When the government started the Nabji – Korphu eco-tourism trail a few years ago, locals residing along the trail found in horses a source of quick cash inflow.
The trail became popular with tourists and farmers grabbed the new opportunity with both hands. However, with many horses falling victim to what villagers suspect to be a strange disease in the last 2 years, locals are worried sick.
“My 2 mules died last year, causing me a loss of Nu 30,000,” said Pema Gyeltshen from Korphu. Pema Geltshen, a father of 5 school – going children, ferries loads from Reutala, the nearest road head to his village.
“With the opening of Nabji – Korphu eco-tourism trail, horses become an important source of income to us,” he said, adding that, given the remoteness of the place, horses were the only means of transport.
In Korphu, almost all the 186 households own about 2 to 3 horses each. With numerous reports of horses dying, villagers are anxious.
“Last year alone, Korphu lost about 30 horses,” said a 66-year-old resident, Yuden.
Villagers say that about 20 horses died in 2008 in Nabji and at least 6 died in Nimzhong village. They say that horses do not survive even a day if they have the disease. A tshogpa from Nabji village, Dorji, lost his 3 horses, one by one, to the fell disease. “I lost about Nu 36,000,” he said.
Villagers said that they informed their gewog RNR extension officer, but not much changed. The dzongkhag livestock officer in Trongsa, Dorji Gyeltshen, said that they were aware of the problem and doing everything possible.
The livestock officer said that the regional veterinary laboratory, dzongkhag livestock sector, and RNR research centre in Bumthang had been studying the problem for the last 6 to 7 years. “The horses are dying because they are consuming epotorium, a plant found in plenty on the way to the villages,” he said. Officials said that epotorium did not have any immediate reaction, but affected the animal 2 to 3 years after its consumption. “There is no cure; it’s like a cancer,” said an official.
Only by eradicating the plant can the death of the animals be avoided, but it is going to be impossible as the plant is a fast growing species.
However, farmers were advised to close the mouth of the horse while travelling to prevent them from eating the plant.
Meanwhile, the national horse breeding centre and dzongkhag distributed about 9 Spiti breed horses to the farmers on a promotional and trial basis. Spitis are a short bodied, hardy and surefooted breed, known to thrive under adverse conditions of scarcity of food, low temperature and long journeys. “If these horses survive, people will be encouraged to buy the breed at a subsidised rate,” the livestock officer said.