Photo Essay

Bullfighting Stirs Up Powerful Emotions

From the moment the bull enters the ring, the clock is counting down until he is slaughtered. Bullfighting and sacrifice is a tradition originating from prehistoric times, however the modern day spectacle that is more widely known dates to the early 18th Century.

Modern opposition to bullfighting stems from the animal rights movement that call it a cruel and barbaric blood sport. Bulls used in bullfights suffer a prolonged and painful death, which is rarely instantaneous. A bullfight consists of 3 stages or "thirds":

In the first stage, armoured-horse mounted lancers plunge spears in to the shoulders of the bull, causing the bull to lower his head - which is necessary for the matador to perform a killing blow in the third stage.

In the second stage three banderilleros attempt to each plant two banderillas (sharp barbed sticks) into the bulls back, further weakening the bull and also allowing the matador an increased likelihood of killing the bull without becoming injured himself in the third stage.

In the third and final stage, the matador (Spanish for "killer") uses the trademark cape to disorient and tire the bull before finally plunging his sword between the shoulder blades. This movement is supposed to outright kill the bull, however this is rarely the case and the bull will often then be stabbed in the neck by a dagger or small sword, severing the spinal cord.

The matador is often awarded trophies after the fight, including the dead bull's ears or tail.

Traditionalists claim that bullfighting is an ingrained part of society, and that the bull is not viewed as a sacrificial victim, but rather a worthy adversary. Animal protection groups claim tradition not a reason for slaughtering bulls in the ring and that bulls are debilitated by being hit with sandbags in their chests and obscuring the eyes of bulls with vaseline or petroleum jelly to affect their viewing distance and judgement. Another debilitation method is to saw inches from the bulls horns - which act like cats whiskers - to lessen their guage of distance. They claim that this makes it an unfair fight with only one possible outcome.

40,000 bulls each year are killed in the bullring and other festivals of bullfighting. The most well known event is the Running of the Bulls, in Pamplona, Spain. A dozen bulls run from their corral to the bull ring along streets lined with onlookers and festival attendees. The bulls slip and slide along the wet street and often cause injury to themselves or the public. There have been 15 deaths and over 300 injuries since the first Running of the Bulls. The bulls that enter the bullring are then killed by matadors.

In 2010, Catalonia an autonomous region of Spain voted 68 to 55 for the ban throughout the region causing uproar from the traditionalists and joy from the animal protection groups who view it as a small step towards ending bullfighting globally.

In July 2010 I was asked to photograph a demonstration held by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), AnimaNaturalis and Partido Antitaurino contra el Maltrato Animal (PACMA). Close to 100 naked and bodypainted activists formed the shape of the bull outside Pamplona's Town Council building - which is along the route of the Running of the Bulls - to protest not only the bull run, but all bullfighting. Acts such as these and lobbying from the groups have a part to play in the ban.

Seeing such passion from the antitaurino groups and speaking to them about their beliefs is a humbling experience, seeing their dedication to stopping bullfighting left me with no doubt that they will not stop until every bull is freed from such a fate. I left Spain heavy-hearted and vowed never to attend a bullfight nor bull-spectacle. With the news of the ban in Catalonia spreading across the world thanks to the media, more and more people are becoming aware of just how horrific this blood sport is and the anti-bullfighting community is growing in strength.

3 responses

  • Epin Hervin

    Epin Hervin gave props (16 Nov 2010):

    Every year, the spain bullfighting events are always been a headline in Indonesian tv news for International issue. And it's frightening to see how people injured and the sadness scene from the bull.

  • ladythaborine Adrian

    ladythaborine Adrian gave props (4 Dec 2010):

    WOW... :D

  • Alex Rudinski

    Alex Rudinski gave props (29 Dec 2010):

    Got my heart going - nice!

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