But drone videos show––again––that the body count was vastly lower than is often claimed
BARIYARPUR, Nepal––More animals were slain at the 2019 Gadhi Mai sacrificial massacre in Bariyarpur, Nepal, than in 2014––a deeply disappointing discovery, after 15 years of international efforts to stop the every-five-years bloodbath held in honor of a local goddess.
Drone video analysis of the December 3, 2019 mass killing, however, shows unequivocally that the 2019 animal death toll increased, though the numbers of spectators and participants did not.
Despite the increase, however, the numbers of animals slain remained magnitudes of order fewer than were––again––recklessly claimed by the Gadhi Mai organizers, many animal advocacy organizations, and mass media.
As in past years, few if any reporters appear to have made much effort to verify anything they were told by spokespersons, either among the defenders or the opponents of the killing.
1,500 buffalo beheaded
A multi-day ANIMALS 24-7 body count done from drone videos posted to web sites by the international animal advocacy organization Animal Equality found that not more than about 1,500 buffalo were beheaded in the stockade just outside Bariyarpur where most of the killing was done, before an audience of barely 1,000 people.
The number of goats sacrificed beyond the stockade perimeter may have reached the low hundreds, certainly not much more, but insufficient video was posted to do a thorough quantification. Clear, however, was that far fewer goats were sacrificed, as in 2014 and 2009, than buffalo.
Foggy conditions and insufficient video documentation inhibited trying to count the numbers of birds killed in 2019. In past years some observers have counted as “escaped from sacrifice” or “liberated” large numbers of pigeons, many of whom live around temples throughout Nepal, feasting on offerings of rice, other grains, and vegetables.
As after the 2009 and 2014 Gadhi Mai massacres, ANIMALS 24-7 repeatedly viewed the available video footage, enumerating each and every discernible animal, doing multiple counts and comparing the numbers seen from different angles and drone altitudes.
The 2014 count was easiest, because that year one Humane Society International drone video captured the entire sacrificial area well enough, on a clear enough day, to permit doing a single “master count” that could be compared to counts done at close range.
The 2019 count, by contrast, could be done only by piecing together separate shots of different parts of the stockade.
Head count vs. body count
Doing the 2019 count was also complicated by fog and darkness. As buffalo are black and dark brown, darkness can make accurately counting the number of corpses in a pile difficult; but a large pile is obviously multiple animals, whereas small piles are often only heads, severed from bodies already counted.
The ANIMALS 24-7 high estimate of buffalo killed in 2019, drawn from multiple counts, is 1,500, projected from 1,127 buffalo actually enumerated. This is up from 750 buffalo enumerated in 2014, but the 2019 count most likely includes some accidental double-counting, due to mistaking head piles partially shrouded by fog for whole bodies.
The ANIMALS 24-7 low estimate of buffalo killed in 2019 is 1,200, projected from a relatively precise enumeration of 398 in one quadrant of the stockade area, plus visible portions of the other three quadrants.
As in 2009 and 2014, about 200 to 300 buffalo were killed in each quadrant.
To make for easier counting, ANIMALS 24-7 enumerated the buffalo in sets of 100 in 2014, and sets of 300 in 2019.
“1,600 to 1,800” says Goodall rep
Jane Goodall Institute Nepal representative Manoj Gautam, who amplified some of the most exaggerated claims about numbers of animals killed during the 2009 and 2014 Gadhi Mai massacres, in 2019 offered media the most plausible statements about the numbers of anyone actually on the scene.
“His organization used drones to tally up the number of buffalo that had been rounded up before the slaughter,” reported Swati Gupta for CNN. “They spotted somewhere between 1,600 and 1,800, he said.”
As the ANIMALS 24-7 high count projected about 1,500, a 5% margin of error in both estimates or a 10% margin of error in either one could produce convergence.
How “2,000 buffalo” became “3,000 to 6,500” dead
“Tightly crushed together in an area about the size of a football field fenced with barbed wire, more than 2,000 buffalo stand waiting for their death,” reported Arun Budhathoki from Bariyapur for The Guardian. “Deprived of adequate water and food, they snort and snuffle in pain.”
Several paragraphs later, Budhathoki wrote, “At the crack of dawn the festival began with the Pancha Bali, the sacrifices of a rat, a goat, a rooster, a pig and a pigeon. By 9 a.m., about 200 butchers began to take their khukuris – a type of Nepalese blade – to the necks of the buffaloes. The air was filled with the cries of the animals. By the end of the day, between 3,000 to 6,500 buffalo had been beheaded.”
While the color commentary appears to have been accurate, Budhathoki failed to explain how the number of buffalo might have more than tripled between when they were bunched for slaughter and when the last buffalo fell.
As the drone videos from each Gadhi Mai massacre affirm, there is no holding area from which more buffalo might be brought, and nowhere to put additional buffalo once the first lot are felled, to be removed for skinning and rendering the next day.
Indeed, the drone videos show mostly empty fields beyond the sacrificial stockage, except in the direction of the village.
How to claim “victory”: first inflate the numbers, then cite a reduction
“In 2009, it is estimated around a quarter of a million animals were slaughtered. The figure for 2014 was about 200,000,” Budhathoki claimed, without citing any source, any method of estimation, and apparently without realizing that a quarter of a million buffalo, goats, or any animal at least the size of a chicken would cover the whole of Bariyarpur, trees, buildings, roofs, roads, and all.
Gupta of CNN, after citing Gautam, wandered even farther afield. “An estimated 500,000 goats, buffalo, pigeons and other animals were slaughtered in 2009, according to Humane Society International,” Gupta wrote. “That number dropped to about 30,000 in 2014, the NGO [non-governmental organization] said.”
Indeed, Humane Society of the U.S. president Kitty Block, of which Humane Society International is a subsidiary, gave the same numbers in a December 6, 2019 blog about the Gadhi Mai 2019 massacre.
But Block did not say where those numbers came from, a matter that both ANIMALS 24-7 and Beauty Without Cruelty India extensively investigated in 2014.
“We are not against traditions & culture”
What Block did say is that “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,” or more than twice as many as the ANIMALS 24-7 high-end estimate from enumeration, around twice as many as Gautam counted, and nearly twice as many as Budhathoki of The Guardian counted.
Again, though, the color commentary matched the video: “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,” Bhar wrote.
Budhathoki provided additional color. “Even if they could not prevent the slaughter, activists were tending to the animals in their final hours in an attempt to minimize suffering,” Budhathoki reported.
“Her hands and face smeared with blood and mud, Sneha Shrestha, president of the Federation of Animal Welfare Nepal, spent Monday treating wounded buffalo calves with saline water and medicine, checking their temperatures and trying to bring them food and water.”
“We are not against traditions and culture,” Shrestha told Budhathoki, “but if such practices hurt animals, then we must step forward to end them.”
The Gadhi Mai sacrificial massacres are beyond question shockingly cruel, the more so because they are conducted just 160 miles from Lumbini, Nepal, where the prince Siddhārtha Gautama, better known as the Buddha, was born in 623 BCE––and only 120 miles from Vaishali, India, where Mahavira, the founder of the Jain religion, was born in 640 BCE.
Both the Buddha and Mahavira devoted their lives in large part to teaching against cruelty to animals.
But the Gadhi Mai sacrificial massacres do not kill more animals––or even half as many––as just one U.S. company, Tyson Foods, kills each and every day.
Nor are the Gadhi Mai massacres anywhere near the largest killings of animals associated with religion. Many times more animals are killed each year in Saudi Arabia alone for the Feast of Atonement (Ramadan)––observed around the world––that follows the annual mass pilgrimage of devout Muslims to Mecca.
The Gadhi Mai sacrificial massacres might most accurately be described as one of the biggest and most brazen of all cruel scams, having little or no verifiable history despite oft-cited claims of origin having to do with an 18th century vow purportedly made by local feudal landlord Bhagwan Chaudhary.
Sacrifice at Bhariyapur actually appears to have centered on splitting coconuts, beginning long before Chaudhary’s time.
Otherwise, there appears to be no unequivocal written documentation of any mass animal sacrifice having been held at Bariyarpur before 1999.
Former Nepalese king Gyanendra Bir Bikram Dev, a blood sacrifice enthusiast, poured money into encouraging animal slaughter on sacrificial occasions, not only at Bariyarpur but elsewhere around Nepal during his brief reign, 2001-2006.
The present Bariyarpur infrastructure for sacrifice dates to Gyanendra’s reign.
Where & why the inflation started
As many as 2,500 buffalo and hundreds of goats and chickens were verifiably killed at the 2004, 2009, and 2014 Gadhi Mai sacrifices, according to analysis of the available photographic documentation.
Exaggeration of the body counts appears to have begun with the local priests who profit by the sale of rendered remains of animals offered in sacrifice.
Beauty Without Cruelty-India discovered in 2014 that local priests appeared to be selling the right to sacrifice each donated animal multiple times to absentee sponsors. Dozens of sponsors might be told that each animal was sacrificed specifically to bring good fortune to themselves and their families. As there were far more absentee sponsors than animals, claiming inflated numbers were killed was done to help conceal the fraud.
Activists opposed to the sacrifices apparently then swallowed the inflated claims whole, and exaggerated them further to try to drum up global support for protest.
HSUS, HSI announced “victory” but were double-crossed
After Beauty Without Cruelty-India exposed the priestly racket, four senior Gadhi Mai Temple Trust representatives on July 22, 2015 visited Patna, India, to sign a purported deal to end the animal sacrifices with representatives of the Humane Society of the U.S., Humane Society International, and leading Indian and Nepalese animal charities.
The signees included Mangal Chaudhary Tharu, chief priest of the Gadhimai Temple Trust; Motilal Prasad Khushwaha, secretary of the Gadhimai Temple Trust; Rajendra Prasad Shah, co-secretary of the Gadhimai Temple Trust; and Tripurari Shah, a member of the Gadhimai Temple Trust.
But the Humane Society of the U.S. and Humane Society International had barely announced the deal and claimed “victory” in emails and social media postings, when the priests told media in India and Nepal that they had not agreed to any such thing.
Supreme Court of Nepal repeatedly rules against Gadhi Mai killing
Lawsuits against the Gadhi Mai sacrifices have had comparably illusory outcomes.
Nepal Animal Welfare & Research Center founder Uttam G.P. Dahal, aware that the Gadhi Mai sacrifices were already illegal under Nepalese law, at his own initiative brought a lawsuit against the 2014 Gadhi Mai sacrifices before the Supreme Court of Nepal.
On November 24, 2014, three days before the 2014 Gadhi Mai sacrificial festival, Dahal won the first Supreme Court of Nepal judgment against the sacrifices, but was unable to obtain an injunction reinforcing the judgement with an order that would have stopped the killing before it proceeded.
Supreme Court of Nepal Justices Ishwori Prasad Khatiwada and Anil Kumar Sinha on August 4, 2016 affirmed the November 24, 2014 ruling, in response to a writ petition filed by animal advocate Arjun Kumar Aryal on November 20, 2014, four days before the verdict in the Dahal case was issued.
Dahal died, but Gautam fights on
Dahal, 33, died on July 26, 2019 after battling illness for most of his brief but dynamic life.
But Manoj Gautam, Guardian reporter Budhathoki mentioned, “filed a contempt case in the Supreme Court of Nepal against the Nepalese government and Gadhi Mai temple committee for disregarding” the previous Supreme Court rulings.
“In September 2019,” CNN reporter Gupta added, “Nepal’s Supreme Court ordered the government to come up with a plan to phase out the animal sacrifice and pass laws making it illegal.”
“We are on the side of discouraging sacrifices according to the 2015 Supreme Court verdict. There is no definite answer as to when this festival will end, but it will one day,” Gadhi Mai Mela Organizing Committee general secretary Motilal Kushwaha told Budhathoki.
That day may come sooner if and when opponents quit helping to promote the massacres as a spectacle, by distributing inflated numbers, and instead join Beauty Without Cruelty-India in pointing out that the killing constitutes economic fraud on a grand scale, exploiting the gullibility of some of the world’s poorest and least literate people.