As a result of previous eruptions and ash fallout, Mayon volcano is surrounded by rich, fertile soil where rice and crop production predominate. Farmers work the land using carabaos (water buffalo) and also have cattle for milk production. Each farmer usually owns between 1 to 4 animals, which graze on the lower slopes of the volcano.
On 23rd June, Mayon Volcano came to life again and was placed on alert level 5 - eruption in progress. On 24th June lava flows, pyroclastic flows and volcanic ash plumes were emitted from the cone and 46,000 people, mostly farmers, evacuated an area within 8 km of the volcano.
Cattle and buffalo were left behind tethered to trees; however, the majority of these were left outside the 6km permanent danger zone, away from the dangers of lava and pyroclastic flows.
By the 25th June the major eruptions were over, however a 1" to 2" layer of hot black ash had settled in areas as far as 10kms to the north east, north, north west, west and south west of the volcano. This had the effect of scorching vegetation and caused severe damage to important grazing areas.
Many farmers subsequently returned to their villages to tend to their crops and animals, but without supplementary food for the animals, ash was now posing a serious risk to their health - grazing animals easily ingest the ash and sharp, glass like, silicates particles cause inflammation of the mucous membrane which leads to digestive problems, diarrhea and possible death. Inhalation of the ash during the ash fall may also cause respiratory problems and many people were treated for this condition.
On 2nd July, at the request of WSPA, Dr. Abe Agulto of the Philippines Society for the Protection of the Animals (PSPA) travelled to affected areas to carry out an assessment. He worked with the Provincial Veterinary Department of Albay and the Local Government. By now the alert level had been reduced to level 4 - eruption imminent.
Dr. Abe Agulto identified 7 villages between 5 and 8km from the volcano crater, which had been affected by ash fall. These villages had an estimated 800 cattle and buffalo between them. During the assessment, Dr Agulto found that rain had provided a little respite, by cleaning vegetation of ash and generating new plant growth. This lowered the risk of further ingestion of contaminated plant materials. However, the level of nutrition for these animals remained low and the risk of illness remained high. Furthermore these animals were expected to continue to work on the land.
A 4-week programme was therefore drawn up to provide relief for these animals in the form of supplementary feed and veterinary treatments. This programme is being funded by WSPA with manpower and logistical support given by the Provincial Veterinary Department of Albay and PSPA.
On 9th July Mike Pugh, WSPA and Dr. Abe Agulto, PSPA travelled to Legaspi, 11km south east of Mayon volcano, in the Province of Albay, to initiate the programme.
Initiation of the Feeding and Veterinary Treatment Programme
We teamed up with the Provincial Veterinarian - Dr Jose Losa and briefed the Governor, Province of Albay - Hon Francis C Bichara on our mission.
A meeting was also held with the chief volcanologist who was monitoring the volcano. He told us that the alert level had now been reduced to 3 - indications of possible eruptive activity, and that the remaining evacuees (mainly women and children) were expected to return to their villages over the next 2 weeks. A permanent danger zone remained in force within 6km radius of the volcano.
In Legaspi we put together a team with the Provincial Veterinary Department; Dr. Jose Losa; Dr. Tony Basanta - Livestock Supervisor; Mr. Boy Devarra - Technician; Mr. Dong - Dairy Technician and Mr. Be Pantaja - Driver. We then travelled out to the affected areas.
Our first stop was Ligao village - 10 km south west of the volcano. Here we visited a homestead, which had 16 cattle and 4 buffalo and a number of housed pigs. The owner was already known to the vets who had previously expressed concern about the poor grazing area for the livestock, prior to the recent volcanic activity. They had been treating an ailing buffalo and were now concerned that the recent ash fall had compounded an already poor situation for the animals.
Their concerns were justified as the owner informed us that since the ash fall, two cows had collapsed and died, one of these the previous night. The buffalo had deteriorated further and was now recumbent with a high fever and diarrhea. We saw another cow with signs of diarrhea. We were also told that 2 piglets had recently died. We arranged to return the following day to offer veterinary treatments to the affected animals.
Our next stop was the village of Maninila - 8km south west of the volcano. On approach to the village we saw signs of recent heavy rains. A dam had been washed away and the banks eroded away by floodwater. Boulders and ash debris had been washed down from the volcano and muddy water indicated the constant dangers of lahars (mud flows).
The Barangay Captain (head of the village) had invited us to visit after learning of our programme. He had received reports from the farmers that the condition of the livestock was deteriorating and there were incidences of diarrhea. Maninila has 113 head of livestock and 5 cattle had been brought down from their grazing areas for us to see. One cow was in poor condition and the others appeared in surprisingly good condition. We were told that farmers had been feeding the animals with small leaves, banana stalks and coconut leaves that they had washed in water, to prevent ash ingestion. Grazing in the area remained poor as a result of damage by the hot ash, although new plant growth was evident. Dr Abe Agulto was concerned that this fresh moist grass would lead to incidences of colic if the animals diet were not properly supplemented with food concentrates. We therefore arranged to return to this village with supplementary food.
We visited Cagsawa village - 9km south west of the volcano, which had been devastated by a lahar in 1814. A volcanic eruption had changed topography of the volcano and heavy rains resulted in erosion and a mudflow, which accounted for 1,220 lives. Many people died in a church, which was completely overwhelmed by the surge of mud.
Legaspi City - feed station
We bought ingredients to make up 5 bags (250kg) of concentrate feed. This was made up of 65% Copra Meal, 32% Bran, 1% Nitrogen, 1% Sodium Chloride (salt), 1% Di-Calcium Phosphate. Water is added to this dry mix and sometimes molasses, to make it more palatable for the animals.
Cattle and buffalo are not used to eating this type of food concentrate so it is necessary to hand feed them for the first 3 or 4 days. After this time they start to take the food themselves. They are initially fed 2kg and this is gradually increased to 5kg per day. Farmers are trained to prepare the concentrate and carry out feeding routines, so that they can continue the programme themselves. History tells us that Mayon is likely to erupt again in the not too distant future, therefore the training programme gives the farmers the knowledge to provide for their animals at times of crisis.
We left, accompanied by the dairy technician of the feed station who would assist us in educating the farmers on the nutritional value of the food concentrate.
We returned to Ligao village with antibiotics and rehydration fluids for the ailing buffalo only to find it had died during the night. We had a tight schedule to keep so we decided to return later in the day for Dr Abe Agulto and the other vets to carry out a post mortem.
We travelled on to Baligang village - 7km north west of the volcano. This village has an estimated 220 head cattle and buffalo, which were all out in the grazing areas. The Barangay Captain informed us that no fatalities had been reported, but there were incidences of diarrhea. We arranged a 'feed training' programme for the farmers the following day.
Tabaco City is 13km north east of the volcano where a large number of evacuees have taken up temporary residence. We visited one of the evacuation camps to determine whether farmers had returned to Megapo village, which is inside the 6km permanent danger zone. We found that the evacuation camp was accommodating 164 families ,with a total of 700 people (mainly women and children). People were sharing limited space in disused classrooms and facilities were poor. We were able to locate a villager from Megapo who agreed to show us the way to the village. He confirmed that many farmers had already returned.
Magapo (meaning full od rocks) village is 5 km north of the volcano, but we found we could drive only as far as the 6km permanent danger zone. We walked the rest of the way up a track of ash and boulders to reach the village, where we were met by the Barangay Captain.
A bell was rung to bring the farmers down from the surrounding slopes of the volcano
and a meeting organised in the village church. The church had not been used since the eruptions of the 24th and a layer of ash still covered the floor. After an hour, 14 farmers had arrived.
Five of our team gave presentations on various aspects of the relief programme e.g. health concerns, nutritional value of the concentrate, the importance of deworming etc. We learned from the farmers that there had been no mortalities, but 50% of the buffalo had lost condition and some of these had diarrhea - possibly due to ash consumption. The farmers welcomed the programme and 'feed training' was organised for the following day. We left 5 bags of dried concentrate at the village.
We returned to the homestead at Ligao village to establish the cause of death of the buffalo. An educated guess by one of the vets, that it had died from 'laundry disease', soon proved to be correct as a twisted, partially digested, heavy blanket was removed from the buffalo's rumen. Buffalo will eat virtually anything if denied suitable quantities of natural food; a plastic bag was also removed. After ingesting the blanket, possibly 2 months before, and with its daily nutritional intake compromised, possibly due to the ash fall, it was only a matter of time before the buffalo deteriorated. The buffalo eventually succumbed to diarrhea and pneumonia. Deliveries of food concentrate have been organised for this homestead.
Legaspi City - feed station
We bought 3 bags (150kg) of food concentrate for the feed training programme in Belangang village and organised for a delivery of a further five bags (250kg) of food concentrate for Maninila village.
We arrived in Baligang village to find that 18 farmers had brought down 41 buffalo to begin the feed training programme. This was an excellent response considering the distances the animals had to be brought, for this the first day of the feed training programme. The buffalo had been tethered around a schoolyard where an inch of ash had already compacted into a concrete like state.
An area was thoroughly cleared of ash where the dried feed ingredients were mixed together with water. Bamboo poles were cut into short lengths and used as spoons to scoop up the concentrate mixture for hand feeding. Each buffalo was then restrained and its mouth prized open. The bamboo pole was angled at one end and this was inserted into the animals mouth, tipped up and the food delivered. Farmers were given instruction to do this and were soon hand-feeding the animals themselves. Each buffalo was given two hand feeds. Enough food was left with the farmers to continue the programme for these and their other buffalo, over the next few days
The 250kg of dried food concentrate ingredients had been delivered. The ingredients were mixed together in a dry state, ready for the farmers to distribute to their buffalo in the grazing areas.
This was one of the few villages where the cattle had already been introduced to this type of food; therefore no feed training programme was necessary. The 250kgs were more than sufficient to start each of the 113 heads of buffalo on 2kgs per day. More deliveries for subsequent days were organised.
We returned to Magapo village to find 7 farmers with 12 buffalo. These animals had not received food concentrate before and a similar feed training programme was conducted as in Baligang. Injectable deworming was given to several animals and stool samples taken for analysis of liver fluke and worm burden.
With the programme underway Mike Pugh and Dr Abe Agulto left the Province of Albay, while the team extended the relief effort to other villages and followed up on fresh reports:
Bonga and Mabinit
On 12th July the programme was introduced to Bonga and Mabinit villages - 8km south east of the volcano. No fatalities were reported, but grazing areas were devastated by pyroclastic and lava flows. The lava had fanned out as it descended from the cone and reached the 6km permanent danger zone. In these villages, food relief was distributed to an estimated 280 cattle and buffalo.
Canaway and Calbayog
A report was received on the 12th July from a livestock technician of 19 fatalities: 5 cattle; 7 buffalo and 7 hogs in the villages of Conaway and Clabayog - 7km north east of the volcano. This area was affected by ash fall. The deaths have yet to be confirmed, however, the relief team travelled to these villages on the 13th July and provided food to an estimated 200 cattle and buffalo.
A report was also received by a dairy collector that 95 cattle in villages to the west of the volcano were now producing less milk. Prior to eruption they were producing between 140 and 150 litres a day and this had now fallen to between 109 and 120 litres a day. The cause is yet to be established by the relief team, but there is concern that this is due to lack of nutrition and dependent calves may be affected.
So far the feeding programme has been initiated in 7 villages (Maninila, Baligang, Magapo, Bonga, Mabinit, Canaway and Calbayog) with an estimated 913 cattle and buffalo. The programme will soon also reach the village of Basud with an estimated 100 buffalo and cattle. Therefore, 8 villages with an estimated 1013 cattle and buffalo are being supported by the relief programme. The distribution of food is also being increased with weekly drops to each village.
The veterinary component of the programme is likely to take on a leading role as further cases are reported and diagnosis made. Stool samples are being taken and analysed for each village and deworming treatments are being given.
One of the aims of the programme is to prevent animals from becoming malnourished and sick, at a time when natural vegetation is poor and contaminated by ash. With continued rains, it is hoped that grazing areas will be restored over the next 4 weeks -which is the estimated duration of the relief programme.
The educational and training component of the programme has a long-term objective as it ensures that farmers can provide for their animals, now, and during future eruptions.
Dr. Abe Agulto - PSPA will be carrying out a further assessment to determine the effectiveness of the programme.