In 2006 I first became aware of the San Fermin festival in Pamplona, better known as the Running of the Bulls. Every year for eight days in July terrified bulls are chased through the streets to the bullring, and ultimately their death.
San Fermin, the patron saint of Pamplona, a small town in the Navarra region of Spain, is celebrated every year when people pour onto the streets dressed in distinctive red and white get-up. By all means, hold the festival – I’ve been there numerous times in the days beforehand and there is quite a build-up – but in today’s civilised society, surely it’s time we dropped the blatant animal abuse?
The bulls are kept in dark enclosures before being forced into the bright sunlight with electric prods. They slip and slide on the cobbled streets, sometimes breaking bones or sustaining other injuries. They run through fear, trying to escape the loud, baying crowds and those who chase them, tormenting them with rolled up newspapers and twisting their tails. Panicked bulls crash into walls as they lose their footing on sharp corners. When they make it to the bullring, the bulls are further harassed as the crowds pour in to surround them in the arena.
Most tourists who take part do not realise that the bulls chased through the narrow streets of Pamplona will later be killed in that bullring. Here they suffer a long, agonising death as they are repeatedly stabbed, the blood trickling from their wounds. The final dagger blow from the matador sometimes fails to kill, leaving the bull still conscious but paralysed as they are dragged from the ring. Some will even have their ears or tail cut off as a grisly trophy.
I have seen those bulls held in enclosures before the festival; people pay to go and see them, even taking their children for a visit. There is something about the atmosphere in that place; it’s heavy and it goes right through you. It’s almost as if the bulls know what is coming, though of course, how could they? Feeling helpless to rescue these individuals from what lay ahead, I took some comfort in that fact that I could make a difference for future bulls.
I’ve taken part in several events in Pamplona drawing attention to the cruelty of the Running of the Bulls. Spending time in the places where the bulls will run just days later is sobering, but each time I was heartened by the support we received. Locals come to watch, they applaud what is being done to help the bulls. I’ve spoken with residents who long for the day when their town is no longer associated with this primitive blood sport.
And the tide is turning. The bullfighting industry, of which Running of the Bulls is part, is on its knees. It is propped up by European Union subsidies, attendance is dropping at an encouraging rate, and most people who attend a bullfight leave horrified, never to return. Bullfighting has been banned in the Canary Islands since 1991, in 2004 Barcelona became an anti-bullfighting city, in 2010 bullfighting was banned in the Catalan region, and towns and cities around the world are following suit. A Gallup survey showed that 72% of Spaniards show no interest in bullfights; times are changing and new generations are calling for compassion.
Every year Aussies and Kiwis make their way to Pamplona to party, prove how macho they are, or simply to check a ‘must do’ off a list. Don’t get me wrong; if it wasn’t for the bulls I’d be right there with them. But the bulls are there, and they are dying for people’s entertainment. Whether you attend the bullfight or not, attend the San Fermin festival or chase the bulls, and you are funding the cruelty.
Spain has so much to offer tourists; beautiful weather, beaches and scenery. Go explore, but let’s close the door on this barbaric event!
- If you are planning a trip to Spain, boycott Running of the Bulls (as well as bullfights) and let travel agents know why you oppose their advertising of these barbaric events.
- Explain the animal cruelty involved in these events to any family and friends planning a trip to Spain.
- In NZ, bulls are abused in rodeo events. Learn more about rodeo cruelty and how you can help to stop it.
Abi Izzard, Campaigns Officer