YOU MIGHT BE wondering why PETA animal rights supporters were pictured at Pamplona covered in “blood” this week. No, we were not auditioning for Carrie, though “horror show” is an apt name for what I was demonstrating against: Pamplona’s Running of the Bulls at the San Fermin festival.
You’ve no doubt seen the pictures from this infamous event of adrenaline junkies clinging to barriers as massive bulls run beside them. For the humans, it’s a game, something to tick off the bucket list. But for the bulls, it is sheer terror as they race towards certain death in the bull ring.
The bulls’ nightmare
Prior to the run, bulls are confined to small, dark rooms for what will end up being the last night of their lives. The next morning, they’re forced into the blinding sunlight. As they stumble about, disoriented, men jab at them with electric prods. The confused animals begin to run down the city’s narrow streets.
Along the way, there are crowds of humans screaming at them and hitting them with various objects. The now-panicking animals run as fast as they can, sliding on the cobblestones and crashing into the sides of buildings as more and more raucous humans continue to appear. The bulls slip and fall and even break bones in their desperate bid to flee to safety.
But the animals’ nightmare doesn’t end there. For you see, the Running of the Bulls is only the lead-up to main event: a bullfight.
Taunting and beating
Once herded into the bullring, as many as eight men are set up against a single, exhausted bull. The men will taunt him, beat him and jab him with daggers, over and over again, as the watching crowd cheers.
When the wounded animal is on the verge of collapse, the matador arrives to finish off the bull. He’ll repeatedly stab the animal with his sword – but may miss his mark and stab into the bull’s lungs. The bull is left to drown to death in his own blood as he is dragged out of the ring.
Bullfighting is, thankfully, on the decline. The majority of Spaniards want nothing to do with the blood sport, and some 100 cities and municipalities across the country have banned it. Even Spain’s public television network, RTVE, refuses to broadcast bullfights, on the grounds that watching them is psychologically damaging to children.
Shameful EU subsidies
How, then, has bullfighting survived? The industry relies on millions in shameful subsidies from the EU – and it also relies on tourists who travel to Pamplona for the blood bath.
Too many tourists, likely unaware of the full barbaric nature of the event, add this ghoulish spectacle to their Spanish itineraries. Some even – and, as a mother, this makes me cringe – bring their children along for the “festivities”.
So, let me be clear: If you travel to Pamplona to be chased by a bull, you’re also participating in the animal’s long, painful and terrifying death. Putting an end to bullfights is as much an Irish cause as it is a Spanish one.
The next time you’re planning a holiday, do the bulls a favour and leave Pamplona off the destination list.
Grace McKeown is an animal rights advocate from Dundalk.