Over the next few days, travellers will head to Pamplona, Spain, to participate in the annual Running of the Bulls. Some will lose their nerve; others may be gored. But one thing is for certain: by the end of the festival, every single bull will be dead.
In 2006 and 2007, I ran naked through the streets of Pamplona to draw attention to the suffering of bulls used in this festival. I saw for myself how cruelly people treated the bulls, and although the streets were crowded with members of the media, there was hardly any coverage of the ugly truth behind the sound bites.
The 30-second snippets never show the bulls as they are whipped and goaded to get them to race out of their holding pens. Pamplona's narrow cobblestone streets are slippery and slick with spilled beer, and the bulls frequently lose their footing and fall, breaking their horns and bones and sustaining cuts and bruises, and drunken revellers hit them with sticks and rolled-up newspapers.
At the end of each day, the exhausted bulls are led one by one into the bullfighting arena to fight for their lives, except that it will never be a fair 'fight': from the moment they enter the ring, the bulls have no chance of winning. Men on horses run them in circles while repeatedly piercing them with spears called banderillas until they are dizzy, weakened from blood loss and in agonising pain. The horses, who are blindfolded, can also sustain serious injuries when they can't avoid a charging bull. Some will have their vocal cords cut so that the crowds can't hear their screams of terror. The matador (Spanish for 'killer') takes over only when the exhausted bull is already near death. After blundered attempts to severe their spinal cord, bulls are often still conscious as their ears and tail are cut off as 'trophies' and as they are dragged from the ring on chains. Then another bull enters the arena, and the horrific cycle starts again.
Most Spaniards are appalled that this archaic blood 'sport' continues in the new millennium and are calling for an end to the carnage. Even though Catalonia's capital, Barcelona, is widely considered the birthplace of bullfighting, the Catalan Parliament overwhelmingly voted to ban bullfighting after officials were presented with the signatures of 180,000 people. Dozens of other towns throughout Spain have also banned bullfighting, as have the Canary Islands.
Since most bullfighting arenas are nearly empty during 'fights', it's the tourists' cash that perpetuates the killing. Curious to see for themselves what a bullfight is really like, travellers buy a ticket or go to one because it's part of their package itinerary. Only sadists will leave a bullfight having enjoyed themselves, but every pound spent means that more bulls will be doomed to die. Bullfighting in Spain is a dying industry which is currently heavily subsidised by the EU.
From my talks with spectators and the media, it seems that most people really don't know that the bulls in Pamplona are running to their deaths. But it's 2012, and surely we've evolved to the point of demanding that cruel spectacles of animal abuse stop being used as entertainment.