About 20 cows and bulls have been reported missing in the last three years in Tashi Gatshel village 

Livestock: It’s a cold November night. The hoteliers who occupy most of Tshimasham, Chukha have long called it a night except for a giant white bull and its two black calves that stroll the town’s highway.

A question from a visitor on the bull’s large build the next day starts a conversation about cattle issues in this roadside town.

For about three years now, cattle have been missing mysteriously from the Tshimasham highway. Usually, the bulky ones go missing between Chapcha and Gedu.

Although villagers claim many more went missing, an official record with Bjachho gewog administration shows that about 20 cows and bulls were reported missing between 2012 and 2015. These animals, exceptionally bulkier than the regular types found across the country, are illegally lifted off the highway, claim villagers.

“How and when, we do not know,” Bjachho gup Gyeltshen said, explaining his gewog was also affected. “But it is a grave loss to villagers.”

A Bjachho resident, Aum Rinchen, in her 60s joins in the discussion. She still ponders about losing three cows along with their calves each six months ago.

“I had gone to the Zangtopelri drubchhen in Chukha,” she said, explaining that was the time when her cows and calves were stolen. “I have no idea who did it.”

That was not the first time, Aum Rinchen recalls. She had also lost a cow and an ox in 2013. In all, she has lost eight cattle in the last two years.

Despite combing the nearby forests repeatedly, there was no trace of the missing cows. In a desperate move, Aum Rinchen travelled until Gedu to inquire but there was no sign of her milking cows.

She is not alone. Aum Namsay, 62, also lost her nine-year-old cow six months ago.

Along with them are Dawa Ggyem and Tongshim who lost a bull each about two years ago. According to the residents, most of the cattle were lifted during the drubchhen at Zangtopelri.

A Tshimasham resident Kencho Dorji also shared that his aunt had lost a cow some time ago at Takthikothi.

“She was on the way towards Chapcha buying this new cow from Gedu,” he said, adding that his aunt had spent a night at a relative’s place at Wangkha. “The cow, which was tied outside the house was missing the next day.”

Villagers along the Tshimasham highway also said that an old bull that was freed as tshethar in Tshimalakha went missing three months ago.

Tashi Gatshel tshogpa Sangay Zam, who is keen on solving this longtime issue, said she and her supporters waited until midnight at Chukha gate, after they received a tipoff.

“We received information that a bull was being lifted in a pick up truck,” she said. “We rushed to the gate and also informed the police.”

However, to the villagers’ dismay, the truck, which the complainant had informed, was not seen at the gate. Sangay Zam said the complainant had not noted the vehicle number, which she said could have led to an arrest.

Meanwhile, the eager minds of Chukha’s affected families are turning suspicious about the people of Darla (Tala) who usually come to buy cattle at Tshimasham.

“Even the oldest of bulls were taken,” one woman said. “It is fishy here.”

The cattle bought, are usually driven away in a truck during nightfall. While transporting the traded cattle, Tashi Gatshel villagers sense other cows may have also been lifted illegally.

“If another case is reported, we will go to Darla,” she said. “We have informed the police as well.”

The issue of missing cattle was also highlighted at the Chukha dzongkhag tshogdu in September. It was decided that the buyer and the seller of cattle make an agreement and produce letters that warrant deals, including, having to inform the local leaders.

It is about three weeks now since buyers from Darla have bought 10 cattle from Tshimasham and other nearby areas. A villager of Bjachho said some people from Darla were supplying beef to some places across the border, which eventually came to Jaigaon, the bordering Indian town.

“Located near border, Darla is prone to such practices,” he said. “They buy from here and sell at better prices after the animals are slaughtered.”

However, there are no reports that suggest such practices are taking place in Darla. Police in Tshimasham, meanwhile, are verifying the vehicles that are transporting cattle at Tanalung and Chukha points.

A source also said that a Bhutanese man was held at Phuentsholing gate this year while trying to smuggle a cow. It was later found that the cow belonged to a man in Tshimasham.

Meanwhile, the cold has seeped in again and Tshimasham residents are deep into slumber as the white bull and its two black calves stroll the road again.

Rajesh Rai, Tshimasham