(CBS/AP) LONDON — A British judge on Monday granted a reprieve to Shambo, a sacred bull at a Hindu monastery in southern Wales who had been threatened with slaughter because he is suspected of carrying bovine tuberculosis.
Shambo’s plight raised intense arguments about whether public health concerns superseded religious rights. His caretakers at the Skanda Vale monastery in southwestern Wales launched a campaign to save him that included an Internet petition, a blog purportedly giving Shambo’s “daily thoughts” and a Webcast called “Moo Tube” that tracked the bull’s movements around its hay-filled shrine.
The caretakers argued that the tuberculosis diagnosis was inconclusive, that he could be treated if sick and that killing him would violate their right to worship. Hindus regard cattle as sacred.
Local regulations stipulate that cattle suspected of carrying tuberculosis be slaughtered. The disease can spread to other cattle and deer, and in rare cases to dogs and cats — and humans, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Judge Gary Hickinbottom at the High Court in Cardiff said that there was little doubt Shambo carried the disease but ordered the Welsh authorities to reconsider its decision in light of whether killing the bull would be proportional to the risk he poses. He said animals have previously been cured of the disease.
Hickinbottom warned that his ruling did not necessarily mean that the bull was out of jeopardy.
“This judgment does not, of course, guarantee that, as the community wishes, Shambo will live until he dies a natural death,” Hickinbottom said. “This judgment merely rules that the decisions … to pursue the slaughter … were unlawful and will be quashed.”
The Hindu Forum of Britain, one of the many groups lobbying to save Shambo, expressed relief at the decision, although the group’s spokesman, Sanjay Mistry, acknowledged that Shambo might still be killed.
“I think the judgment is quite strongly in the favor of the temple, and based on that, I think we can be quite confident that at least at this stage that Shambo is safe,” he said.
The Welsh government said it would appeal the judgment.
Hindus have long held cows in particularly high regard, and many are adopted by or donated to temples. Shambo is one of a herd of cattle kept on the monastery’s 115-acre spread near Carmarthen, in southwest Wales.