YK Poudel and Karma Tenzin 

With the death of 13 pigs in a backyard farm in Gayzor village, Samdrupjongkhar, the agriculture ministry (MoAF) notified farmers to be cautious of African Swine Fever (ASF) yesterday.

The case was reported to dzongkhag veterinary hospital on November 13.

Of the 15 pigs on the farm in Gayzor village, Dewathang gewog, 11 died mysteriously in a span of a week raising concerns that led to tighter surveillance on the entry of pork-related products through the International Check Post (ICP).

The remaining four pigs have been disposed of by veterinary officials fearing contamination.

ASF is a highly contagious viral disease of domestic and wild pigs with a mortality rate of up to 100 percent. There is no vaccine or effective treatment available for ASF.

The disease is spread through contact between the pigs, contaminated pig products, feeding pigs with kitchen wastes contaminated with pork products, through the movement of contaminated personnel and farm equipment.

According to the Chief of Animal Health Division, MoAF, Dr Rinzin Pem, the ASF containment measures are being carried out in line with the National African Swine Fever Prevention and Control Plan 2021.

“The affected farm is the only pig farm in Dewathang gewog and the field team of officials from livestock and Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority has cordoned off the affected farm,” she said.

Measures in  Samdrupjongkhar

Deputy Chief Veterinary Officer in Samdrupjongkhar, Dr Sangay Letho suspected the disease was transmitted through wild boar, which he personally saw in the area while investigating the outbreak of the AFS.

He also pointed out other possibilities of transmission like people carrying the virus on their clothes and vehicles.

He said that the outbreak happened at an isolated location, far from the settlements, and the entire farm is cordoned off.

Police officials at the ICP have been checking incoming vehicles, twice every week, for pork and other prohibited items.

Recently, a farmer from Pemathang gewog, Samdrup Jongkhar dzongkhag was penalized for illegally importing pigs from Assam.

Although ASF does not affect human health, it can cause catastrophic socioeconomic consequences for the pig-farming sector, according to the notification.

“We have informed the pig farmers in the dzongkhag to inform us in case of any death in their farms, besides asking concerned officials at the ICP to strictly monitor incoming vehicles,” Dr Sangay Letho said.

In all cases where “animals” or commodities have been imported illegally or moved illegally from a frontier zone, according to the Livestock Act of Bhutan (2001), the animal or the consignment shall be confiscated and disposed of as decided by the ministry without compensation.

Anyone who commits an offence under this Act is liable for fines or punishable with imprisonment through a court process, which may extend from six months to one year, as per chapter 11, section 29 (1) of the Livestock Act of Bhutan, 2001.

The containment measures issued by the ministry on July 27 this year, including the ban on the movement and sale of pigs and pig products that are currently being put in place by the local authorities, are still in effect.

The ministry has planned to monitor the situation in high-risk areas through awareness programs and syndromic surveillance.

The first outbreak in the country was in May 2021 in Phuentsholing, second ASF outbreak was in April this year in Samphelling gewog in Chukha.

The government has incurred more than Nu 21.2 million in control of ASF this year.