As hotels and restaurants close due to Covid-19

Choki Wangmo

Otherwise seen in huge packs, stray dogs in the core areas of Thimphu are found lesser in number lumbering in front of small restaurants and meat shops waiting for morsels.

They are thin and mangy.

With the Covid-19 outbreak and consequent closure of hotels and restaurants, food has become scarce for the stray population, while animal care shelters are running out of food.

Without leftover food from hotels and restaurants, Bhutan Animal Rescue and Care (BARC) centre in Yusipang has finished the food savings and resorted to buying rice from the Food Corporation of Bhutan and other shops. They also accept expired foods from shops. With the tourist restriction and dwindling amount of leftovers, the food supply has drastically reduced, said BARC Secretary Hendrik Visser.

BARC is a civil society organisation started in 2013 by Marianne Guillet and Hendrik Visser. The centre rescues, provide medical care, sterilises and advocates on animal care.

On April 9, BARC, through social media urged public to donate rice and other food items to feed the animals. “With the Coronavirus pandemic, many hotels, restaurants, and schools are now closed and we are struggling to get enough food for the animals at our centre,” it stated, adding, “You can also donate cash so that we can buy food.”

He said that feeding stray animals, particularly during times like Covid-19 could save them from starvation. “A starved or diseased animal would increase the risk to the communities around.”

However, in the last few days, Hendrik Visser said that the donations in cash and kind had increased.

The centre has more than 300 stray dogs, 35 macaque monkeys, injured cattle, horses, and mules among others.

Last year, on an average, the number of in-patient animals at BARC Thimphu was 326, of which 245 dogs, 25 cats, 37 macaque monkeys, 19 birds, rodents and large animals.

The Maya Foundation-Barnyard Bhutan (TMF) in Paro has been stocking food for the past one and a half month. The foundation collects leftover foods from hotels and restaurants but the outbreak is expected to affect the supply. “With our normal food collection from Drukair now not possible, it is a challenge,” the founder of TMF, Jamie said.

She said that there was no major food shortage except for certain kinds of feed like nutella (soya chunks). The foundation has more than 500 animals which are fed rice, maize, pulses, nutella, vegetables, meat, and biscuits.

Jamie urged people to donate any kind of old and unwanted things to the foundation since it is useful for the animals. “There are lots of animals and your generosity will go a long way.”

She also asked the public to be extra generous with food and seek care for in-need animals from the relevant agencies. “If people can continue to look after the animals in their neighbourhoods, they not only help animals but ourselves in these difficult times.”

While the centre is taking in the sick and injured animals, Jamie said that if the numbers increase drastically, it will be increasingly difficult to provide for them.