical shades of colour.

They can also read the alphabet, if taught. In a 2016 study, scientists showed that pigeons can differentiate between strings of letters and actual words. Four of the birds built up a vocabulary of between 26 and 58 written English words. The birds could even identify words they hadn't seen before.

They understand abstract mathematical concepts, differentiate between number-like objects, order pairs, and accurately judge amounts – an ability that they share with only rhesus monkeys.

In the 1950s, psychologist B.F Skinner taught his pigeons to play ping pong – a game that requires a great deal of spatial understanding and dexterity. In 2017 a research published in Current Biology showed that pigeons understood the concepts of space and time.

Japanese psychologist Shigeru Watanabe and two colleagues trained pigeons in 1995 to recognize the paintings of Claude Monet and Pablo Picasso and distinguish between the painters. The pigeons were even able to use their knowledge of impressionism and cubism to identify paintings of other artists in those movements and watercolor paintings from pastels. In a 2009 experiment, pigeons were shown almost two dozen paintings made by students at a Tokyo elementary school, and were taught which ones were considered "good" and which ones were considered "bad." He then presented them with 10 new paintings and the avian critics managed to correctly guess which ones had earned bad grades from the school's teacher and a panel of adults. Like humans, pigeons categorise on the basis of colour, texture and general appearance. Pigeons can differentiate between photographs and even two different human beings in a single photograph.

Pigeons have been found to pass the ‘mirror test’, the ability to recognise their own reflection in a mirror. The pigeon is one of only 6 species, and the only non-mammal, to have this ability.

They are very good parents. They share equally in the nesting duty, dividing the responsibility of incubating their eggs to give the other a chance to eat and rest. You will never see a baby pigeon, because  pigeon parents keep their children in their well-hidden nests until their young reach near-maturity. The pigeon parents only reveal their babies to the world once they practically look like adults. They mate for life and it’s a love that endures. If one is sick, the other will wait by her in public, no matter what the danger to its life.

These swift and smart birds are blessed with navigational expertise, have an exceptional memory for topographical details and excellent hearing and vision. When they come down to eat at places where people leave food they don’t push and shove each other. You never see them fight. They eat in harmony and everyone gets something. Apart from impressive acrobatics to avoid being eaten, pigeons also do backflips in the air just for fun !

Charles Darwin was fascinated by their intelligence. He kept them as pets, joined pigeon clubs and wrote about them extensively.

Today they survive in tough cities, endure being starved and killed by ignorant and vicious municipal corporations, persecuted and crippled by passersby and traffic. They carry on wanting to live with humans with a grim persistence. They eat the rubbish we throw and the chasing of our children, the kicks and the blows. And still they come forth to make friends. They could find their way in the countryside – like most birds who have abandoned our urban areas – but they choose to stay.

Left to me I would make them the mascots of the city. Feed them. They represent your soul; bewildered and yet resilient.

To join the animal welfare movement contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., www.peopleforanimalsindia.org

Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

We select one disease to be mortally afraid of – and ignore all the diseases that we should be scared of.

One of these is bovine tuberculosis.

Bovine tuberculosis (bTB) is a disease of cattle that is a major public health threat. It is transmitted within herds by inhalation of infected aerosol droplets from infected cattle.

Despite the considerable economic costs, and zoonotic risk, India still does not have any accurate estimates. No surveillance, no checking systems and absolutely no national disease control programmes. Not even the education of farmers.  In fact, India has the poorest veterinary system in the world. It is one of the few countries left where the disease is considered endemic.

A metastudy, which included 44 different research articles, called Prevalence of Bovine Tuberculosis in India: A systematic review and meta‐analysis, done by Srinivasan, Easterling, Rimal, Maggie, Niu, Conlan, Dudas, Kapur, published in June 2018,  reveals that there are about 21.8 million infected cows and buffaloes in India, more than the total number of dairy cows in the USA.

Bovine tuberculosis (bTB) is caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium bovis. While it mainly affects cattle, the bacteria affects a large number of species, and it has been estimated that M. bovis causes 10%  or more of the total human TB cases in India and poses a significant threat to global health (Olea‐Popelka et al., 2014). Bovine tuberculosis is strongly zoonotic (spreading from animals to humans) and causes tuberculosis in humans.

To remove tuberculosis from humans will require removing bTB from cattle simultaneously.

A government survey done in 2018 showed 2.690 million cases of tuberculosis, 199 people per lakh in India. Mortality is 32 people per lakh - a million times more than the “pandemic” corona virus. India has the highest number of sufferers in the world, with 2.8 million cases annually, more than a quarter of the tuberculosis patients all over the world. Much, much, worse is the fact that India has the largest burden of multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis among all countries, with almost 150,000 cases every year.

Much of this is from drinking milk, eating milk products and eating beef. The bacterium, Mycobacterium bovis, survives 1-8 weeks in cattle faeces, so anyone handling gobar is at risk.

Pasteurization kills the bacteria but is your milk pasteurized ? Forget the consumer, when the dairy owner is physically taking out the milk from the animal, he stands a strong risk of getting bTB . When we surveyed the Idgah slaughterhouse, which I shut down 30 years ago, most of the butchers had bTB, getting it from the infected meat. It is as prevalent today among dairy workers and butchers. Their spit and perspiration on the meat, gives it to you.

Do you know where your milk came from? If you were to get bTB today would the government know where to trace the milk back to ? Are there any records of dairies kept by the local district Chief Veterinary Officer ?  We are told that pasteurization kills the bTB bacteria. But most people in small towns (70% of India according to FAO/OIE/WHO, 1993) get their milk unpasteurized  from the dairy next door – the man who keeps a few cows in a makeshift shed and allows them to roam around and eat garbage the whole day so he doesn’t have to feed them. He has no licence, no parameters, no government controls. The milk that is bought from him is simply boiled by you – killing no tuberculous bacteria. No mithai seller uses pasteurized milk (if he uses real milk at all). He gets his milk from a small unregistered dairy.

Before pasteurization was made compulsory in western countries a century ago, M. bovis accounted for 25% of all TB cases in children (Roswurm & Ranney, 1973). But it is not compulsory in India. So, how many lakh Indian children have it ? All studies say that the disease is going to increase in the coming years due to the growing intensification of dairy and cattle grown for export. For instance, cattle herds in Puri, Odisha have increased in bTB from 9.1% to 84.7% (Dhanda and Lall).

We have 300 million cows and buffaloes, the largest population of cattle in the world (Basic Animal Husbandry and Fisheries Statistics, Government of India, 2017). We have the largest beef export. Therefore, we have the potential to infect the whole world with  bTB.

The Metastudy looked at 1941 to 2016. Gaushalas, organized and unorganized dairies, semen stations and slaughterhouses. Indigenous, crossbred and exotic breeds. Crossbred cows had marginally the highest prevalence, and cows had marginally more than buffaloes. Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Gujarat and Bihar have the highest number of diseased cattle. Maharashtra marginally less. But it exists all over India.

Animals are more likely to be infected by M. bovis when they are poorly nourished or under stress. There is evidence that intensive dairy farms have a higher risk of infection. The bacteria is spread by infectious animals - in their breath, milk, open lesions, saliva, urine or droppings. In cattle, excretion of M. bovis begins around 87 days after infection occurs. It spreads from cows to calves via the milk.

What are the symptoms in cattle ? In the early stages of TB, clinical signs are not visible. In the later stages, clinical signs may include: sluggishness, emaciation, lethargy, weakness, anorexia, low-grade fever, and pneumonia with a soft chronic, moist cough and a chest wheeze. The lymph nodes may be enlarged. If the animal is killed for its meat in an early stage of TB, the microscopic lesions will be missed – that is, if someone is looking. No slaughterhouses in India have even the most basic TB skin test.

Cattle need to be isolated and treated with a combination of antibiotics for 6-12 months. But who will do this ? In the unlikely event that the cattle are tested for bTB, which dairyman will spend money on their treatment. It is too expensive and too long. He is more likely to keep taking the milk and then, as they grow sicker and the milk dries up, he will sell them for meat. The meat is sold with no warning to processors or consumers that it comes from TB infected cattle.

In India meat is sold from unregistered filthy shops. Here is a report from England : “Tens of thousands of diseased cattle, slaughtered after testing positive for bovine tuberculosis (bTB), are being sold for human consumption by Defra, the food and farming ministry,” reported The Sunday Times in 2013.Following an investigation, the paper says, it found that the meat is being sold to caterers and food processors by the government’s Food and Agriculture Department, despite being banned by most supermarkets and burger chains.

Tuberculosis is often fatal. It is a long-lasting disease that cripples through emaciation, coughing, abdominal infections, enlarged lymph nodes and general bad health. The name, Tuberculosis, comes from the nodules, called ‘tubercles’, which form in the lymph nodes of affected animals and people. M. Bovis causes the same problems as M. Tuberculosis – except that it is even more resistant to drugs. Not everyone exposed to the Mycobacterium bovis bacterium will develop symptoms. If symptoms of bovine TB occur, they can include: fever, night sweats, persistent cough, diarrhoea, weight loss and abdominal pain. According to WHO, about 143,000 people die of M. Bovis annually. Corona virus with 10,000 deaths has frightened us. This is so much bigger.

The BCg vaccine, invented in the 1920s by Calmette and Guerin, had proved to be ineffective. It reduces the severity of the disease but does not prevent infection. Cattle that are vaccinated with the BCG vaccine, which contains a harmless strain of the bovine TB pathogen Mycobacterium bovis, make it impossible to distinguish, with the skin test, if the animal has TB or has simply been vaccinated. The vaccine is banned in most countries.

This is what the study says :

“bTB has a high and widespread prevalence in India as no national control strategies have been implemented in the country. These data suggest that India, as the world's largest producer of milk accounting for 18.5% of the world's total milk production and the world's largest red meat exporter, has an urgent and as yet unmet need for control of bTB for both economic and public health reasons.”

The study recommends :  a national surveillance programme using a single, well‐standardized skin test performed by independent, well trained operators using approved protocols and well‐standardized tuberculin antigen.( Even the diagnostic tests we have are rubbish. Experts who have tested the quality, origin and source of tuberculin say they vary in performance, are often inaccurate and are not standardized at all(Bakker et al., 2005)) ; a much better vaccine than the current Bcg.

Is the government going to do this ? No. So human tuberculosis in India will not slow down, inspite of our signing the World Health Assembly protocol in May 2014 to end the global TB epidemic by 2035. Any attempt to eradicate the disease from humans without eradicating it from cattle is futile. 

You need to protect yourself. Don’t drink milk or any dairy based product and don’t eat meat.