Eradication of the Deadly Surra Disease From the Equine Breeding Community of Naths in India

The Nath community in India traces back its origin to the 9th century. For their survival, the community was traditionally involved in various entertainment-based activities using animals, but with introduction of stringent animal welfare laws, most of such activities have been banned by the government. At present, the community buys and sells foals after rearing them for a certain period.

Jagaraj is one such leader of this community, settled on the outskirts of the Lucknow, the capital of the State of Uttar Pradesh. The community has 150 families each rearing 10–12 foals each. Brooke India’s (BI) team met Jagaraj in 2011 at Dewa Equine Fair. At this point, the community has been struggling with the prevalence of Surra, a disease of vertebrate animals, including horses and mules caused by the protozoa Trypanosoma Evansi, which is transmitted by horseflies. As Jagaraj explains,

Our community was losing 2–3 foals in a day, it was disheartening to see them die just like that, even when we were investing so much in their care.”

BI team after observing the foals, determined that they were being infected by the horsefly when they were taken for grazing near the water bodies, whether it was in the fair or near their settlements. Also, due to lack of knowledge regarding the Surra disease, the community members were unable to detect an infected foal and often end up buying them from the fair.

The need for awareness among the community members about Surra was clear. However, the reluctance shown by the community to a stranger created deterrence in imparting correct knowledge. Equine Fairs, in this case, became a platform for community engagement, and BI’s meeting with Jagaraj paved way for convincing the community to listen. Further, the correct line of treatment against Surra displayed by BI’s expert Veterinarians in fairs proved to be successful in winning the trust of community members. Jagaraj played his role as a leader and facilitated the building of various Equine Welfare Groups (EWGs) to initiate a dialogue regarding the issues.

With the intensive conversations held in these EWGs facilitated by Jagaraj and BI’s team, using the Information Communication Education (ICE) material, an understanding regarding the disease slowly developed throughout the community. The death rate decreased as the knowledge increased and since 2015, the death rate due to Surra remains at zero. The community meetings were also utilized as a platform to introduce the Animal Health Practitioners (AHPs) working in the district. The hesitance towards allowing strangers have decreased and the community now reaches out for help.

Currently, Jagraj’s community has 120 EWGs working effectively towards the welfare of equines and community members. The highlight of these EWGs is that they were able to buy equines worth INR 7 lakhs using the savings generated by the groups. The community is also now famous for their entertaining dance performances, which was started as an income generating activity and have received recognition from Uttar Pradesh Cultural Department.

BI’s team has helped our community save our equines and our livelihood. The lack of information such as allowing the equines graze near water resources during particular hours of the day was costing us their lives. We will never forget the big change that they have brought into our lives and will always be grateful to the team.” — Jagaraj