Nepal's Gadhimai Festival, which is the world's largest animal sacrifice and claims the lives of hundreds of thousands of buffalo, goats and birds, will no longer see any blood being shed.
Slaughter at the festival, which has a 265-year-old history and takes place every five years, been cancelled indefinitely, it was announced on Tuesday.
A swordsman goes after a buffalo calf inside a walled enclosure in the Nepalese village of Barayarpur in November 2014
It was estimated that the festival in 2009 saw the massacre of 500,000 water buffalo, goats chickens and other animals, who had their heads severed as part of the ritual.
Campaigns from groups such as HSI and AWNN, coupled with a growing awareness of the event, meant that numbers were reduced by about 70% in 2014.
Organisers of the festival said that the time had come to “transform an old tradition” and that Gadhimai 2019 will instead celebrate life.
Ram Chandra Shah, chairman of the Gadhimai Temple Trust, said in a statement on Tuesday: “For generations, pilgrims have sacrificed animals to the Goddess Gadhimai, in the hope of a better life. For every life taken, our heart is heavy.
“The time has come to transform an old tradition. The time has come to replace killing and violence with peaceful worship and celebration.
“Our concern has been this: how do we convince the people, so desperate for the favour of Gadhimai, that there is another way? How do we bring them on our journey?
“Thankfully, the dedicated efforts of the Animal Welfare Network Nepal and Humane Society International has shown us the path and provided the motivation to make this transformation a reality.
“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. Moreover, we can ensure Gadhimai 2019 is a momentous celebration of life.
“Through mass education and local development, we can bring enlightenment and prosperity to our region. We appeal for your support to develop our local infrastructure and educate our people.
“There is much work to be done, but together we can develop the social fabric of the Gadhimai area and bring peace to the Gadhimai Temple.”
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Gadhimai is located about 100 miles south of Nepal's capital, Kathmandu.
In 2014, the campaign against the animal massacre was widely covered and led to the creation of many petitions opposing the killings.
One petition received more than 100,000 objections to the slaughter, while another garnered more than 42,000 signatures.
Actress Joanna Lumley, called for an end to the mass animal slaughter last year, writing for The Huffington Post UK, she said: “I believe that justice and fairness need to be extended to the animal kingdom too.”
Gauri Maulekhi, HSI/India consultant and trustee, who petitioned India’s Supreme Court against the movement of animals from India to the Gadhimai festival, said on Tuesday: “This is a tremendous victory for compassion that will save the lives of countless animals.
“HSI/India was heartbroken to witness the bloodshed at Gadhimai, and we've worked hard to help secure this ban on future sacrifice.
“We commend the temple committee but acknowledge that a huge task lies ahead of us in educating the public so that they are fully aware.”
Manoj Gautam, founding member of AWNN and campaigner against the Gadhimai festival, said: “We applaud the temple committee’s decision to end this mass slaughter of innocent animals and hope that they will continue to support us in our future endeavors for protecting animals in the country.
“AWNN’s progressive move to work directly with the temple committee, with Humane Society International/India’s support has been the key that changed the whole face of the campaign and is the reason for the achievement we have now.”
Due to the Supreme Court of India’s intervention to prohibit the movement of animals from India to Nepal, AWNN and HSI/India report a reduction of about 70% in the number of animals sacrificed from 2009.
The Supreme Court’s order resulted in more than 100 arrests of those breaching the order, and more than 2,500 animals saved.
The news has been hailed as a huge victory by animal welfare groups, with many celebrating the news.