Cows are famously regarded as "sacred" in the Hindu faith, and as such, killing cows is illegal in much of India. But as the country increasingly develops a taste for beef, a black market of illegal slaughterhouses is also growing, and alongside it, cattle rustlers are stealing more and more cows to feed demand, the New York Times reports. In the state of Andhra Pradesh alone, officials estimate there are 3,100 illegal slaughterhouses.
Each stolen cow fetches 5,000 rupees, or about $94, and police say the outlaws are ruthless in securing their bounties and undeterred by jail. Police arrested 150 rustlers in Delhi last year. "Even if they’re sent to jail, they come out in 10 to 15 days and commit the same crimes again," says a local man. But the market for illicit meat doesn't look to be going away anytime soon: meat consumption in India grew 14% from 2010 to 2012, and it's now the world's largest dairy and cattle producer. "Cows are all about business and money now, not religion," says an animal welfare activist.