IMAGE: Shambo the bull
Barry Batchelor  /  AP file
Shambo the bull gazes out from his shrine at Skanda Vale, Llanpumsaint, Wales, on July 2.
updated 7/12/2007 8:50:36 PM ET 2007-07-13T00:50:36

Those caring for him at a Hindu monastery in Wales say he symbolizes the sanctity of all life and is an inspiration to temple-goers. Officials say he could have a contagious disease and should be put down.

Now the fate of Shambo the sacred bull is in the hands of Welsh justice.

The 6-year-old Friesian bull tested positive for bovine tuberculosis in April. Under British law, animals suspected of carrying the disease must be slaughtered. But Shambo's caretakers at Skanda Vale Hindu monastery near Carmarthen, in southwest Wales β€” backed by worldwide supporters β€” say Shambo is not sick and have been fighting to save him.

The temple brought its case before the Cardiff Civil Justice Center on Thursday, arguing that their religious rights were being violated. Judge Gary Hickinbottom said he would rule on Shambo's case on Monday.

"Both sides put across very strong arguments," said Sanjay Mistry, a spokesman for the Hindu Forum of Britain, one of the groups lobbying to save Shambo. "I think the judge acknowledged that he's got a difficult decision to make, and we're hopeful that he'll come (down) on our side."

After receiving notice in early May that regional authorities intended to have Shambo slaughtered, the bull was isolated in a hay-filled shrine in the monastery's main temple. An Internet petition was launched and the temple created a blog listing Shambo's daily thoughts, paired with a live Web cam dubbed "Moo Tube."

Hindus revere many animals as sacred, but cows have always had a special place. They remain a powerful symbol of the religion, and many are adopted by or donated to temples. Shambo is one of a herd of cows at a 115-acre estate belonging to the monastery, also known as the Community of the Many Names of God.

Animal can be treated, monastery says
The monastery has fiercely defended the animal, arguing that the tuberculosis test was inconclusive, and that, even if Shambo were sick, he could be treated rather than killed.

The Welsh rural development minister, Jane Davidson, said she was "acutely aware" of the distress her decision has caused the Hindu community, but said she had no choice but to order the bull be destroyed in the interests of public health.

She argued that the tuberculosis tests were accurate in 99.9 percent of all cases, and that even healthy-looking cattle might be sick or even contagious.

"I have ... considered extremely carefully whether the rights of the community to manifest their religion should override the duty on me to protect animal and human health," she said in a letter to the Welsh Assembly last month. "In the light of the veterinary, medical and legal assessments, I am minded to conclude that they should not."

The monastery said in a Web statement that its members would be "willing to defend his life with our own."

Mistry said the statement was meant to express Hindu belief, adding that any protests would be nonviolent.

Another Hindu leader urged understanding on both sides.

"If there is good evidence of a genuine case of tuberculosis which is then a danger to others ... then you have to let go," said Anil Bhanot, the general secretary of Hindu Council U.K. "It is the body that is dying, not the atma (soul) β€” that is not perishable."

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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