Wildlife & Biodiversity

COVID-19 lockdown and the impact on camels in Rajasthan

Camel herders face problems in getting care for their animals because of the nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

By Aastha Maggu
Published: Monday 08 June 2020
Camels infected with mange at Karanpura village in Bikaner district Photo credits: Suraj Singh / Desert Resource Centre

Camel herders across Rajasthan face several problems due to the nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19): They are unable to get proper veterinary care, forage and water for their animals.

The response of the Rajasthan government has been sluggish in giving care. Officials were ordered not to conduct animal health camps in the state, according to a circular released by the state government’s animal husbandry department on April 19, 2020.

Sarcoptic mange — an extremely contagious skin disease — rapidly spreads among camels in the region. Due to restricted movement of locals and veterinary department officials, it has become difficult to procure vaccinations and tend to the diseased animals.

The severity and number of mange cases decrease during the summer. With the current lockdown, however, the timely procurement of vaccinations and treatment remains a significant challenge to counter this disease.

Camel herders across the district have complained about the poor availability of vaccinations in the market and the inability of the government to provide them.

Poor last-mile care connectivity threatens their well-being as well. The population level of the desert animal witnessed a sharp decline of 37.1 per cent, compared to the previous census in 2012, according to the 20th Livestock Census in 2019.

The desert state is home to 213,000 camels or, 86 per cent of the countrywide camel population. Their population is concentrated primarily in Bikaner, Jaisalmer and Jodhpur districts. Efforts to address declining numbers by the state government remain inconsistent as well, despite the camel being declared the official state animal in 2014. 

Achala Ram from Charanwala village in Bikaner district has a herd of 70 camels. His village is in the most remote part of the desert, around 45 kilometres off the India-Pakistan border. Ram said it was a hurdle for him to access good veterinary services for his herd.

Sarcoptic mange — an extremely contagious skin disease — rapidly spreads among camels in the region Photo credits: Suraj Singh / Desert Resource Centre

Mauj Ali, a camel herder from Motasar village in Bikaner, whose trained camels featured in a television advertisement and perform in several community fairs, said he urgently needed to vaccinate his herd as well.

“The camels were supposed to perform in the Balotra fair in Barmer district. The state-wide ban made us cancel our performance last minute. It is getting challenging for us herders to take care of our camels,” he said.

Non-profit Urmul Trust in Bikaner leads efforts through the Camel Partnership, an initiative that attempts to address gaps in input services and sensitise stakeholders to address the needs of the camels.

Vinod Jangir who coordinates on-ground activities in Bikaner and Jodhpur for Camel Partnership, said they were in constant touch with camel herders. “They (herders) find it difficult to procure vaccines. In the last two weeks, we ensured close to 2,000 diseased camels got them in the two districts,” he said.

The government needs to consider alternate measures, including organising mobile veterinary camps to urgently treat diseased camels. This will ensure the safety of state officials and locals is not compromised, while camels receive treatment.

In these difficult times, the survival of the camels and their herders hangs by a thread. Only prompt state action can ensure the concerns of the ‘ship of the desert’ are addressed.

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