This is where Kathmandu’s dead dogs goDead animals, both pets and stray, are buried by one organisation in pits on public land, but no one is sure whether it is legal—or even safe.
Even as it rains, Ram Krishna Nepali and his assistant, Kamal Thapa, hit the road in haste to Maharajgunj, stopping every five seconds, looking around for a dead cat they had been asked to take care of. Nepali and Thapa are waste collectors—more precisely, they are dead animal undertakers for Clean Nepal, an organisation that manages sewage and animal carcasses.
As he spots the dead cat, Thapa gets down from his bike and puts on rubber gloves. He swiftly picks up the tabby cat whose eyes are still wide open while Nepali opens up a white sack for Thapa to shove the body inside. The work that these two do is critical for a city like Kathmandu, where cats and dogs run amok on the streets. But once the bodies get bagged, where exactly do they go?
When pets die, most owners with access to green spaces will bury them; others simply throw out the dead bodies on the streets or near riverbanks. But for street dogs and cats with no owners, things are a little more difficult.
“Every morning, we receive calls from people and local municipalities,” said Padam Thapa, Chairman of Clean Nepal. “Our field staff collect the dead animals and bury them in deserted public spaces around Kathmandu.”
Clean Nepal buries roadkill in deserted areas in Chobhar, Bankali, Budhanilkantha, Pashupati, Chandragiri and Tribhuvan University. The organisation started interring dead bodies eight years ago, when Kathmandu Metropolitan City called for an open tender for the disposal of animal carcasses. Since then, Clean Nepal has been collecting and burying dead animals whenever they receive a report. However, the organisation’s service is only limited to Kathmandu.
In the city of Lalitpur, which is not served by Clean Nepal, animal carcasses are managed by the Solid Waste Management Department under Lalitpur Metropolitan City, upon referral from local municipalities and police headquarters.
“Whenever our ward offices report dead animals on the road, our workers collect the bodies and bury them in open spaces, usually around the Manohara river and Sundari Ghat,” said Surendra Awale, chief of the department.
According to Clean Nepal’s Thapa, there’s no way to get rid of a dead animal body other than to bury them. While Thapa said that dead animals are buried three to four feet deep, away from water sources, his employees themselves testified to burying them near rivers until some years ago. Before burial, the body is covered with a layer of salt that is equivalent to half the weight of the animal. Once the body is buried, the grave is also disinfected to kill germs and bacteria.
“We don’t wrap the bodies in sacks as it slows down the decaying process, but it’s important that the dead are buried, as crows and other birds can scatter their entrails, which can affect human health,” said Thapa.
But in Kathmandu, riversides are the most common—and the easiest—dumping ground for dead bodies.
“Some even dump dead animals into the river,” said Sandeep Joshi, co-founder of Vet For Your Pet, a veterinary in Chandol. “But it’s the most unsafe place to discard animals because it can quickly infect human beings.”
In 2017, news about 17 dead dogs dumped in Chobhar went viral on Facebook, but the anger that followed should have raised concerns about the mismanagement of carcasses, said Pranav Raj Joshi, vet team leader at Vet For Your Pet.
Until a few years ago, Joshi’s veterinary used to bury dead pets on private land that belonged to his friend in Bhaktapur. These days, they advise pet owners to bury their animals in their own garden. “We stopped burying pets in Bhaktapur because the locals started using the nearby land and many don't like the idea of buried dead animals,” said Joshi.
Clean Nepal had also approached Tribhuvan University to lease unused land where they could bury carcasses.
“University campus officials had agreed to let us use their land in return for managing their sewage free of cost,” said Thapa.
But when Clean Nepal used a bulldozer to dig a composting pit for the carcasses, university officials rescinded their approval, said Thapa.
“The only reason we approached the university was because it is close to where we are and we are capable of managing their sewage. We also knew that their vast space was being used for other purposes, and in the end, they would have benefitted from supporting a project like this,” said Subodh Acharya, director of Clean Nepal.
The Post was unable to reach Krishna Prasad Acharya, principal of the Tribhuvan University Campus, who had approved the initial agreement with Clean Nepal, but Tirtha Khaniya, vice-chancellor of the university, told the Post over the phone that he had never approved the deal.
“No, we never agreed to give any land for the burial of animals, and there is no possibility of that happening in the future,” Khaniya said.
So there are few spaces where dead animal bodies can be disposed of properly. At the government-run Central Veterinary Hospital in Tripureshwor, dead bodies are placed in four biological pits, where animals are dropped into a well-like-hole and the carcasses covered with sawdust, straw and mud. For larger animals like cows, they use open spaces around the hospital. But the hospital isn’t responsible for stray or pet animals.
“This is a referral hospital, where we study animal diseases,” said Balram Thapa, managing director of the Central Veterinary Hospital. “It’s not a welfare organisation. If people want to treat stray dogs, they need to take responsibility for themselves. We are not responsible for their dead animals.”
Years ago, Sandeep Joshi, who holds a degree in mechanical engineering, was also working on creating an incinerator for Vet For Your Pet so they could dispose of dead pets properly, and even offer the ashes to the owners.
“But later, when we were planning to implement it, we found out that we needed a permit from the government stating that it wouldn't affect the environment,” said Sandeep. “They thought it would pollute the environment and we never got around to putting the idea to work.”
Between the months of May and June, Clean Nepal said it made graves for 189 dead animals, including dogs, cats, cattle, and monkeys. But they did so without any regulations or directives from the government.
“We’ve been disposing of the bodies at our discretion,” said Thapa.
Neither Acharya nor Thapa knows whether it is legal to bury animals in deserted public spaces, but they don’t really have a choice.
“Where else can we do it?” said Acharya.
There are no set regulations on how to dispose of animal carcasses, according to Ishwor Man Dangol, spokesperson for the Kathmandu Metropolitan City.
“When we receive reports of dead animals, we inform Clean Nepal,” he said. “But sometimes, in agreement with landlords, we also have our people bury animals in their unused land.”
For the cat that they collected from Maharajgunj, Ram Krishna Nepali dug a two-feet deep grave in unused open space in Kirtipur near the Tribhuvan University.
As he buried the cat, Nepali pointed to a hypocritical attitude where people treat animals differently before and after their death.
“They bow and worship a cow when it is alive, and when it’s dead, they walk past the body covering their face, saying it stinks,” said Nepali. “Of course, anything dead is going to stink.”