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Helicopters are airlifting water to thirsty cows in Switzerland

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Swiss army helicopters have started airlifting water to thousands of thirsty cows who are suffering in a drought and heatwave that has hit much of Europe, reported South China Morning Post (Hong Kong).

Large red plastic containers hung from the bottom of the Super Puma helicopters carried the water this week to farms in the Jura Mountains and Alpine foothills.

Some 40,000 cows graze in the summertime in high-altitude pastures in Vaud canton in western Switzerland and each needs up to 150 litres (40 gallons) of water a day, authorities said.

Several dozen farmers have called a special hotline to request help from the helicopters since the emergency operation was announced last Friday.

“I’ve been renting this pasture for 13 years now. We had to airlift water sometimes but never that much,” Gregoire Martin, who runs a farm with 68 cows and 90 head of young cattle at Le Culand pasture in Rossiniere, said.

“We already used the army’s helicopter two years ago but in the long term we cannot go on like this,” he said.

Switzerland will cut import tariffs on livestock feed and offer interest-free loans to help farmers deal with the drought, the federal government said on Monday, amid a heatwave that is killing off fish in the Rhine.

“The situation is very worrying because Switzerland has not known a drought like that … since 1921,” said Philippe Leuba, head of economy and sport for Vaud.

The most severely affected area is the stretch of the Rhine river that runs from Lake Constance to the Rhine Falls, where barrels of dead grayling have pulled from the river since the weekend.

The cold-loving grayling, a member of the salmon family, can struggle when water temperatures exceed 20 degrees Celsius (68 Fahrenheit), but certain areas of the Rhine have recorded temperatures above 27 degrees in recent days.

During a 2003 heatwave, 90 per cent of Switzerland’s grayling population was wiped out.

Samuel Grundler of the Swiss fisheries association said that the situation was “very precarious in many small and medium size stretches of water.”

“We have done everything in our power,” he told RTS.

The emergency measures include transferring fish to cold-water basins when possible.

“We rescued fish from hundreds of kilometres of streams and transferred them to other waters,” fishing and hunting supervisor in Zurich canton, Urs Philipp, told the public broadcaster.

While southern Switzerland has seen unusually high temperatures the summer, water conditions there have not yet resulted in widespread fish mortalities, officials said.

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Reporter: Denes Osvalt
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