By Jennifer O’Connor
The barbaric spectacle of bullfighting has suffered another blow. Spain’s national television broadcasting network recently banned bullfighting from the country’s airwaves, deeming it harmful for children to watch. Previously, Portuguese state-owned networks made the decision to broadcast bullfights only late at night because of their “extreme violence.” While it may indeed be harmful for people—children and adults alike—to watch bulls being repeatedly stabbed and dying in a pool of their own blood, it’s deadly for the bulls who are tormented and killed in bullfighting rings.
It’s hard to believe that in 2011, people anywhere still participate in this violent blood sport. Yet in arenas in Spain, Mexico, South America, Portugal and France, bulls are routinely teased and provoked before being led into bullfighting rings.
The confused and agitated 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 when 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.
Those few still clinging to this barbaric tradition are finding themselves in nearly empty arenas. Last year, 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 capitol, Barcelona, is widely considered the birthplace of bullfighting. At least 42 other Spanish cities and towns have declared their opposition to bullfighting, and according to a 2009 Gallup survey, 76 percent of Spaniards have no interest in attending or supporting bullfights.
Spain’s former environment minister—the daughter of a bullfighting expert—publicly denounced the blood sport, saying, “I am deeply ashamed of living in a country with such a tradition.”
Condemnation of this bloody pastime is growing worldwide. Portugal’s municipality of Viana do Castelo purchased the city’s 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 in bullfighting is unnecessary.
Álvaro Múnera—a South American matador who was once known as “El Pilarico” (the star bullfighter)—suffered severe injuries after being gored by a bull. Confined to a wheelchair, Múnera now works to ban bullfighting, saying he is haunted by the animals he killed—in particular, one “practice” cow whom he watched die (only to learn that she had carried a calf in her womb) and a bull who fought to live after a sword pierced his body and came out the other side.
The only thing keeping the fights alive and the bulls dying are tourists. Curious to see for themselves what a bullfight really is, travelers buy tickets or simply go along with what’s included in their travel itineraries. By the time an appalled spectator rushes out in horror, the damage has been done: The money spent for a ticket has gone to support the killing, and more bulls endure a painful death.
If you care about animals and are traveling to one of those few countries that are still clinging to this barbaric tradition, don’t succumb to temptation. Bullfighting will only be relegated to the history books where it belongs when tourists stop paying to watch the cruel slaughter of animals.
Jennifer O’Connor is a research specialist with the PETA Foundation
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