Slowly but surely, bullfighting has been banned in a number of countries. Some forms remain legal in places including France, Texas and California where a so-called “ethical option” to the bloody “sport” exists. As a reader recently wrote to Andrew Sullivan, Portugese bullfighting is “bloodless” as it does not involve killing the bull:
We actually find the blood sport of slaughtering the beast in the arena to be disgustingly cruel and wasteful. Portuguese bulls are put back to stud, where in the U.S. and the Azores they live the life of an average farm bull (and sometimes reused in the arena), and in mainland Portugal they’re pampered stud animals, with the best commanding the highest fees for their services. In fact, the bullfighting industry in Spain often uses Portuguese bulls for stud since they’ve wasted their own.
In California (where the commenter lives), a velcro pad is placed over the shoulders of a bull for a Portuguese bullfight; bandarilhas (small spears) with velcro tips can attach to the pad. Cavaleiros or cavaleiras (horsemen or horsewomen) on “beautifully adorned horses” then place the pad on the bull after which the matadores enter the ring.
After the matadores “finish tiring out” the bull, eight young men called the forcados line up facing the animal. Their task is to “coax the bull into charging”; when he does, one young man takes the “full force of the hit with a pega de cara (face plant),” wraps his arms around the animal’s horns and is pushed back into the seven other men. Some grab at the bulls’s tail, all with the aim of getting him to stand still for a few seconds: if such occurs, the forcados “win”; if the bull keeps scattering them around, they lose. “Believe me, it’s the forcados who get injured, not the bull,” writes the reader of Sullivan’s blog.
Following all this, a herd of cows is ushered into the ring and the bull is escorted off to retire.
The commenter does note that, in Portugal, “some blood is drawn” in such bullfights as “a small dart is stuck into the fatty hump between the bull’s shoulders.” Portuguese bullfights are held in California due to people from Portugal emigrating from places such as the Azores Islands.
How “Ethical” Is Any Kind of Bullfighting?
While the fights (at least in California, according to the commenter’s description) are bloodless, the bull still has objects (those velcro-tipped spears) thrown at it. In 2009, California animal advocates urged Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley to press charges against a company that was staging the bullfights as part of the Festa da Bola, a three-day celebration of Portuguese culture. A humane officer working with the group Animal Cruelty Investigations reported that bull fighters were seeing using “long wooden sticks with several-inch sharpened nails on the end to stab, torment and infuriate the bulls.”
The bulls do not necessarily spend the rest of the lives in pastures: as Jose Avila, editor of the Modesto-based Portuguese Tribune, says in the LA Times, the next stop for some bulls is the slaughterhouse.
Bullfighting is against the law in California, according to the state’s Penal Code (Section 597m) but bloodless bullfighting “held in connection with religious celebrations or religious festivals” is allowed. Members of the Portugese community defend the practice as a “benign” ritual that is part of a celebration of their cultural heritage. Similar arguments have been made defending bullfighting in Spain and France (and the eating of shark fin soup in China and among those of Chinese heritage). Surely there are other ways of honoring one’s culture without cruelty against animals?
As Animal Cruelty Investigations says in the LA Times, ”No animal should ever be made to suffer for so-called entertainment.” Bulls in any sort of fighting, “bloodless” or not, endure plenty in the ring, with people throwing darts and running at them, the noise from the audience and more. How “ethical” and “humane” can such a practice be?
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