India ban hits Nepal's mass animal sacrifice

KATHMANDU - Hindu devotees slaughtered an estimated 200,000 animals during a recent festival in Nepal, organisers said Monday, attributing a sharp fall in numbers to Indian export restrictions.

Some 2.5 million worshippers from India and Nepal sacrificed buffaloes, goats and pigeons to the Hindu goddess of power, Gadhimai, on Friday and Saturday, in a ritual held every five years, despite mounting pressure from activists.

In 2009 an estimated 300,000 animals had their heads chopped off or throats slit at the Gadhimai festival, held in the remote village of Bariyapur near the Nepal-India border.

This year, however, a ban on Gadhimai-related animal exports by the Indian Supreme Court provoked police to patrol the border and stop worshippers from taking buffalo and goats across to the temple.

"Many devotees were unable to cross the border with animals for sacrifice because of the Indian court order," said Moti Lal Kasuhawa, secretary of the festival organising committee.

"As a result, we saw a considerable decrease in the number of sacrifices this year," Kasuhawa told AFP.

Animal rights activists applauded the court decision and told AFP they would press on with efforts to ban the slaughter in Nepal.

"Our aim is to completely stop religious animal sacrifices. The Indian ban helped, but we need the Nepalese government to end this barbaric ritual," said Manoj Gautam, president of Animal Nepal Welfare Network.

According to legend, the first sacrifices in Bariyapur were conducted several centuries ago when Gadhimai appeared to a prisoner in a dream and asked him to establish a temple to her.

When he awoke, his shackles had fallen open and he was able to leave the prison and build the temple, where he sacrificed animals to give thanks.

The campaign to ban the festival has attracted support from celebrities including British actress Joanna Lumley and French movie legend Brigitte Bardot, who has petitioned Nepal's president to end the "cruel tradition".