Bullfighting has made the headlines again after the death of matador Victor Barrio. Vegan Life looks at the sport and the efforts to end it
Spectators looked on in horror as the bull turned on Victor Barrio. The first matador to die as a result of his ‘sport’ Barrio was gored through the chest, and later suffered cardiac arrest. The bull, Lorenzo, had been forced to endure brutal cruelty, so for some viewers, the matador’s demise at the annual festival named Feria del Ángel, was a small victory.
The matador’s death sparked renewed calls for a ban on the bloody tradition and has reopened a national debate on its place in modern day Spain. Peta director, Mimi Bekhechi said: “It’s hardly surprising that the bull seized the opportunity to lash out at his tormentor. And Unlike Barrio, who voluntarily chose to risk his life by adopting a career as a matador, Lorenzo has no choice about appearing in the ring-and no chance of leaving it alive.”
Every year approximately 250,000 bulls are killed in a vicious spectacle labelled by aficionados as ‘entertainment’ and ‘tradition’. Animal rights activists have been tirelessly campaigning to put an end to the horrific and barbaric ‘sport’ of bullfighting that they say is one of the planet’s most blatant forms of animal cruelty.
Bullfighting is a common and popular event in Spain, Portugal, southern France and parts of South America. There are usually six separate fights at each performance with each lasting around 20 minutes. In the days leading up to a bullfight, bulls are often starved and drugged to weaken and disorientate them. “People will also smear petroleum jelly into the eyes of the bulls to impair their vision. They also have their sensitive horns shaved-an extremely painful procedure likened to someone having extreme dental treatment with no anaesthetic,” explains Mark McCormick, head of campaigns for the League Against Cruel Sports.
In a typical bullfight, a confused bull will enter an arena and will quickly be approached by men on blindfolded horses that drive lances into his back and neck, which impairs him the ability to lift his head. Then, more men enter on foot and proceed to distract the bull and dart around him while plunging banderillos-bright sticks with harpoon points on their ends- into his back. When the bull has become weakened due to blood loss, the matador will appear and after provoking a few exhausted charges from the dying animal, tries to kill the bull with his sword. Quite often this can take the matador several attempts; at this point the bull is mutilated and completely paralysed.
After suffering an agonising and torturous experience within the bullring, the bulls are tormented further as the successful matador poses above the dying bull’s body and cuts off his ears or tail as trophies. According to Mark McCormick bulls aren’t the only helpless animal victims in this cruel tradition. “Blind-folded and their ears stuffed full of cotton wool prior to entering the ring, horses also suffer severe injuries, if not death from being gored by the confused charging bulls.”
Once they have charged into the ring, the majority of bulls will never have the fortune of leaving alive. Occasionally, if a bull is considered to have put up a valiant fight and the audience is pleased with his performance, they will wave white handkerchiefs in the air signalling to officials that the bull deserves to earn a pardon and be spared death. Although this is exceptionally rare, the bull will then be provided with the right to live the rest of his years at a sanctuary.
And the reason behind this senseless cruelty? Simply to entertain the jeering crowd who have paid to watch.
With the biggest and most popular bullfights and festivals taking place in Spain, supporters consider bullfights-referred to in the country as Fiesta Nacional (The National Sport)-to be both traditional and cultural. Every week, many thousands of Spaniards flock to their nearest bullring to drink beer and watch defenceless bulls get tortured and murdered. However, not all Spaniards agree with the sport, or like it. According to a 2013 Ipsos Mori poll commissioned by Humane Society International only 29 per cent of Spanish people are in favour of bullfighting and just 13 per cent support it strongly-recognising that, while Spain has many cultural traditions to be proud of, bullfighting is certainly not one of them. Banned in Catalonia in 2010, now more than 100 Spanish cities and towns have banned bullfighting, and more are poised to follow suit. Mark McCormick says: “Fewer and fewer seats are occupied in bullrings echoing the opinion of the majority of Spaniards, who do not support bullfighting.”
In addition to the cultural bullfights, every year an event known as the San Fermin festival or ‘running of the bulls’ takes place in the Spanish city of Pamplona. During the two week festival dozens of frightened bulls are struck and terrorised as they slip and slide down the narrow streets on their way to a violent death in Pamplona’s bullring. Wearing bull horns and carrying signs reading ‘Pamplona: Bloodbath for Bulls’ a protest -organised by Peta UK and Spanish group AnimaNaturalis- saw a group of 75 individuals from around the world pour gallons of theatrical blood on themselves outside the city’s town hall to speak out against the planned killing of 48 bulls during the festival. “Each of the bulls terrorised in the streets of Pamplona will suffer an excruciating death in front of a screaming crowd in the bullring”, says Mimi Bekhechi. “We’re calling for a permanent end to the widely condemned display of violence and suffering.”
Despite disagreement from nationals and activists the horrifying event continues to draw in large crowds year after year.
With tourists flocking to Spain from as far as America to take part in the famous bull runs, protestors have suggested that many people are unaware and oblivious of the cruel fate that awaits the bulls they chase through the cobbled streets. Which is why organising campaigns clearly highlighting the torture they endure is vital in eradicating the cruel tradition.
With such a diverse public opinion of bullfighting within the countries it is still legal, why are the governments so opposed to banning the ‘sport’. In truth, governments enjoy the revenue that bullfighting generates. Famous matadors are treated like royalty in their respective countries and earn thousands for a single fight. Whilst this doesn’t benefit the countries directly, bullfighting as an industry contributes to the economies of the countries where it is practiced in a number of ways. Future matadors pay to train at bullfighting schools, and specialised ranches breed the bulls for fights. Also, seamstresses fashion the ornate traje de luces (bullfighting outfits worn within the ring) by hand, at a significant cost. When visiting countries that still permit this barbaric sport, tourists often include in their trip a visit to the infamous bullrings, further contributing to their revenue. According to data from the National Association of Bullfighting Organizers, Spain could lose an estimated €3.6 million a year, if it bans bullfighting.
The League Against Cruel Sports’ Mark McCormick says: “With subsidies being used to prop up bullfighting now under threat, and recent opinion polling revealing 93% of 16-24 year olds in Spain oppose the cruel sport – it is not so much a question of ‘If’ but ‘when’ bullfighting will finally be consigned to the dustbin of history. For the sake of the thousands of bulls tortured to death each year in the name of entertainment, I only hope it is sooner rather than later.”
History of bullfighting
- Bullfighting festivals have existed for around 300 years, although the fighting of bulls dates back to Roman times.
- Since 1700, 536 professional bullfighters have died in the ring.
- American journalist Ernest Hemingway developed a strong passion for bullfighting and wrote best-selling novels such as The Sun Also Rises and Death in the Afternoon which immortalised what he saw as man’s ultimate challenge.
- The first bullfights were on horseback to celebrate special occasions such as royal weddings and military victories.
- People have been speaking out against bullfighting for almost five hundred years: in 1567, Pope Pius V called for an end to the cruel and un-Christian sport.
- Initially, more horses were killed in the ring than bulls. Since 1930, horses have worn protective covers to prevent the bulls from disembowelling them-they can still get injured though.