Yangyel Lhaden

The horses left wandering around by the highlander communities in Phobjikha and Gangtey between January and April are causing a big issue, say the people living in these areas.

Around 200 horses are left unattended in the wetland, which is like an open field where they can graze freely.

The horses have to share the grazing areas with the cattle in the region, leading to competition for food. Some of them end up starving in the cold because there isn’t enough food for everyone. Additionally, younger horses are sometimes attacked and killed by dogs. Moreover, the horses can cause harm to young calves and damage potato farms, as reported by residents.

When a horse die, the local officials from the gewog ask people from the area to help bury. This year, around 10 horses have died, as mentioned by a gewog official.

“Despite agreeing to the agreement we signed in 2022 among the highland communities, they still leave their horses in our area,” explained Gangtey Gup Kinley Gyeltshen. “When we made the agreement, some of their horses were already here, so we let them stay. But we told them clearly that from then on, they shouldn’t leave any more horses here.”

He mentioned that it’s hard to figure out who is leaving their horses behind because they’re probably dropped off during odd hours of the night.

Lunana Gup Kaka mentioned that he wasn’t aware of the situation but recognises the agreement that was signed. “I believe that since the horses have been to Phobjikha and Gangtey before, they might be coming on their own without their owners because they are familiar with the area.”

At times, the gewog officials of Phobjikha and Gangtey discovered vehicles filled with horses meant to be left in these areas, but they were sent back instead.

Dorji from Phobjikha gewog mentioned that he can’t let his calves graze in the open area because horses tend to bite them. “I have to either fence them in or feed them close to my house, which is inconvenient.”

He pointed out that the issue with horses was getting worse every year. Additionally, dogs, which have killed and are now feeding on the younger horses, are becoming agitated, resulting in instances of them attacking children.

Thinley Dorji, the Phobjikha mangmi, referred to a tradition where other highlander communities would compensate Phobjikha residents with goods or money to look after their horses during winter. He expressed suspicion that some locals might have taken on the responsibility of caring for horses from highlanders and then left them to roam freely.

“We would need to wait until the highlanders return to reclaim their horses to confirm whether they left the horses or if our locals took responsibility for them. It’s challenging to identify who brought the horses here or which highland community they belong to currently,” he added.

As per the Livestock Rules and Regulations of 2017, anyone who moves their animal from one dzongkhag to another must obtain an in-country movement permit and ensure compulsory vaccination, along with a vaccination certificate. Failure to adhere to these regulations may result in a fine of Nu 200 per animal.

Gangtey Gup mentioned that he is actively pursuing the horse issue with relevant officials and awaiting a response to address the problem. “As of now, I haven’t received any measures or solutions to deal with the horse issue.”