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How to kill thousands of animals in a few days: Bulgaria's battle with livestock plague

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How to kill thousands of animals in a few days: Bulgaria's battle with livestock plague

Sheep and goats facing slaughter in Bulgaria
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After Ovine rinderpest was discovered in Voden, the Bulgarian authorities had to work out how to kill thousands of animals in a matter of days.

Of course plans and precedents exist for such a programme but on a logistical and human level, there are many challenges to overcome.

The first positive test results of this disease also known as ‘sheep and goat plague’ were found in two sheep belonging to Yordan Trifonov, a 50-year-old ex-police officer.

After these positive results, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Forestry Rumen Porozhanov said that Bulgaria would take appropriate measures in regards to the outbreaks and containment zones, which included the humanitarian euthanasia of all small-scale animals from the affected ones and the ones that were in contact with. The EU encouraged Bulgaria to take these necessary containment and eradication measures, including drastic movement restrictions for sheep and goats and their products.

One week after the positive test results were returned from the French lab CIRAD, some 30 veterinarians along with local assistants showed up to Yordan’s property to perform the mass culling on his 300 sheep.

Just before the animals were killed, a protocol document to ensure the humane killing of the livestock needed to be signed by both a veterinarian and Yordan himself. This protocol described how the animals would be euthanized by injection and then buried after, not incinerated. Authorities said the animals were buried because this region of Bulgaria is not suitable for burning animals, and transporting them to a region for incineration would only present a deeper threat.

All of Yordan’s 300 sheep were killed one-by-one, with multiple injections into the animal’s main carotid artery. An injection of ketamine momentarily paralyzed the animal, followed by an injection of T-61 to depress the central nervous system, causing respiratory and cardiac arrest in a matter of minutes.

His animals were then buried in a mass grave on his property near where the sheep used to feed. Yordan was told that after 70 hours in the ground the disease could no longer spread if properly disinfected. Yordan insisted on having the animal grave dug more than 3 meters deep so it would not impact his water supply.

The Bulgarian Food and Safety Administration says measures for the compulsory humane killing and disposal of all small ruminants in the affected holding are performed in compliance with the requirements of Ordinance 22 of 14.12.2005 on minimizing the suffering of animals during the slaughter. This ordinance includes culling methods such as a gunshot to the head, and the bleeding out of the animal after being stunned by an electric shock.

'No choice'

Ana Petrova, 41, is a farmer from the nearby village of Bolyarova, who still has her 203 sheep alive and is awaiting further blood tests to be done on her animals this week.

She has been a vocal supporter of farmers who have already lost their livestock and was among the protesters at the neighbouring villages when authorities began the cullings.

“The police surrounded the town and gave them no choice. There were never any documents shown. The authorities said if you do not agree to let us kill your animals there will be fines, and we will not pay for the animals either,” said Petrova.

Petrova said she witnessed animals killed with injections, but was concerned there were not different dosages used based on the size of the animals, causing some of the livestock to suffer for upwards of 10-minutes.

She says she was never presented with any evidence regarding the qualifications of all those involved in the operations.

Another farmer, Baba Tzveta also from Voden, had all 126 of her sheep including 51 lambs killed by the authorities. She described the doctors as emotional when they injected her healthy animals at the back of her property because they knew how important they were to Baba Tzveta’s livelihood.

“We didn’t want them to kill healthy animals and I don’t think they wanted to kill them either. The veterinarian doctor explained to me that if they put a vaccine to the animals, instead of killing them, the outcome will be worse because we won’t be able to sell animals and milk for the next 5 years,” said Tzveta.