By Wayne Pacelle
A few months back, I wrote with burning anger and sadness about the world’s largest animal sacrifice, Nepal’s Gadhimai festival, an event held every five years that results in an orgy of killing – nearly half a million animals slaughtered in the open air. Today, I have extraordinary and unexpected news: Humane Society International/India and Animal Welfare Network Nepal announce that all animal sacrifice has been banned indefinitely at Gadhimai, and the Gadhimai Temple Trust has asked devotees not to bring animals to the next festival, in 2019!
“The time has come to transform an old tradition. The time has come to replace killing and violence with peaceful worship and celebration,” Gadhimai Temple Trust chairman Ram Chandra Shah said in a statement. “The Gadhimai Temple Trust hereby declares our formal decision to end animal sacrifice. With your help, we can ensure Gadhimai 2019 is free from bloodshed.”
This is yet another amazing development for animals this year, on top of all the big news I have shared recently on this blog, including Saturday’s announcement of a U.S. commercial trade ban on ivory, Walmart’s decision to adopt the five freedom principles for animals, Ringling Brothers’ decision to phase out elephants for circuses, endangered status for captive chimpanzees, and many more remarkable results.
The Gadhimai festival has been held in Nepal every five years for more than 250 years now, and last year, our HSI team traveled to Nepal to witness the bloody spectacle where animals, including buffaloes, goats, sheep, pigs, and chickens, were hacked to death, often with machetes. Working with Animal Welfare Network Nepal and People for Animals in India, HSI adopted a multi-pronged approach to end the animal sacrifice. Since an estimated 70 percent of the animals killed at Gadhimai are transported across the border from neighboring India into Nepal, HSI successfully obtained an order from the Supreme Court of India against transporting the animals, and then worked with India’s Ministry of Home Affairs to issue a directive to the Indo-Nepal border forces to stop and confiscate the animals. This resulted in more than 100 arrests and more than 2,500 animals being seized on their way to the festival. The Supreme Court also insisted on the establishment of SPCAs in all districts in the three Indian states adjoining Nepal, to tackle animal cruelty.
The HSI/India team and its partners met with temple officials and the Nepal government, including Nepalese President Ram Baran Yadav and Prime Minister Sushil Koirala, and members of Parliament. HSI and its partners also worked to focus global media attention on the event, leading to protests worldwide against the festival.
All of those efforts have been rewarded with this startlingly great news, and it will inevitably reverberate and bring pressure upon organizers of smaller spectacles involving animal sacrifice. Earlier this year, following the global outrage stemming from the Gadhimai massacre, the temple committee decided not to sacrifice any animals during the harvest festival (Sankranti), either.
I want to applaud Animal Welfare Network Nepal and Humane Society International/India for their relentless work to convince the Gadhimai Temple Trust to end this sacrifice. They still are faced with the big job of educating devotees in India and Nepal on the temple trust’s decision not to sacrifice animals in the three-and-a-half years before the next festival. But today is a day to pause and celebrate, for the animals and for their champions across the globe.