Indian border guards are photographing cows in villages in the eastern state of West Bengal and issuing them with identity cards, officials say.
Border Security Force (BSF) spokesman GK Sharma said the move was meant to stop smuggling of cattle from India to neighbouring Bangladesh.
Mr Sharma said thousands of cows were smuggled every day from West Bengal.
India prohibits cattle exports, as beef consumption is frowned upon by the country’s majority Hindu population.
Thousands of villagers in the state’s Murshidabad district bordering Bangladesh are queuing up outside photo studios to have their cows photographed for the identity cards.
Some cattle identity cards have already been issued in the district’s border villages.
BSF officials in Calcutta say if the pilot project works well in Murshidabad, where cattle smuggling is at its highest, the scheme could be extended to other border districts.
Local estimates say that between 20,000 and 30,000 cows are smuggled into Bangladesh every day from India, mostly through the state of West Bengal.
These ID cards can help us easily identify the cattle brought for smuggling
Indian Border Security Force official
Exporting cattle is illegal in India, but cows are smuggled in large numbers to Bangladesh and Pakistan regularly, primarily for beef.
The smuggling is at its highest during Muslim festivals.
Traffickers bring the cows by truck to West Bengal from as far as Haryana and Punjab in northern India.
“The traffickers have a strong network in the border villages, where the cattle are kept in transit, before being sent across the border,” said BSF official in Murshidabad, Surinder Singh.
“Locals are paid for that, so they have a vested interest in the smuggling. These ID cards can help us easily identify the cattle brought for smuggling.”
People in border villages say having their cattle photographed is a problem because it requires them to take time off work.
But they have agreed to the identity cards to avoid harassment by the BSF and police who often raid villages in search of cattle waiting to be smuggled to Bangladesh slaughterhouses.
Authorities say crime syndicates find it easy to tamper with branding or tattooing of the cattle – hence the idea for photo identity cards which should be difficult to falsify.
Valid for two years, each laminated cattle ID card displays the picture of the animal and its owner. It also carries vital information about the animal, such as its colour, height, sex and length of horns. It carries the owner’s name and address and sometimes other details about the animal – like one “horn missing” or “half tail lost”