THE discovery of 15 stolen animals in a bushy area in Calder Hall over the weekend has brought little relief to Tobago livestock farmers, who feel they have been fattening cattle, sheep and goats for someone else to kill. Over 40 animals have gone missing in the past two months.
Several farmers expressed frustration over the larceny and are now calling on the Prime Minister, who also has a livestock farm in Mason Hall, to intervene.
Although stolen animals aren't an unusual occurrence in Tobago, the farmers believe there is a smuggling ring operating.
Head of the Tobago Integrated Livestock Association Grell McPherson believes the animals are being killed and transported to Trinidad to be sold.
McPherson said he formed the association after he noticed more young people showing interest in the industry during the pandemic.
But the association is growing concerned that the increasing number of missing animals would deter young farmers.
"We are starting to feel it's a network of thieves working together. Before, when an animal goes missing, you could have gone by the Scarborough port and found it on a truck heading to Trinidad.
"But animals go missing and farmers do not find them there again, which means it's being killed and transported as meat. They are now killing the animals, cleaning it, moving with the carcass and leaving their insides."
The association believes Tobago meat shops might be unintentionally involved in this scheme.
"Somebody who dealing with meat knows what going on...In Tobago, we tie out the animal and no one interferes with them. I can't do that again."
He claimed police are not treating the matter with the necessary urgency. But he urged affected farmers not to take matters into their own hands.
"Somebody's life is not really worth an animal, whether it's the thief or owner, because they say a thief is a murderer and if you catch them they could end up killing you. Still, it's useless to lose a life over an animal."
He called on Dr Rowley to help Tobago farmers in whatever way he can,
"I'm talking to him as livestock farmer to livestock farmer: join us to stop whoever is doing this. Your animals are at the same risk as ours are. Prices of goat meat have gone up, and what Tobago livestock farmers going through will make it go up more. This is a situation that will get violent."
He also hopes THA Chief Secretary Farley Augustine meets with members of the association to discuss ways to save the livestock industry.
Newsday was told five animals were stolen from another livestock farmer in Belle Garden in December, and s pregnant sheep from Signal Hill around the same time. Last week a goat was stolen from Bon Accord Development. On Thursday two rams and a lamb went missing from a farmer in Pembroke.
A Lowlands farmer said three of his animals were stolen from his property in December and another in early January. He has been searching in vain for his animals on the port since they went missing.
"Like the bandits getting smarter. The thieves changed their strategy. It has to be more than one person doing this, using nets and keeping them in a bush farm somewhere in Tobago."
He pleaded to Rowley, "When they stole from his farm, all Tobago police were on the ground searching Mason Hall. But they don't give a crap about the ordinary livestock farmers. But his animals won’t be safe with this new network of thieves on the loose."
He said attempts to make police reports were unsuccessful.
"One (officer) turned to the other and said, 'You hear any' behhh' in Crown Point?' and they laughed with each other in my face. Insensitive. After I lost thousands of dollars.
"I have no faith in them. We don't have police in Tobago, we have security guards.
"It's stressful, after all the hard work, time and money spent to rear my animals, someone with a long eye coming. I know if I catch one of them I’ll take matters into my own hands."
Another livestock farmer of 13 years said he lost four animals in one month – two sheep in early December and the remaining two on Christmas Eve.
"I sold the others and kept the best four for myself, and the thieves went with them. I lost around $6,000, because they are hybrid animals. I went on the port a couple of nights and I didn't see them. I will just count my losses, because I don't know what or who to turn to."
Dedan Daniel, president of the Tobago Agriculture Society, was unaware of the problem when contacted for a comment. He promised to look into the situation and work with members of the association to help those affected.
Tobago ACP William Nurse told Newsday, "I am not aware of that development."
Nurse was shocked to hear his officers were not taking reports on missing animals seriously.
"I have had reports of police not acting as promptly as they should, and I have taken those reports and acted on them. The reports were followed through and dealt with. My office is open to people, so I encourage them to come to me without an appointment."
Nurse advised farmers not to take matters into their own hands.