We arrived early in the morning in Yeshwanth Cattle Camp, one of three locations where WSPA is helping 9,000 animals. As we neared, I could hear the soft tinkling sound of bells many buffalo and cows were wearing.
Some camp residents were already caring for their animal companions, pouring out buckets of chopped sugarcane, their main source of fodder. Some were rolling up their bed mats and shaking off sleep. They’re living in the camp like the young boy Gyaneshwar we met the other day. Camps range in size from 500 to 3000 cattle and buffalo, there were about 2800 animals today.
Twenty-two year old camp resident Vijay is from Palwan Village a two-kilometre walk. Others like Krishna Bharat Katkar, 18 years old, come from Kahapar Panjar village, seven kilometres away. Krishna has been living here for fifteen days along with his family, which includes his parents, six buffalo, two bulls, five calves and their two-year old dog Major.
They live in long rows, roughly corresponding to their home villages, recreating in miniature parts of the Beed district. Kisan Maske, 21, is also from Palwan and is here with his ten cattle and buffalo. He’s a student and aspires to be a government official one day. Incredibly, he manages to care for his animals and study for his ongoing computer science university exams, while living in extremely basic conditions. He said his father takes his place when he needs to go to class or write exams.
Kisan and others we met at the camp showed us the makeshift shelters they’d built for their animals. This week, WSPA is working with the Beed Veterinary Hospital, the Department of Animal Husbandry and local volunteers to deliver nets that will block 90% of the sunlight for the people and animals living here. Sugarcane feed, while rich in vitamin A and high in water content does not have the minerals the animals need. So, we’re also providing mineral supplements to keep them healthy.
Kisan was great fun to talk with. He tried to teach me some of the sounds people make to communicate with their animals and laughed when I couldn’t quite reproduce them. One of his cows 'speaks' Marathi. She's a beautiful seven-year old named ‘Manthan’ who comes running when you call her name.
Meeting Kisan, Krishna and Vijay, I thought again of the many lives this drought is affecting and how much we need to help these people and animals cope with living daily in harsh sun and with few comforts.