Swiss army airlifts water to thirsty animals in mountain pastures

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CHARMEY, Switzerland, Aug 11 (Reuters) – Swiss army helicopters have been mobilized to deliver water to thousands of thirsty farm animals suffocated by high temperatures this summer in the country’s alpine meadows.

Lower rainfall this year has forced farmers to call on the army to bring much-needed refreshments to their animals and prevent a drought causing food shortages later in the year.

A two-week operation is currently underway with Super Puma helicopters flying to fill the nearly empty tanks used by farmers for their cows, whose milk is often used to make Gruyere cheese, and other animals such as pigs and the goats.

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“There has been a huge water shortage this year,” said Frédéric Menetrey, director of agriculture for the canton of Fribourg. “This has a big impact on pastures, livestock but also lowland agriculture.”

Without the emergency water supply, animals would have to be brought from their raised fields to graze in the lowlands, where normally their winter hay is produced during the summer months.

“They’re going to eat the hay that was supposed to be eaten in the winter, so it’s going to get worse later in the year,”

Menetrey told Reuters.

Farmer Jacques Ruffieux, whose 130 cattle need 10,000 liters (2,640 US gallons) of water a day, said this year has been painful and marked by very little rain.

“Since June 27, we only had 30 litres, that’s nothing,” the farmer said, adding that the army arrived just in time.

“We were a day and a half away from having nothing at all, it was very close,” he said.

Swiss Territorial Army Commander Mathias Tuescher said six helicopters have been mobilized for the effort, which will continue until August 19.

In total, some 400,000 tonnes of water could be dropped by the helicopters into the tanks, he said, with 1.5 tonnes delivered on each trip.

The operation was also carried out during the droughts of 2015 and 2018.

“With global warming, there is a likelihood that this kind of mission will be more frequent in the future,” he said.

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Reporting by Cecile Mantovani and Denis Balibouse, Writing by John Revill; Editing by Alex Richardson

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Denis Balibouse

Thomson Reuters

Award-winning photographer based in Switzerland with over 30 years of experience covering local and international news and sporting events, including the Olympics.

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