Bloody Arenas: Bullfighting
An Animal Rights Article from


The National Humane Education Society (NHES)
May 2014

Please watch short video on Bullfighting

Tradition or Tragedy

We all have our favorite traditions whether at holiday times or for our summer vacations. However, traditions change as we change, as social mores change. Today, we do not burn witches at the stake, sell humans into slavery (although that is still practiced in some parts of the world), or consider animal abuse a sport.

bullfightThe tradition of bullfighting is nearing its ends. Today, many of us look upon bullfighting as a tragedy as it is a clear example of animal abuse. The purpose of the fight is to kill the bull. But first, the bull must suffer.

Setting the Stage

Bullfighting, considered a tradition in Spain, Portugal, and several Latin American countries, involves the ritual killing of one or more bulls in a bullring. Some people contend that a bullfight is a battle to the death of either the bull or the matador. Rarely does the matador die. Most of the time, the bull does.

The bulls are often kept in dark places, fed little and given little water, and then stabbed in the back just before being released. They enter the bright, sun-filled bullring disoriented and often debilitated because they have been fed laxatives or drugs to reduce their energy level.

To learn how to fight a bull, bullfighters practice on underweight heifers. These animals are dealt the same blows adult bulls experience in the ring.

The Spectacle

There are three stages to a bullfight. First the picadors, men on horseback, drive stakes into the bull’s neck to anger him and start the blood flowing. Next, the banderilleros shove spears into the bull’s neck. Finally, the matador flashes his red cape to tease and taunt the bull for a while before he stabs the bull between the shoulder blades. Sometimes death comes immediately if the matador is efficient in the kill; other times, the bull suffers while the matador tries again and again to strike vital organs and bring about the bull’s death. If the bull is still alive after these assaults, a ring assistant may have to cut the bull’s spinal cord to paralyze him before the kill is made.

Depending on the quality of the kill, the matador may be awarded one or both of the bull’s ears, his tail, and a hoof. However, often the bull is still conscious as his body parts are being severed. The dead, or dying bull, is sometimes dragged around the ring by horses before being removed from the bullring.

Bulls are not the only ones to suffer during the fight. Horses are often gored by the bulls as the picadors try to drive the stakes into the bull’s neck. Some suffer such severe injuries they must be killed following the bullfight.

While Latin countries are most associated with bull fighting, it is also practiced in parts of Asia and Africa. The Zulu’s “First Fruits” festival includes a bull being tortured to death by young Zulu males.

Bloodless Fight

Fortunately, bullfighting is losing favor in many parts of the world. However, a new type of bullfighting has come on the scene that is just as disturbing because it keeps alive the belief that man is “master over beast.” “Bloodless” bullfights are staged as entertainment in hotels and sports arenas. The bull is not killed but still must be made to perform. Bulls are often transported across country to different venues with little regard for their basic needs. They are then shoved into the spotlight to perform.

Equestrian Bullfights

Equestrian bullfighting takes place mostly in Portugal where it is considered a regal display of elegantly dressed riders and horses. A single mounted rider faces the bull in a small ring alone. While the objective is not to kill the bull but rather to demonstrate how well trained and schooled the horse is, the bull is still stabbed by darts to make him more aggressive so he will charge horse and rider. However, the rider is rarely injured while his horse is in great danger from a charging 1,500 pound angry animal.

Running with the Bulls

Most people who enjoy the spectacle of a bullfight will have little chance of ever entering the ring, so “running with the bulls” has become their “sport.” The most well known running of the bulls takes place in Pamplona, Spain. The bulls run through the streets of Pamplona to the bull ring while in front of them is a frenzied crowd trying to stay a step ahead and out of danger. People come from all over the world to run with the bulls. For the bulls, the journey is from the off-site corrals where they had spent the night to the bullring where they will be killed later in the day.

A variation on running with the bulls involves placing flammable material on the bulls’ horns and then letting the bulls loose. Usually, there is a fence separating the spectators from the bulls. Sometimes fireworks are attached to the horns as well. They can explode at any time.

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