Every year in New Zealand, millions of days-old ‘bobby’ calves – mostly males, but also females superfluous to requirements – are slaughtered. It is the most tragic practice in an Industry that severely exploits dairy cows.
Fortunately there are individuals who rescue them. They pay the farmer for them, look after them until they find a forever home paying for food and veterinary expenses, and sometimes they even continue to monitor them for the rest of their lives.
One of these individuals is Lynley Tulloch of the Starfish Bobby Calf Project.
End Animal Slaughter’s Sandra Kyle has been visiting India for more than twenty-five years, and has recently returned from her latest trip. In the second of a series of articles for this website on the state of animals in India, she looks at illegal trafficking of cattle, and the rise of leather production in Kerala and Bangladesh.
One of the most beautiful animals I have ever seen is the Indian cow. Imposing in size, but with a sweet, docile and curious nature, the native breed is most commonly light in colour, although there are brown and pied cows as well. A distinguishing feature of the true Brahman cow is the distinctive hump, evolved over time to help the animal survive in hot, arid conditions. These animals are well-proportioned, with floppy ears, large upcurving horns, and enormous expressive eyes and long straight eyelashes.
Revered by Hindus as ‘sacred’, the Indian cow is also called “Mother” because she provides milk and, literally, the skin off her back. Yet this beautiful, gentle animal who gives so much is egregiously treated by the very people who revere her. While it is mainly Christians and Muslims who carry out the trafficking, slaughter and leather processing, it is Hindus who sell their cattle to the traffickers. The whole sordid story is one of cruelty and corruption of the most egregious kind.
Nearly twenty years ago an expose by PETA first brought the problem to light. This created a scandal that saw celebrities such as Chrissie Hynd, Sir Paul McCartney, and the Dalai Llama calling for an end to the trafficking.
The problem with illegal trafficking began in the 1990s, when the Hindu nationalist party (BJP) came to power. When protection for the cow was enhanced, including heavy restrictions around slaughter, an almost entirely clandestine trade in cows for beef and leather began. This illegal trafficking was mainly to Christian Kerala in the far South (where cow slaughter is still legal) and neighbouring Bangladesh, a Muslim nation. While regulations exist, widespread bribery and corruption by government officials and veterinary surgeons means that they are not enforced.
Prominent Indian Animal Rights activist and veteran campaigner Mrs Meneka Gandhi, Minister for Women and Children in the Narendra Modi government, said at the time of the initial expose in 2000: “There is a huge amount of trafficking of cattle to both West Bengal and Kerala. The ones going to West Bengal go by truck and train and they go by the millions. The law says you cannot transport more than 4 per truck but they are putting in up to 70. When they go by train, each wagon is supposed to hold 80 to 100, but they cram in up to 900. I’ve seen 900 cows coming out of the wagon of a train, and 400 to 500 of them came out dead.”
‘The cattle are unloaded just before Calcutta, at Howrah, then beaten and taken across to Bangladesh by road. Bangladesh, which has no cows of its own, is the biggest beef exporter in the region. Between 10,000 and 15,000 cows go across that border every day. You can make out the route taken by the trucks by the trail of blood they leave behind.”
When their destination is Kerala, the cows are taken on foot, tens of thousands per day, to slaughterhouses on the border. “Because they have walked and walked and walked the cattle have lost a lot of weight, so to increase the weight and the amount of money they will receive, the traffickers make them drink water laced with copper sulphate, which destroys their kidneys and makes it impossible for them to pass the water – so when they are weighed they have 15kg of water inside them and are in extreme agony,” Mrs Gandhi stated.
“It’s a hideous journey,” wrote PETA President, Ingred Newkirk, who followed a caravan of cows to Kerala. “To keep them moving, drivers beat the animal across their hip bones, where there is no fat to cushion the blows. The cows are not allowed to rest or drink. Many cows sink to their knees. Drivers beat them and twist their battered tails to force them to rise. If that doesn’t work they torment the cows into moving by rubbing hot chilli peppers and tobacco into their eyes.”
When they finally make it to the slaughterhouses, the PETA investigation revealed, they were slaughtered with repeated hammer blows, which beat their skulls to a pulp.
It is a devastating story, and the worst of it is that it is still happening today.
I recently watched a video that took a look at tanneries on the India-Bangladeshi border. Skins are acquired by the tanneries from neighbouring slaughterhouses, and processed by employees working under appalling conditions. These places are swelteringly hot, and there is an ever-present pungent stench from toxic chemicals used to process the hides. The poorest of the poor work in this industry, including innocent children who also handle the chemicals. Eventually the waste spills out into the streets and then into the waterways, making them black and viscous. Humans, fish and other animals all become sick or die as a result of this industry.
Another shocking revelation in the video I watched were images of a buyer for an Italian shoe company walking around and inspecting the hides. In subsequent shots we saw shoes being placed in boxes with an Italian brandname, to be packaged and exported to Europe.The illegal trafficking of cattle, their treatment, slaughter, and processing of their hides for leather is a story of unbelievable cruelty, but also poverty, greed and ignorance. It is also a story of unethical employers who exploit their labour, and wealthy international companies who perpetuate the misery in order to profit from their immoral gains.
There is so much misery tied up with cattle meat and leather in India. Animals transported in punishing conditions who are whipped and beaten as they travel to their destination. Primitive and barbaric slaughter methods in unregulated slaughterhouses. Unsanitary conditions and poor pay for workers, including children. A toxic environment that makes people and animals alike sick.
This is the chain of production of some Italian-brand shoes and no doubt many other High Street brands. It is why vegans don’t wear leather, and why non-vegans shouldn’t either.
End Animal Slaughter’s Sandra Kyle recently visited India to receive the Phillip Wollen Animal Welfare Award. The Award was presented by the Haryana-based Teachers’ Association for Animal Rights, and was given to her by prominent Animal Rights activist Meneka Gandhi, Minister for Women and Children in the Narendra Modi government.
During her two weeks’ stay Sandra was struck by the numbers of cows wandering the streets of towns and cities. Read her take on the problem of ‘The Sacred Cow’ in India.
The cow in India has long had a unique status. Known by such names as “Mother”, “Kamdhenu”, “Surabhi”, ‘The Sacred Cow Who Fulfils All Desires’, she is depicted in iconography as a white cow with a female head and breasts, the wings of a bird, and the tail of a peacock. However while there are temples devoted to Hanuman (Monkey God) and Ganesha (Elephant God), cows are not generally worshipped independently as a goddess, but honoured by protecting and venerating the living animal. While this may sound very cosy for the cow, all is not as it seems. In my opinion there is not one happy street cow in India.
Traditionally, spent cows who could no longer give milk have been sent to slaughter, which was carried out by minority non-Hindus. Recent legislation preventing slaughter means that owners who cannot afford to keep their animals release them onto the streets to fend for themselves. This is creating a dire situation for the cows, as well as posing traffic risks on India’s already chaotic roads. It also highlights the pressing and persistent problem of waste disposal in this country.
Every year, tens of thousands of cows are killed in accidents in India. They are often seen walking across roads in the middle of the traffic, or standing on traffic islands. Generally they gather near the ubiquitous rubbish piles, where they root around for enough food to keep them from starving. While I saw many skinny cows and calves, I also some who looked quite bloated. I didn’t understand the cause of their large stomachs until I visited a cow hospital in Haryana, and witnessed an operation.
The hospital I visited is the Gau Seva Dham (Holy Mother Cow Hospital). The spiritual leader is Devi Chitralekhaji a young woman in her early twenties. Her biography states that she was born in a nearby village and her life’s purpose took root at the age of seven, when she was initiated by a ‘great Saint’. The little girl began devoting her seva (service) to the Holy Mother Cow and, a few years ago, with donations from her followers, she opened the Gau Seva Dham.
The Manager of the Centre escorted our party around the facility. Like any hospital there are ‘wards’, sectioned off portions of a large open sided area, covered with soft sand to make the patients more comfortable. There is an Intensive Care ward, a Cancer ward, a Burns ward, an Orthopedic ward. We saw some remarkable and upsetting sights at this hospital. A number of cows in the Intensive Care ward were dying, including one so emaciated and weak that she could not raise her head. In this ward I also saw one of the most pitiful sights I have seen. A cow had unsuccessfully tried to birth a stillborn calf, visible in the birth sac, halfway out of his mother’s vagina. There was nothing the staff could do for this poor girl other than administer pain relief, and wait until she was released from her suffering. In the Burns ward I saw two cows with pink wrinkly skin, who were recovering from having acid thrown on them. Cows with visible tumours, some gigantic, were being treated in the cancer ward, while in the orthopaedic ward a small calf who had had his leg amputated as a result of a traffic accident was learning to move around on three legs. Before long, I was told, he would be fitted with an artificial leg by the Prosthetics team.
Another memorable sight was a cow undergoing an operation carried out by a team of veterinarians and attendants. Standing in a restraining device, this girl was fully conscious, having been given local anaesthetic prior to having the contents of her stomach emptied, a procedure that can last up to four hours. Near the operating table was a large bucket where the surgeons were placing the rubbish they pulled from her stomach. I watched in amazement as tangled string, bits of cardboard, and especially, plastic bags containing rotting food were pulled from her rumen and placed in the container. Plastic is particularly deadly for cows, who cannot digest or expel it from their system, and as a result the toxic plastic accumulates inside their stomachs, eventually leading to a slow and painful death. The cow I saw operated on was one of the lucky ones; but this is an expensive and lengthy procedure, and is not the answer to the problem. The long term answer is an outright ban on plastic bags, and more regulation regarding the disposal of rubbish in India. Feeding and watering stations for cattle away from traffic is another option that could be explored.
The cow may be sacred in Hinduism, but the living, breathing animal is far from venerated. Once they have fulfilled their purpose they are let loose to lead difficult, dangerous lives, largely ignored or tolerated but sometimes abused by the population. And there is another shocking aspect to the misery of the sacred cow in this country, and that is how they are abused in the production of leather, which I will cover in a follow-up story.
May Safely Graze: A non-profit animal rights organisation