27 February 2012

Karuna Society for Animals and Nature - The Plastic Cow Project

In this blog post, it is may aim to highlight an excellent initiative by the Karuna Society and its partners to try and ban the use of plastic bags due to its detrimental effects on wildlife and on the environment.  I have obtained prior permission from Mrs Romula D'Silva who is the Vice-President of the Karuna Society for Animals and Nature to use copyright protected text and photographs from the Karuna Society website for the purpose of this blog post.

A Collective Effort to Save the Indian Cow from Plastic
In India, one of the most striking images is the cow wandering on the road. In cities, towns and villages numerous cows and bulls sit or wander peacefully, settling down to chew the cud. It gives the impression of a society living together peacefully with animals. The holy cow, the Mother of India is revered by all and, in most states, is not allowed to be slaughtered.
This article is an account of an effort to rescue the Indian plastic cow.
What is The Plastic Cow?
India has an open garbage system, which means open garbage bins on the roads overflowing with stinking waste. Dogs, monkeys, pigs, rats and cows eat whatever they can find to survive. The numbers of stray dogs, rats and monkeys are equal to the amount of garbage on which they feed and multiply.
In cities and towns, large numbers of cows on the roads eat from garbage bins, foraging for fruit and vegetable leftovers, anything edible and smelling like food.
Since plastic bags have invaded our lives, almost all garbage and food waste is disposed in plastic bags. These bags spill out either on the road or from municipality dustbins. Since the plastic bags are knotted at the mouth, cows, unable to undo the knot, eat food leftovers including the plastic. Slowly, over time, they build up a huge amount of plastic inside their stomachs. It gets entangled with different materials and it becomes hard like cement inside their rumens, which is the first belly of the cow.
These cattle, owned or stray, often obstruct traffic and cause accidents. The municipality removes the animals from the road to be sent to go-downs, goshalas (shelters designed for cows), temples or they are simply dumped at the garbage landfills on the outskirts of the city. From there they "disappear" into trucks for transport to slaughter.
Background Information
There are many small “urban” dairy farms in cities and big towns. Dairy owners send their animals out on the road to forage for food as there is no green grass and little or no space to keep the animals at home. Still the owner milks his cows. These cows share the roads with abandoned calves, young and old bulls, old and dry cows. They scavenge between the garbage bins, the vegetable markets and hotels and finally end up on the municipality garbage landfills outside the town.
In places where there are cattle markets, there is one more “owner”. These owners (brokers) buy the animals from farmers or cattle markets for very little money. The new "owner" simply leaves them on the road to fend for themselves. They mark the animals as their property. Whenever it suits them and the animal “looks fat", they sell them off for a lot of money to an unsuspecting real farmer or for slaughter. When the farmer feeds the cow natural food and grass, the animal, having eaten garbage all its life, dies from indigestion and the farmer and the cow are both victims of a cruel and immoral practice.
The Holy Cow Reduced to a Dying Scavenger
There have been anti-plastic campaigns in India. At present there is a ban on plastic bags up to 40 microns in many states. But no one has focused on the hazardous effects of plastic on the animals and their right to live a life free of plastics. It is the basic right of the cow to live and graze on natural food and not have to eat garbage tied up in plastic bags. This is an acute form of cruelty. The noble cow has become a scavenger.
Karuna’s Involvement—Rumenotomy
Karuna Society for Animals & Nature is based at Puttaparthi, in Andhra Pradesh (South India), 70 Kms away from Anantapur. In December 2010, Karuna Society received 36 stray cattle from Anantapur town for permanent custody. Soon after their arrival one of the cows died. The post mortem conducted by our veterinary surgeon revealed that the animal’s rumen was full of plastic. After examination of all the animals, he advised us to start surgeries to remove plastics from their rumens to save their lives.
From the moment we received the “plastic cow” from Anantapur town, we realized that there are hundreds of cattle on the roads. They are sentenced to a slow and cruel death if they do not receive help in time. This is a cruelty most people are not aware of when they see the animals “peacefully” walking on the street. Think about big cities like Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai and Bangalore where tens of thousands of animals are walking around with their bellies full of plastic.
It has been a life changing experience for all of us who witnessed the surgery and the removal of plastics and other waste items from the rumen. We are horrified by the suffering of animals caused by the human garbage system and the problem of letting cows and bulls loose on the road.
The Unobserved Disaster—The Plastic Effect on Wildlife
Along India’s rivers, there are thousands of temples, villages and towns, where untreated sewage and garbage flows in the water. Hundreds of kilometers away, garbage and plastic are deposited at places where wildlife feeds and drinks. Many animals die a painful and unobserved death. An elephant was found dead with 750 kg plastic inside its stomach. Turtles, fish, birds, wild pigs—no animal can escape!!
Pradeep Nath from VSPCA (Visakha Society for Protection and Care of Animals), Vishakapatnam has for many years been involved in rescuing endangered turtles and other wildlife and his observation shows that many animals suffer from plastic ingestion or get entangled in plastic bags and suffocate to death.

Turtles are also victims.
Copyright protected photograph courtesy of the Karuna Society website.
Cows and bulls feed at the garbage dump. 
Copyright protected photograph courtesy of the Karuna Society website.
Birds are also victims. 
Copyright protected photograph courtesy of the Karuna Society website.

The Plastic Cow Project and the Team
We at Karuna, having realized that all cows on Indian roads are full of plastic, wrote an appeal on the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisation (FIAPO) network, to find ways to stop this cruelty. Philip Wollen responded immediately and he told us to continue the rumenotomies with the assurance that the Kindness Trust would fund 100 surgeries as a pilot project.
Soon after this, four people, seriously concerned about the ban of plastics and violation of animal rights, came together to form a team and launched the "Plastic Cow Project." It is a work in progress, with multiple strategies being devised to end this problem. The 'plastic cow' represents an icon for all animals exposed to the human garbage system.
For purposes of strategy, the team consists of people with different skills:
Clementien Pauws – President of Karuna Society, is directly involved with animals and lives in Puttaparthi, Andhra Pradesh. www.karunasociety.org
Pradeep Nath – President of VSPCA in Vishakapatnam in Andhra Pradesh. He has direct contact with animals especially cows and endangered marine animals. www.vspca.org
Philip Wollen - Kindness Trust, Australia. Not only did Phillip Wollen fund the 100 rumenotomies, he is also taking financial responsibility for the production of the documentary and the litigation. http://www.kindnesstrust.com/
Rukmini Sekhar - Writer, social/animal activist, is involved with the concept and strategy of the campaign. (Delhi) ruki.sekhar@gmail.com
The Campaign
Team “Plastic Cow” is creating an organic campaign plan which consists of:
- A Documentary to show the reality of the Plastic Cow with inputs from activists, toxicologists, government authorities, householders, students, journalists, etc. A smaller child-friendly version is also being prepared.
- An Audio-Visual Presentation which contains data and facts about the problem.
- Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Supreme Court of India, which will be filed as a case which advocates the rights of animals and the ban of plastic bags - the ingestion of which amounts to cruelty to animals and even a painful death.
- Outreach Program to create awareness. This is envisaged as a nationwide focused awareness campaign using materials and intensive interactions at all levels of society – government, householders, children, animal organizations, media, religious groups, restaurants, etc. This outreach program will be ongoing and take as many years as it does to see a visible change.
How you can help - Do not use plastic bags, use cloth or paper bags. Tell your friends about the hazardous impact of plastic, ask them to stop using plastic bags and refuse plastic bags from vendors. Practice the 3 R's:
For more information please visit our website www.karunasociety.org or email us at karunasociety@gmail.com

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