Guwahati: When India continues an all-out fight against the dreaded Covid-19 pandemic, Assam is battling on an additional front as the outbreak of African Swine Fever (ASF) has killed over 13,000 pigs in the state, affecting the livelihood of thousands of already economically distressed people in the animal resource trade, Ministers and officials said on Sunday.
Terming the situation as “serious”, Animal Husbandry, Veterinary and Agriculture Minister Atul Bora said that 13,033 pigs died in nine districts of Assam during the past several weeks.
“The Kaziranga National Park authority has dug a two-km long and six-feet deep trench to protect its wild boars (also known as ‘wild swine’) from the outbreak of the contagious ASF,” Bora told the media here.
The Minister visited the Kaziranga National Park and adjoining villages and reviewed the steps taken to protect the wild boars from the deadly disease.
Bora said his department has been working for several weeks to deal with the highly infectious ASF disease, whose mortality rate is very high — 90 to 100 per cent.
“We have already taken a series of steps, including creation of containment zones, within one km radius of an infected area and surveillance zone within 10 km, to prevent spread of the virus to other adjoining districts. We have formed a committee with officials, experts, specialists and pig farmers and are working according to their advice,” he said.
Despite the Central government’s advice, the Minister said as of now, the department did not have any plans to cull the pigs.
According to the officials of Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Department, the infection spread initially in six districts — Dhemaji, North Lakhimpur, Biswanath, Dibrugarh, Sivasagar and Jorhat in February but in the last few weeks, has also been detected in three more districts — Majuli, Golaghat and Kamrup (Metro).
According to the 2019 census, Assam’s pig population was around 21 lakh, which by now according to the officials, has increased to around 30 lakh.
Due to the ASF, hundreds of pigs’ deaths were also reported from the nine districts of neighbouring Arunachal Pradesh.
Because of the outbreak of ASF in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, all the state governments in the northeast have sounded a high alert and asked people, especially owners of piggeries, to refrain from bringing pigs from other states.
Animal resource experts in northeast India suspect that the highly contagious ASF came to the region from Tibet through Arunachal Pradesh.
The annual pork business of the northeast is worth around Rs 8,000-10,000 crore with Assam being the largest supplier. Pork is one of the most common and popular meats consumed by both tribals and non-tribals in the northeastern states.
According to the animal resource experts, the pigs generally are affected by the Classical Fever, Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome besides the ASF. The ASF was first detected in 1921 in Kenya. No vaccines or medicines have been discovered so far. According to some experts, human beings do not get infected by the ASF, but they could be the carriers of the virus.