The Gadhimai festival began today in Nepal, launching at dawn with the slaughter of some 3,500 buffalo.
Along with buffalo, other animals killed as part of proceedings include goats, pigs, chickens, rats and pigeons.
Animal rights campaigners are applauding a record low death toll – down from 200,000 animals in 2014.
At its height in 2009, the event saw around 500,000 buffalo, goats, pigeons and other animals killed.
However, thousands of animals are still destined for death over the course of the next two days.
The event kicked off with the ceremonial slaughter of a goat, rat, chicken, pig and a pigeon, a local shaman then offering blood from five points of his body.
Birendra Prasad Yadav from the festival organising committee told AFP: “The sacrifices have begun today… We had tried not to support it but people have faith in the tradition and have come here with their offerings.”
Alokparna Sengupta, Humane Society International/India’s managing director, said from the festival: “Being here at the Gadhimai sacrifice is one of the most depressing and challenging experiences of my life.
“The suffering of these animals is so upsetting, they have endured exhausting journeys to get here and are paraded in front of a baying crowd as all around them they witness other animals being decapitated one by one.”
Tanuja Basnet, director of Humane Society International/Nepal, who also witnessed the slaughter, said: “Such scenes of animal suffering are a stain on Nepal’s international reputation. There is no justification for this mass killing, and it is truly heartbreaking to witness, especially knowing that the Temple could and should have kept its promise to help these animals.
“It has been left to animal groups like HSI, FAWN, PFA and others to intervene over the past year and urge people not to bring animals for sacrifice. If we had not acted, the lives of many thousands more animals would have been wasted.
“But it is now time for the Nepal government to step up and introduce a ban in law on animal sacrifice so that this is the last time we witness such horrors at Gadhimai.”