Slaughter at Gadhimai

Humane Society International

Every five years, the world’s largest animal sacrifice takes place at the Gadhimai Temple in Nepal. The month-long festival has raised controversy due to the large number of animals killed — up to 500,000 over two days.

Kuni Takahashi/AP Images for HSI

Waiting to die

At the culmination of the event, water buffalo, cows, goats, chickens, pigs, pigeons, ducks and rats are decapitated with blunt metal tools in an alcohol-fueled killing frenzy. An estimated 70 percent of the animals have historically been imported from India, enduring days of suffering without adequate food, water or shelter during transport. This year, HSI successfully petitioned the Supreme Court of India to order a stop to these border crossings, resulting in over 100 arrests and more than 2,500 animals saved. We also helped provide care for the confiscated animals.

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Kuni Takahashi/AP Images for HSI

To please a goddess

Festival participants ring bells in prayer. The killing is meant to please the goddress Gadhimai, in hopes of having a wish granted or averting future calamity.The popularity of the event also brings many who just come to witness the celebrations and the slaughter for the purpose of entertainment.

Kuni Takahashi/AP Images for HSI

Motive: profit

Many people profit from the killing. Here, goats are seen for sale on the street. They will shortly be hacked or bludgeoned to death. Event organizers make money from the dead animals’ meat and hides.

Kuni Takahashi/AP Images for HSI

Mass carnage

Bones remain from the past. The animals’ carcasses, left to rot for weeks after the festival ends, pose serious health and environmental risks. The Gadhimai Festival was directly associated with a major outbreak of pestes des petits ruminants (PPR) (or “goat plague”) in 1995—the prognosis for which is death within 5-10 days after showing symptoms of fever. Animals are also at risk of avian flu and other zoonotic diseases that can be transmitted to humans.

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Monitoring activity

The HSI/India team and partners worked directly with the Department of Livestock Services in Nepal to build controlled zones and quarantine stations for each animal brought to the sacrifice. Here, volunteers check out a buffalo calf.

Kuni Takahashi/AP Images for HSI

Call for compassion

Animal protection groups have been campaigning to end the bloodbath. In recent months, HSI met with Nepal’s president and prime minister and here, Nanditha Krishna of Humane Society International (left), and Manoj Gautam of Animal Welfare Nepal (right), try to convince Mangal Chaudhry, Chief Priest of Gadhimai Temple, to stop the sacrifice at the last minute.

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Trying every tactic

Our team lobbied through the night until just hours before the butchering started. Here, HSI’s Gauri Maulekhi sits with Swami Agnivesh and volunteers holding signs to protest the mass killing.

Kuni Takahashi/AP Images for HSI

Slaughter begins

Unfortunately, the slaughter moved forward despite our tireless efforts. This photo shows men raising their knives as they prepare to rush a field full of animals.

Kuni Takahashi/AP Images for HSI


Weakened from the long journey to the killing grounds and tied to a post, a buffalo helplessly awaits its fate.

Kuni Takahashi/AP Images for HSI

Scores of dead

The aftermath. While horrific, it’s reported that the number of animals involved was significantly diminished from at past festivals.

Meanwhile, our resolve to prevent this from happening again is greater than ever. We will do all we can over the next five years to put a permanent end to the massacre of animals at Gadhimai.

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Read a diary by our campaigners who attended the event, as published in The Guardian.