We hear these cows crying at night as they keep eating garbage, says a guard stationed near a garbage dump in Karachi’s North Nazimabad.
Muhammad Ilyas, a cattle herder, brings his cows to this dump every day. “I bring them here so they can have a walk,” he says. “It’s good for their health.” He owns a cowshed behind Pakistan Shipowners’ College in North Nazimabad.
“My cows do not eat garbage like plastic or paper,” says Ilyas. “They only eat fruit and vegetable peelings. I feed them proper food as well.”
The guard observes otherwise.
An Indian documentary, The Plastic Cow, shows how cows who feed from garbage end up eating plastic. This poses serious risks to their health. The documentary shows an NGO that operates upon the cows to remove plastic from their stomachs and save their lives. The NGO, Karuna Society for Animals and Nature, found in these surgeries, and the post-mortems of the dead cows, huge amounts of plastic in the cows’ stomachs. According to the NGO, cows eat plastic bags in which leftovers are disposed of. This is because they are unable to undo the bag’s knots. “Slowly, over time, they build up a huge amount of plastic inside their stomachs.”
People throw rotten food in plastic bags, says the director of Karachi Metropolitan Corporation’s veterinary department, Dr Azam Rao. “Cows smell the food and eat it along with the plastic bag.”
Little research has been done in Pakistan on cows or other animals that eat from garbage, says Dr Shernawaz, a veterinary of The Brooke Pakistan, a private veterinary service provider. According to him, even if the cows do not eat plastic, there is a high chance that there milk is contaminated. “These cows remain in the garbage among flies all day long, which is why germs grow on their bodies,” he says. “Their bodies are not cleaned before milking, which is why the milk gets contaminated.”
What does the law say?
According to the Sindh Local Government Act, 2013, cattle herders need to have licences from the local government to own cattle or supply milk. The Act criminalises leaving cattle on the roads or other public places.
Cows and other stray animals cannot be kept in residential areas, says the senior director of KMC’s veterinary department, Dr Muhammad Farooq. “Diseases spread because of such animals,” he says. “Traffic is also disturbed.”
The city rots under a toothless local govt
All the animals in the city are supposed to have checkups and get clearance from the government about their health. They can only be kept at designated spots. “These laws are not being implemented because the Sindh government is not giving KMC the authority and revenue to do so,” says Dr Farooq. “The District Councils come under the KMC but the Sindh government does not cooperate. They are misusing their power.”
He says the Sindh government issues health clearance certificates without proper checkups. “Just for the sake of revenue,” he says.