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February 3, 2011

HSI Responds to Floods in Sri Lanka

Humane Society International

  • Some animals remained in the open. Rahul Sehgal/HSI

  • A sweet calf. Rahul Sehgal/HSI

  • The team gets organized. Rahul Sehgal/HSI

  • A stray dog needed attention. Rahul Sehgal/HSI

  • Helping a cow. Rahul Sehgal/HSI

  • A man waited with his dog to be seen. Rahul Sehgal/HSI

  • Beautiful native wildlife. Rahul Sehgal/HSI

  • Penned cattle. Rahul Sehgal/HSI

  • The team checked on livestock. Rahul Sehgal/HSI

by Julie Hauserman

Humane Society International officials have just returned from a five-day trip into flood-damaged parts of Sri Lanka, where they donated emergency veterinary supplies and performed an assessment to make sure the needs of wildlife, companion animals and farm animals are being met during the crisis.

The threat of infectious disease outbreaks, along with reports of starving animals, were foremost in the minds of HSI’s India director Rahul Sehgal and HSI Head Veterinarian Dr. Sunil Chawla when they were asked by the Tsunami Animal-People Alliance (TAPA) to assist in the response. The HSI team joined the Disaster Animal Response Team (DART) in Sri Lanka, along with TAPA, the World Society for the Protection of Animals, and Sri Lankan government officials. Chawla, Sehgal, and the other team members spent long days touring the region, where more than a million people have been displaced.

Thankfully, despite dire conditions, no disease outbreaks have been reported among the animals that the local people depend upon for their livelihoods: free-roaming cattle, water buffalo and goat herds.

“It is always important to have an eyewitness account as soon as possible in these situations,” Sehgal said.

Many animals were washed out to sea in the floods. But other livestock, he said, remained “in the open, standing in stagnant water.”

Local farmers—who have endured decades of civil war—typically let their farm animals roam and graze freely on open grasslands and have no shelter or feed available. The DART team determined that sufficient grassland is available right now for the animals to forage on, Sehgal said. Fortunately, Sehgal added, a routine government vaccinations program held a few months ago seems to have prevented disease outbreaks.

HSI arrived with an emergency supply of antibiotics, de-worming medication, antiseptics and pain medications.

“We found that the government had absolutely no medication available for animals, apart from the vaccinations,” Sehgal said. “If they found an animal with an injury that needed antibiotics, they simply didn’t have any to offer. They were so thankful that we came there and that we had what they needed to help these animals.”