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Equine influenza at Matheran- IDA India saved 400 horses & ponies

Report by Dr. P. M. Bhosale, Neral Centre & Dr. Amit Sharma

In Defense of Animals India has been working for the welfare of working horses at Matheran for past 3 years. In the first week of October, a couple of cases were presented for respiratory problem and high temperature. Attributing it to change in climate, they were treated accordingly. But soon more and more cases presented with similar symptoms and antipyretic medicines had only temporary effect to control the pyrexia. The guardians were perplexed and puzzled with the severity and intensity of disease and thought as if its God's wrath or bad omen. But the equine welfare team sensed something serious and realized that Tsunami of equine influenza is about to come which may engulf all the horses and ponies over there. Immediately vet from Mumbai rushed in and they camped at Matheran, started treating all the animals with severe symptoms and kept looking for those with mild symptoms.

Since it was an outbreak of equine influenza, the equine welfare team adopted 4 pronged strategy:

  1. Providing treatment to already infected animals
  2. Isolation of affected animals
  3. Counseling of guardians
  4. Coordinating with other stakeholders.

The The equine welfare team of IDA India worked from dawn till late night so that all the animals could be attended. Parallel to this, they started counseling the guardians about preventive measures to be taken. All the movement of horses in and out of Matheran was restricted to avoid spreading of disease to virgin territories. Guardians were asked to provide adequate rest to animals till full recovery and isolation of affected animals from the healthy ones. Their persistent efforts, dedication and promptness to deal with the outbreak resulted in zero mortality and minimal suffering. All the guardians were happy and surprised by the dedication of team when they continue treatment in the night under torch light and even in the light of mobile. Meanwhile State Animal Husbandry Department, other equine welfare organizations, National Research Centre on Equines, private equine practitioners and RVC of army was also informed about the situation. Similar incidences have been reported in western U.P., in the polo horses and army horses. Serum samples were collected which are supposed to be dispatched by govt. vet to disease diagnosis lab.

Now IDA India focused on consolidating its efforts by involving other stakeholders. Therefore govt. vet was trained and involved in treatment. Meetings were held with union leader of horse guardians association who extended their full support. The IDA India team also identified a local person and trained him on diagnosis of early symptoms of equine influenza. This person serves as advocate of IDA India at Matheran who will examine horses/ponies and inform the vet immediately if he suspects any new case.. Simultaneously being a local person, he will advise the guardians on preventive husbandry practices.

Future action plan of IDA India:

In order to avert any similar condition and minimize the impact of outbreak, In Defence of Animals has adopted following action plan:

  1. Forming an Emergency Response Team (ERT). The team will be headed by a vet and supported by advocates located at different catchment area. The advocates will keep a vigil for similar symptoms and keep informing the team.
  2. Capacity building of govt. vet on equine management and disease diagnosis so that their services could also be utilized during emergency.
  3. Co-ordinating and Collaborating with all stakeholders so that common strategy could be adopted and information be shared.
  4. Training of guardians and handlers.
  5. Raising awareness to quarantine newly purchased animals for 21 days before mixing them with local animals. This will help in identification of carriers.

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