The long-running saga of Shambo the bull entered its final chapter yesterday, as the Court of Appeal ruled a slaughter order on the animal was justified, despite his sacred status for the Hindu monks who keep him.
The bull, which tested positive for exposure to bovine tuberculosis (BTB) in May this year, was last week given a reprieve from a slaughter order, given its importance to the Hindu monks of the Skanda Vale Community in Llanpumsaint, west Wales. The Welsh High Court supported the group, known as the Community of the Many Names of God, in their plea to save the animal, because they believed the Welsh Assembly had not given enough weight to the group’s religious rights.
But judges in London yesterday upheld the ruling that no exception could be made for the contaminated animal, despite its religious significance. Lord Justice Pill, sitting with the two other judges who had heard the case in Cardiff last week, said the former rural affairs minister Jane Davidson had acted within the law when she refused to make an exception for Shambo as a sacred bull. “I have come to the decision that the minister was entitled to make the decision she did in regard to the very considerable problem presented by BTB”, said the judge. “The decision to eliminate the risk by slaughter and not to permit an exception to the slaughter policy was, in my opinion, justified.”
The judge felt the risk posed by BTB outweighed what was “a very grave and serious interference with their religious rights”.
Mark Hoskins, representing Skanda Vale, told appeal judges that killing Shambo would be “comparable to killing a human being”. He accused Ms Davidson of only seeking expert advice on health matters, and neglecting to seek any on religious issues. But the Assembly Government said last week that Judge Gary Hickinbottom was wrong to quash the slaughter order they had made, as he had “substantially” misinterpreted the evidence.
Judge Hickinbottom had argued that the policy of “surveillance and slaughter” was not a legitimate objective for a sacred animal, but Jonathan Crow QC, representing the Assembly Government, said the slaughter was essential as it had been ordered to protect public health. The Welsh Hindu community, which includes two farms and farmhouses that have been converted into temples, revered the animal as part of their beliefs on the sanctity of life. More than 20,000 people signed a petition to save Shambo, and the community have made a special shrine to him within their temple. The group, which is made up of 30 residents, 25 of whom are monks, said to kill the bull would be “an appalling desecration of life, the sanctity of our temple and Hinduism”.
Ramesh Kallidai, secretary general of the Hindu Forum of Britain, said: “To kill such an important symbol of the Hindu religion on the basis of a subjective and unreliable test is not only incomprehensible but also sacrilegious. Mr Kallidai warned that killing the bull would be a “grave desecration” of the temple. “This decision means Hindus and other ethnic minorities who wish to observe their faith are second-class citizens in the eyes of the law.”
The case is expected to go to the House of Lords for a final verdict.