Saturday, December 26, 2009
The moors of North Yorkshire are a world away from the dust and heat of Afghanistan but a British army officer dubbed “The Herriot of Helmand” has become a minor sensation in the province after starting an informal veterinary service for local farmers.
Captain Miles Malone 28, is a member of the Royal Army Veterinary Corps 102 Theatre Military Working Dogs Support Unit, based in Sennelager, Germany. His principal job is caring for the dogs that sniff for roadside bombs. However, in the three months that he has been in Helmand he has begun a monthly clinic for the remote farming communities around the main British base. Camp Bastion. It has proved wildly popular, treating 1,312 animals in two days this month.
In stark contrast to the gentle bucolic adventures of James Herriot, Captain Malone’s work is undertaken with the protection of well-armed Afghan soldiers and the threat of roadside bombs. Earlier this month he could seen in a remote desert community grappling with huge flocks of goats under the appreciative gaze of local farmers.
There is almost no understanding among the local population of veterinary care or basic animal husbandry.
“There is near total ignorance about causes and spread of disease, breeding cycles and how milk is produced,” Captain Malone said. “If a goat stops milking, it is said to be ‘Allah’s will’ rather than the fact that it has not bred for 18 months and therefore has no anatomical reason to produce milk.”
He added that the concept of a vet was virtually unknown and that he was having to describe himself to wary locals as a “doctor for animals”.
For many farmers in Helmand livestock assume an importance higher than the family’s daughters, according to Sergeant Major Greg Reeve, 39, who works with Captain Malone. “The economy of Helmand is 70 per cent agricultural, 20 per cent livestock and 10 per cent other. If an Afghan man owns an animal, it will be more prized to him than any other possession, apart from his sons.”
With average earnings in the world’s fifth poorest country hovering around $1 a day, the $70 (£44) cost of a goat makes it a significant asset.
Captain Malone said that the sheep and goats were responding extremely well to his deworming and delousing campaign. He has also encountered high levels of animal diseases such as brucellosis, which have been all but eradicated from British herds.
“These herds are fascinating because the goats and sheep are extremely ancient breeds,” he said. “Because they have not been exposed to drugs and have built up no resistance, they respond extremely well and quickly to the products I give them.”
Jabbing a needle into the last of a large flock, Captain Malone said: “If we reduce the diseased state of the animals, the knock-on effect will be improved meat and milk production. This not only increases the value of the animals at market, but it increases the amount of protein in the locals’ diet. If the meat does not contain worms or diseases which can be transmitted to humans, so the health of the local population also improves.”