For many years now, Humane Society International/India has been working to stop the world’s largest ritual sacrifice of animals at the Gadhimai temple in Bariyarpur, Nepal, close to the Indian border. In 2015, following national and global criticism, the temple committee voiced support for ending the slaughter, but unfortunately, the killing resumed this year, albeit at a smaller scale, with temple officials saying they could not phase it out in a hurried manner because of the festival’s deep roots in the region.

Our work in other countries often pits us against long-held cultural and traditional beliefs. But culture and tradition are not an excuse for animal cruelty and the reason we’ve been so successful in ending events like the Kots Kaal Pato in Mexico is because we do not give up easily.

This year, HSI/India and HSI/Nepal staff members worked with border control officials on both sides of the India-Nepal border to stop the illegal transport of animals for slaughter at Gadhimai. They are also continuing discussions with the temple trustees, raising awareness among participants on the illegal transport of animals, and educating them on animal cruelty and animal sentience issues and making peaceful offerings of sweets, flowers and coconuts at the temple instead of animal blood.

At the opening of the slaughter in the temple arena in the early hours of the morning on December 3rd, an estimated 3,500 buffaloes were gathered for a mass beheading.
Photo by Niranjan Shrestha/AP Images for HSI

The scenes of slaughter our staff describe from the ground are heartbreaking.

HSI/India’s Arkaprava Bhar was at the opening of the slaughter in the temple arena in the early hours of the morning on December 3rd. An estimated 3,500 buffaloes were gathered for a mass beheading. He described the scene as “surreal and appalling.”

“Young buffaloes were stumbling over the dead bodies of others, babies watched as others were butchered, some attempted to flee the sword but were caught by their tails or back legs and held down,” he wrote.

The work Arkaprava and our other colleagues do in confronting such cruelty is heartrending and difficult. Most of us could not do this, even for a second. But the powerful act of bearing witness is a necessary driver of change, and that makes the brave and principled commitment of our colleagues especially meaningful to those of us watching from afar.

Our HSI colleagues who bore witness to the bloodshed described the scene as "surreal and appalling."
Photo by Niranjan Shrestha/AP Images for HSI

Thanks to the efforts made by HSI and other local groups, hundreds of baby goats, pigeons and buffaloes were stopped at the India-Nepal border this year, and devotees brought thousands fewer animals than at previous Gadhimai events. The temple committee also agreed not to slaughter pigeons at the festival this year, and working with our local partners and volunteers we rescued about 100,000 pigeons who had been brought to the site.

Moreover, the ongoing efforts of our HSI colleagues have helped bring down the total number of animals sacrificed at this festival, which happens once every five years. In 2009, around 500,000 buffaloes, goats, pigeons and other animals were killed. The number dropped to 30,000 in 2014, and it will be lower still this year.

Our dispatches from the ground in Gadhimai and the images of the slaughter this year have flooded the news cycle and shocked a worldwide audience. With the 2019 Gadhimai event over, public awareness campaigns in India and Nepal are necessary to urge people not to bring animals to the temple for slaughter in the future. With our partners in Nepal and People for Animals in India, we will continue to build out the case against animal sacrifice as a religious offering in the contemporary world.