The mystery of the camels in Nashik

111 camels suddenly appeared in the city. Then 9 died in camp. The rest are being walked back to Rajasthan malnourished, with injured legs. Why?

A herd of over 100 camels was spotted in Nashik two weeks ago. (NH file photo)
A herd of over 100 camels was spotted in Nashik two weeks ago. (NH file photo)

Sujata Anandan

While the entire United Kingdom has erupted in outrage at the gunning down of two dogs belonging to a homeless man by the Metropolitan Police in London (an investigation has been ordered) and has launched a nationwide hunt for a baby donkey (foal) stolen from her mother and rending hearts with her cries of desperation—almost like a missing persons investigation—India does not seem to care much for its animals, be it a pet or pack animal or farmed for food.

How else does one explain the sudden sighting of more than a 100 camels in Nashik, north Maharashtra, two weeks ago—originating from one state (Rajasthan), passing through two others (Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh) and walking into a fourth (Maharashtra) visibly in ill health—without anyone turning a single hair?

Their arrival in Nashik caused some consternation among the people but not much concern among the authorities until some NGOs and cow vigilantes alleged they were being smuggled for slaughter. 

Guardian minister of the district Dadaji Bhuse ordered a probe and only then did the police swing into action, with the forest and animal husbandry and livestock management departments also activated to look into the issue. The camels were moved to a goshala (cowshed) in Panjrapol, a Nashik suburb, but quite a few of them have died mysteriously at the goshala, amid allegations that they were poisoned. 

The forest department washed its hands off the camels, saying they were domestic animals and hence they were ill-equipped to handle them. Veterinarians who attended them in the goshala where they were housed were at their wits’ end to ascertain what was killing the camels. Several samples of organs and blood have been sent to three laboratories in Pune, none of which have been able to establish the cause of their deaths either, though poisoning has been ruled out.

It could be merely that the camels are out of their natural environment in the desert, as many of them are said to be weak and undernourished—although they are now being fed with several tonnes of jaggery, peanuts and gram in the goshala at Panjrapol, Nashik. That has not helped their mortality rate to drop, however.

Though on Thursday a camel calf was born in the camp, its mother—in the classic symptom of a severely undernourished female—has not been able to produce any milk.

The calf is being fed by attendants with cow’s milk out of a feeding bottle. That adds to the mystery of the herd: The Madaris (members of a nomadic community traditionally engaged in animal husbandry) who were accompanying the camels have told the police that they arrived in Nashik from Gujarat, where they had taken the camels for grazing. However, this story does not seem to up: Nashik is a huge green belt in itself, and popular grazing ground for sheep and goats—tribes of shepherds traditionally bring their cattle to various parts of the district every year from other parts of Maharashtra for this very purpose.

The calf is being fed by attendants with cow’s milk out of a feeding bottle (NH file photo)
The calf is being fed by attendants with cow’s milk out of a feeding bottle (NH file photo)

Moreover, the Madaris have Aadhar cards registered in Tapovan, a slum in a Nashik suburb, so they clearly belong here. The Nashik rural police who investigated have, however, established that they are neither smugglers and nor were the camels being led to their slaughter—another idea that was mooted as likely explanation. Superintendent of Police Shahaji Umap has discounted rumours that the camels were being taken to Malegaon, a Muslim settlement near Nashik, or to Hyderabad in Telangana where, per the conjecture, they would be destined for sacrifice during Bakri Id.

Camel sacrifice during Bakri Id is not unknown in India, though of course not one of the most popular animal for consumption in this country. Some animal activists and some cow vigilantes, however, made the allegations insisted that with a strict ban on cow slaughter that makes it impossible to sacrifice even bulls, some people are now sacrificing camels where goats prove too small for their purposes. However, consumption of camel meat is completely unknown in Maharashtra, the police have said, though they continue to be unable to join the dots or solve the puzzle—the Madaris are residents of Nashik, so why were they grazing the camels in Gujarat?

There were women and children among those who walked the camels through Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, so why did the police in all three states, including Rajasthan, not notice the movements of at least 150 camels that set out or the carcasses of the more than two dozen that had died on the way? For these are large animals, and cannot be disposed of without being noticed. 

The Madaris told the police they were on their way to the South to fairs where they could give rides to children. But are such large numbers of animals easily accommodated at village fairs? The large numbers also raise suspicion that cattle herders and camel rearers in Rajasthan might have been seeking a way around that state’s Camel Protection Act (Prohibition of Slaughter and Regulation of Temporary Migration or Export Act), 2015, that they have been protesting against for years on the grounds that it affects their livelihood. Some critics and animal activisits have said the act does not to contain any provisions for the welfare of the animals and their rearers, which adds to the problems of both men and animals.

Other states in India do not ban camel slaughter but after the Nashik police discounted that rumour, they have approached the Rajasthan Police, who have dispatched several Raikas (members of another pastoral nomadic community, who are traditionally camel rearers), attached to an animal sanctuary in Sirohi and the Lokhit Pashu-Palak Sansthan from Pali in Rajasthan who will walk the camels back to their home state.

The Madaris who had brought them into Nashik have not been allowed to tend to them further, since they belong to the locality and the local police are wary of further complications in case they get into trouble with the authorities in Rajasthan, given the continuing mysteries.

With several go-rakshaks (cow saviours) jumping into the controversy and animal activists demanding the camels be transported in trucks rather than walked back to their home state—as they continue to be weak and could die walking—the district administration of Nashik, sources said, wished to avoid a conflict as most of the Madari people are Muslim and could be targeted in the neighbouring states of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh as well.

Clearly, they have largely passed on the responsibility and washed their hands off the issue.

Nine camels died in the Nashik camp and two are currently too weak to walk. Several have injuries on their legs and mouths that have not yet healed. No one will know or care how many actually make it back home.

Follow us on: Facebook, Twitter, Google News, Instagram 

Join our official telegram channel (@nationalherald) and stay updated with the latest headlines