Owners struggling to afford fodder for the animals, which are used for tourist rides at the beach
Several horses have died of starvation in the beach town of Cox's Bazar as the coronavirus pandemic laid waste to Bangladesh's tourism industry.
Owners said they are finding it hard to make an income and afford fodder for the animals, used for rides at the beach, as the tourism hotspot is shut amid nationwide restrictions over a second wave of infection.
Some six horses died of starvation and other reasons this year, said the district's Department of Livestock Services official Dr Ashim Baran Sen.
Different media, however, reported more than 20 horses starved to death in just one month, which have drawn the attention of government agencies and animals' rights activists.
On Sunday, the local livestock department opened an inquiry to look into the matter.
Dr Ashim said although the horse owners were provided fodder in the ongoing Covid-19 restrictions, the department believes it needs to probe into the death of the animals.
A three-member panel will look into if there is any crisis of fodder, the number of deaths and how many of the animals are sick, he said.
"The committee has been asked to submit its report in the next three days," Dr Ashim added.
As the country started witnessing a second wave of infections from mid-March, the government imposed nationwide restrictions on public movement since April 5 which left tourism hotspots across the country shut.
Some owners have set their horses free, hoping they can survive by eating grass or foraging for food.
They say they have been struggling to feed their own families, with many taking out loans from microlenders just to make ends meet.
Besides, dozens of horse handlers usually hired by the owners to help tourists with the rides have switched to driving rickshaws or construction work.
Nizam Uddin, general secretary of a Cox's Bazar-based rights body, told the Dhaka Tribune that they are aggrieved at the inhumane attitude of the owners towards the horses.
"The owners had been earning money from the horses for a long time, but they abandoned the animals during the Covid crisis," he said.
"Several of the horses are sick. They are spreading various diseases and causing pollution along the beach."
He demanded that the animals be taken under government custody or any park.
Green activists, however, urged the government to impose a ban on horse ride along the beach.
'Horse owners in dire condition'
Cox's Bazar Horse Owners' Association President Ahsan Uddin Nishan said they are in a dire condition as the pandemic has hit the tourism industry hard.
"Some owners have set their animals free. Six horses died due to lack of fodder and other causes. The price of the horses ranges from Tk45,000 to Tk70,000," he told the Dhaka Tribune.
During the peak season, a horse can earn up to Tk2,000 a day, according to Nishan.
"We would set aside a slice of that income for the horses' food, which is expensive. But no tourists mean no income for us," he added.
At present, there are 55 horses under the banner of the association for the tourists' ride while there are 10 more horses in the district.
Sadar Upazila Nirbahi Officer Suraiya Akter Sweety said the administration has given over some 200 sacks of husks in May to the association.
Besides, fodder was provided on Saturday again, she said, before adding that the administration took the issue seriously.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (Bela) served a legal notice to 13 government officials over the deaths of the horses.
In another development, ACI Motors on Sunday also handed over one-month fodder to the owners of 55 horses, reports a Bangla daily.