At least 18 cows have died of suffocation in the last few days at a shelter home managed by a village panchayat in Chhattisgarh’s Balodabazar district, PTI reported. The carcasses of the animals were recovered from Rohasi village on August 3, district Collector Janak Prasad Pathak told the news agency.

A few villagers worried about stray cattle damaging crops in their fields reportedly captured the animals, including cows and buffaloes, on July 30. They locked some up in the shelter and tied the rest in an open area on the premises. When no one came forward to claim ownership of the animals, the villagers released the animals tied in the open. They, however, forgot about the cows they had kept in a room at the shelter, Pathak said.

Four days later, they noticed a foul smell emanating from the place and discovered the dead animals, Pathak said. Local administrative officials were informed when the villagers were transporting the carcasses in order to cover up the incident.

After autopsies, the carcasses were disposed of in a deep pit dug in the village. “Adequate measures have been taken to avoid the spread of any epidemic in the village,” the collector said, adding that an inquiry has been ordered.

In December, a cowshed owner in the state’s Dhamtari district was arrested after the carcasses of 37 cows were discovered in a nearby forest. Four months before that, the Bharatiya Janata Party state government led by Raman Singh was criticised after more than 200 cows died of starvation and neglect in three shelters.