July 16th, 2010
OVER the past week, the sleepy Spanish city of Pamplona has been inundated with tens of thousands of tourists from around the globe, including Australia.
The attraction? The infamous San Fermin festival otherwise known as "the running of the bulls".
Each morning throughout this festival, revellers flaunt their bravado by taunting and racing ahead of six bulls and six steers that with the aid of electric prods and sharp sticks are stampeded through the city's narrow, winding, cobbled streets.
The hapless bulls, which have never known anything other than the peace and tranquillity of the countryside, are suddenly in the midst of a roaring, raucous, drunken mob who shoot darts at them.
Noisy firecracker rockets add to the terror as, bewildered and disoriented,
the beasts slip and stumble on the wine-soaked cobblestones. Many sustain
bruises, cuts, and broken bones.
Apparently this "tradition" dates back to medieval times when bulls were
herded through Pamplona's streets to the bullring.
Locals helped drive them and running behind the bulls later turned into running in front of them.
Surprisingly, we are told that this festival, which clearly subjects animals to suffering, is a "deeply religious event to honour Pamplona's patron saint".
The saint, San Fermin, was tied to wild bulls by the Romans and dragged to his death.
Now obviously the bulls were not to blame for this action, yet the citizens of Pamplona now "honour" the saint by terrorising lots of other innocent bulls that had nothing whatsoever to do with his death. How intelligent is this?
Apparently locals even take their small children and grandparents in wheelchairs to watch the event.
After the run, people pack the bullring to chase and taunt young calves but it's what happens to the bulls later that is most shocking.
After a brief respite, they will become one of the 250,000 bulls cruelly tortured and killed by the bullfighting industry each year.
Before being prodded into the ring the bull may be given laxatives or have petroleum jelly smeared in its eyes to debilitate it.
Once in the ring, the picadores on horseback drive lances into the bull's back and neck muscles, impairing its ability to lift its head. Next they twist and gouge the lances to ensure a significant amount of blood loss.
Then come the banderilleros on foot, who proceed to distract and dart around the bull while plunging banderillas sharp, barbed sticks into its back.
When the bull is weakened from blood loss, these banderilleros run the bull in more circles until it is dizzy and stops chasing.
Finally, the "brave" matador appears and, after provoking a few exhausted charges from the dying animal, tries to kill the bull with his sword.
If he misses, succeeding only in further mutilation, an executioner is called in to stab the exhausted animal to death.
During this year's run, dozens of participants, including a young Melbourne man, have been injured. None of their injuries were life threatening, however, which was fortunate for them but unfortunate for the bulls.
Because in all probability the only thing that will stop this barbaric event will be an increase in the number of human fatalities.