All the bulls used in bullfighting festivals are the same species as any other cow: Bos taurus taurus. Of all the arguments against bullfighting and similar activities with bulls, the main one is that although they are being used for fighting they have the same characteristics and biological needs as any other bull and, therefore, the same capacity for suffering. In Spain, and also in other countries, there are still some shows in which these animals are tortured before being killed.
The bullfighting industry es in decline. Less and less spectators go to watch a bullfight ive and, in fact, less than half of the bullrings in Spain have bullfights. According to government figures 1,736 events with bulls took place in Spain in 2015 (22.7% bullfights, 30.9% "novilladas" or fights with young bulls and 10.3% "becerradas" or bullfights with calves). 78.3% of the events were held in Andalusia, Castilla y Leon, Castilla la Mancha and the region of Madrid. As it is a legal activity and it relies on support form the national government the people who carry out the killing are considered to be professionals and, as such, there is a registry. In 2015 there were 10,481 registered professionals (820 matadors, 3,083 "novilleros" or novices, 401 "rejoneadores" or horsemen, 2,893 banderilleros, 176 comic bullfighters and 3,108 sword boys), a number which keeps growing over the years as they still include bullfighters over the age of 65 and even those who are never involved in an event. 97% of those registered are men. There are 55 bullfighting schools, mainly located in Andalusia and Castilla la Mancha.
The European Union still provides subsidies to this activity through its CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) and ERDF (European Regional Development Fund), for example, the subsidy to farms which provide animals. There are 1,341 livestock farms producing fighting cattle in Spain, although only a third of them really provide animals for bullfighting events. In fact, although conservation of pastureland is given as an excuse to maintain the livestock farms, the latter only use 10% of the land considered to be for grazing.
Within Spain bullfighting has only been banned in the Canary Islands in 1991 and Catalonia in 2010.
In accordance with the regulation on bullfighting shows (Real Decreto 145/1996), the classification of different events is done according to the age or weight of the animal: bullfights (4-6 year-old bull weighing over 410 kg), novadilla with spikes (3-4 year-old animals with maximum weight of 540 kg), novadilla without spikes (2-3 year-old animals), becerrada (animals less than 2 years old). When bulls or calves are fought on horseback it is known as “rejoneo”. There are also other categories like “festival” or “mixed festivities”” and even “comic bullfighting” where the animals are not stabbed or physically harmed, but they are killed at the end of the show. As for the “becerradas”, or fights with young bulls, amateurs may also take part, only one registered professional is required to be in charge. The regulations allow for the pardon of the bull, which means it is not killed and it is returned to the farm, but this only happens in fewer than 1% of cases and the animals are returned to deplorable conditions. Nowhere does the regulation mention anything about animal suffering, ways of protecting it or inflicting less pain. It doesn’t even mention animal wellbeing. As for the horses that take part, it only suggests they wear a breastplate.
Regardless of the type of event in which they are going to participate, the animals should be moved individually from the farm to the bullring (which may be permanent or temporary) or to the place where they will be released. The bulls can suffer from excessive heat, hunger or thirst while being transported by trailer. The sudden isolation to which they are submitted also affects their mental state, which adds to the stress of being somewhere new.
As well as the different types of events mentioned, the report of Ministry Statistics calculates that 16,383 highly diverse events took place in Spain in 2015, “in which cattle either run or play”.
They take place in both permanent or temporary bullrings. The animals are released one by one for “fighting”.
The show is divided into three parts. During the tercio de varas (the stage of the rods) the bullfighter stabs the animal with barbs, with the aim of debilitating it. In the tercio de banderilla (the stage of the flags), spiked sticks with colourful paper covering are stuck into the animal’s back, the purpose is to get the bull fired up. And the tercio de muerte (the death stage) is when the bullfighter deals the animal the final thrust and deathblow.
The barbs (about 14 per bull), are mounted on rods creating poles of 2.5-2.7 metres long and they are stuck into the animal’s back. They cause the bull deep wounds of up to 20-22cm, they punch into the muscle of that area, slicing through tendons and blood vessels, and even cause breakage of bone structure. The spiked sticks (4 normal ones and 2 for punishment), about 75cm long, are jabbed into the area which has already been injured by the barbs, causing an even more intense pain in the open wound, and there they stay, just hanging out of the wound. The rapier, which is 88 cm long, has to penetrate a specific part of the thorax so as to have immediate effect. Sadly, it usually ends up drawing out the agony for the animal, which doesn’t fall. For this reason they make use of a 10cm-long pointed sword, which is inserted into the neck of the animal in order to bring about a complete paresis and permits the animal to be stabbed with the “puntilla” (10cm-long knife which cuts off the central nervous system), which theoretically ends its life. However, occasionally the bull remains alive even after all this and its tail and ears are cut off and it is dragged out of the bullring still conscious and in pain.
The horses usually have their hearing impeded so as to stop the sound from causing them stress and desperation. And, in spite of wearing the breastplate as armour, the bull will occasionally cause them serious injuries.
The blood, the obvious injuries and the explicit violence don’t seem to be enough to legislate against these shows. Only in the Canary Islands in 1991 and in Catalonia in 2010 have bullfights been banned.
It should be stressed that in the “becerradas” (with calves) the suffering may be even greater. Firstly the bulls are younger and smaller, and secondly, the bullfighters are amateurs and cause more injuries to the animals. They have less ability to hit the correct spot which would bring about a rapid death and so have to repeat the stabbing process several times.
This type of show is very common in Spain, regularly practised in many towns. The best-known one, however, is held during the festivities of San Fermin, in Pamplona. All bull running is dangerous, even for the people who take part.
Bull running consists of releasing several young bulls, bullocks (castrated bulls which are considered to be gentle) or calves (2-4 years old) in an urban area and having participants chase them along an established route which usually ends in the bullring.
In the region of Valencia and Catalonia they are called “bous al carrer” or “correbous”. Also in other towns they are often called “toreo de vaquillas” or “capeas”, in this case the animals are assaulted and chased into a bullring or some kind of enclosure.
During the chase it is common for the participants to attack the animals, kicking or hitting them, throwing objects at them or even giving them electric shocks. Because of their need to flee and the stress caused by fear, the animals can either slip up or collapse through exhaustion, nervous breakdowns or heart attacks. They could fracture their horns and injure their legs when they fall, they could also break their neck or end up with injuries in any part of their body due to the blows they receive from people, or from crashing into walls or urban furniture.
Every year in Tordesillas, Valladolid they hold a tournament which consists of chasing a bull through the streets. The animal is previously selected by the dozens of participants who try to stick it with 33cm-long spears until they manage to get the animal to collapse and die. As from 2016 the killing of the animal during the course of the tournament has been banned, but the previous process is still carried out.
In this event, held in Benavente, Zamora and other Spanish towns during the local festivals, a bull is released with a rope tied to its horns. The idea is that the participants can catch hold of the rope and pull on it or be pulled through the streets of the town until they reach the slaughterhouse, where the animal is killed. Physical and psychological suffering is an obvious consequence of the stress of being chased through the streets by a crowd, the firecrackers set off at the start of the route and the injuries caused in the neck muscles and at the base of the horns because of the continuous pulling on the noose around its head.
In the week before Easter, in Coria, Caceres, six bulls are released in the streets for the participants to chase and hit as they run alongside them for two hours. Although they have stopped the ancient practice of peppering the bulls with darts as they ran along, they still harass the animals until they reach the bullring, where they are shot and killed.
This traditional Spanish festival is held in Denia, Alicante. In this case a calf is released for the participants to chase into the sea. When the animal falls into the water it is hauled out by tying a rope to its horns (without any concern for the way they give it support) and the chase begins again. This continues until the animal dies through exhaustion or drowning. Vídeo de PACMA.
This type of local festival is held in several Spanish towns. Firstly, the animal is held down, and its tail and legs are tied together in order to attach a torch-holding device to its horns, which they later set fire to. Next, they release it so that it runs through the streets, occasionally they even throw firecrackers. The animal panics, moves its head in order to flee from the fire and it crashes into the walls. It also suffers from burns to its head and eyes, caused by the sparks. These animals are not normally put down and may even be used again for the same type of event.
In the bull “of jubilation”, which is held in the town of Medinaceli, Soria, the bull is killed and then eaten.
More information and scientific evidence about the suffering of these animals can be found on the website of the Association of Vets for the Abolition of Bullfighting and Animal Abuse AVATMA.
At the state level