About 143 ponies have died while ferrying pilgrims to the Amarnath cave shrine in the first 28 days of the pilgrimage, mostly because of getting entangled in razor-wires laid by the security forces.
There is more to this. More than 5,800 ponies are critically wounded and face a crippled life ahead, and their owners have lost their livelihood.
Last year, 60 ponies died in this manner.
The department of animal husbandry is busy performing surgeries on ponies at the twin base camps of Sonamarg, 100 km north-east of Srinagar, and Pahalgam, 80 km south of Srinagar. There are six veterinary medical camps, three each on the Sonamarg-Amarnath and Pahalgam-Amarnath cave routes.
Ganderbal animal husbandry officer Dr Khursheed Zargar told HT of the 5,202 ponies registered with the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board, more than 3,000 suffered grievous injuries on the Sonamarg-Amarnath route.
“We have recorded 48 deaths so far. Most ponies are overworked because of the heavy rush. Many received multiple lacerations due to the wires erected for security reasons,” said Zargar.
The base camp in south Kashmir’s Pahalgam area also presents a grim picture.
“Of the 7,959 registered ponies, 2,800 have been treated for several injuries and diseases. At least 95 pony deaths were reported till July 25,” said Anantnag animal husbandry officer Dr Basheer Ahmad.
South Kashmir DIG Shafkat Watali, who is overseeing the security arrangements at the Pahalgam base camp, said: “The animal husbandry department has never raised the issue with the police formally or informally. We need to identify where the ponies have got injured and if the ponies were supposed to use that track or not. There are wires laid for security reasons but no one has complained to us about injuries.”