By Jennifer O’Connor
Every July, bored middle-class Americans, Canadians, Aussies and Europeans with time and money head to Pamplona, Spain, to amuse themselves by running with the bulls.
But by the time these tourists go home with hangovers and anecdotes, the bulls who are victims of this exercise in machismo will be dead.
Even though this event is about as relevant today as an eight-track tape player, reporters still fill up column space by glamorizing the run.
What’s rarely mentioned is that the bulls are whipped and terrorized to force them to run down streets crowded with masses of inebriated people hitting them with sticks. Bulls slip and fall on the slick cobblestone streets, often breaking horns or sustaining other injuries. Few tourists know the ultimate fate of the animals: death, one by one, in the bullring.
It’s hard to believe that bulls are still being stabbed to death for entertainment in 2011.
The running of the bulls is just a prelude to bulls being led into bullfighting arenas.
The exhausted, confused bulls fight for their lives as men on horses run them in circles while repeatedly piercing them with knives called banderillas, until the animals are dizzy, weakened from blood loss and suffering agonizing pain.
The horses, who are blindfolded, can also suffer serious injuries if they can’t avoid a charging bull.
The matador (Spanish for “killer”) comes in only when the exhausted bull is already near death.
Bulls are often still conscious as their ears and tails are cut off as “trophies” and as they are dragged from the ring on chains.
Tourists are what keep the fights alive and the bulls dying. Money spent to run with the bulls contributes to the bullfights, as do tickets purchased by curious tourists or those who simply go along with what’s included in their travel itinerary. By the time an appalled spectator rushes out of the arena in horror, the damage has been done and more bulls will endure a painful death.
But condemnation of this bloody pastime is growing worldwide, and those few still clinging to this barbaric tradition are finding themselves in nearly empty arenas.
Spain’s Catalan Parliament overwhelmingly voted to ban bullfighting after officials were presented with the signatures of 180,000 people demanding an end to the carnage. Catalonia’s capital, Barcelona, is widely considered the birthplace of bullfighting.
Dozens of other Spanish cities and towns have also declared their opposition to bullfighting, and according to a 2009 Gallup survey, 76 percent of Spaniards have no interest in attending or supporting bullfights.
Portugal’s municipality of Viana do Castelo purchased the city’s only bullring and transformed it into a science and education center. A poll conducted by Mexico’s Green Party found that 84 percent of respondents believe that the cruelty of bullfighting is unnecessary.
Even Álvaro Múnera—a South American matador who was once known as “El Pilarico,” or the star bullfighter—now works to ban bullfighting.
Múnera, who suffered severe injuries after being gored by a bull and is confined to a wheelchair, says that he is haunted by the animals he killed—in particular, one “practice” cow whom he watched die (only to learn that she was carrying a calf) and a bull who fought to live after a sword pierced his body and came out the other side.
Would those who participate in the running of the bulls still do so if they knew that the bulls are running toward their death? If there is any civility, decency and kindness left in a world that still kills animals for sport, let’s hope not.
Jennifer O’Connor is a staff writer with the PETA Foundation.