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Tourist Beware: bullfights & Blood Fiestas

By Brenda Shoss, 4/10/04

TOURIST BEWARE: Bullfights & Blood Fiestas

Bullfight posters adorned the town of Marbella, Spain. As testament to the country’s medley of old and new, headlines promised a life-and-death saga starring female matador Christina Sanchez. Greg McMurry and Rhonda Gunner nabbed ringside seats to the fight in Puerto Banus.

To the delight of the California tourists, owners of a film production company, the spectacle unraveled in technicolor splendor. Girls atop elegant Andalusian horses escorted performers before a cheering crowd. Then a trumpet cued the emptying of the ring. It was time to make way for the bull.

He emerged from a shadowy tunnel, a blur of dark rage. Players costumed as matadors goaded the bull and ducked behind blockades to escape his fury. “They must have done something to that bull, because he was pissed,” McMurry later wrote. Prior to a fight, bulls are “conditioned” to heighten drama inside the ring. Handlers may subdue a bull with tranquilizers and laxatives, pound his kidneys, club his head with sandbags, or loop heavy weights around his neck for weeks. Sometimes they smear a bull’s eyes with petroleum jelly or restrain him in darkness to obscure vision. Though illegal, some handlers shave inches off the bull’s horns to impede his sense of direction.

The end result is an agitated and disabled bull. Each time this particular bull charged the arc of Sanchez’s cape, she gracefully sidestepped the animal. During the “quieting of the bull” several men plunged decorative sticks into the bull’s neck. Next, “picadors” on horseback impaled his back and neck muscles with blade-tipped poles. “Now the bull was bleeding profusely,” McMurry noted. “Often the bull was so weak he would collapse. A bunch of guys ran into the ring to poke him and bend his tail to get him up.”

At this point Sanchez, in a gold-flecked jumpsuit and purple bolero jacket, gestured triumphantly to her fans. “Banderilleros” stepped in to spear the dying animal and drive him in circles. For the final kill, Sanchez sunk a three-foot long sword into the bull. The bull’s ears and tail were removed to honor her victory. “After it was all over, [Rhonda and I] agreed we had lost our respect for those who would enjoy such an event,” McMurry said. “An art form? It was hard to believe that a culture so rich with art and beauty would still be entertaining themselves in this manner.”

Bullfights originated in Spain to hail aristocratic weddings, military conquests, and religious ceremonies. By the 18th century, the proletariat (mainly slaughterhouse workers) replaced the horseback-mounted elite to fight bulls on foot. Charles IV banned the bloodsport in 1805, but their luster returned under Ferdinand Vll’s reign. Today two styles, Seville and Rhonda, shape the classical art of “corrida.” Each year 35,000 bulls are killed in Spain alone. Proponents such as writer David Daniel liken the experience to “a courtroom ballet in three parts: Trial, sentence, execution.” Opponents question the nobility of a match between armed humans and a disoriented animal.

“In this world, the bulls die anyway,” Daniel asserts. “They are raised for meat and leather.” True, but inside the slaughterhouse suffering is a byproduct. In the bullfight arena, suffering is the point. Without the bull’s prolonged agony there is no show. Animal abuse to serve art, heritage or religion is not exclusive to Spain or other Latin cultures. Yet these cultures foster a lucrative tourism industry rooted in the violent exhibition of animals. To lure tourists, primarily Americans, travel agents and bullfight organizers package the fight in festive wraps.

In addition to bullfights, blood fiestas such as the “encierro” (running of the bulls) annually occur throughout Spain. For Catalonia’s “toros de fuego,” a bull with balls of fire affixed to his horns is released into a jeering mob. In the "toros ensogados" a bull is dragged through the streets by his horns. In Coria, tourists and locals aim dart guns at a fleeing bull’s nose, eyes and testicles. The mangled bull is eventually castrated while alive.

Mexico holds baby bullfights (the novillada) that pit knife-wielding audience members against calves, some only weeks old. The free-for-all ends when participants slice off the conscious animals’ ears and tails.

For Brazil’s Farra do Boi, adults and children from the coastal villages of Santa Catarina torture an ox to honor weddings, birthdays or other milestones. Equipped with knives, whips, and stones, revelers strive to keep the ox alive during three or more days of brutality. An animal’s eyes are typically gouged out after participants flick pepper into them. His horns and legs are broken and his tail is severed. WSPA correspondents in Brazil have observed gasoline-soaked oxen set on fire. Cows aren’t the only victims of ritualized abuse. According to UK-based FAACE (Fight Against Animal Cruelty In Europe), chickens rank second, followed by pigs, geese, ducks, donkeys, squirrels, rabbits and pigeons.

In Spain, FAACE monitors blood fiestas such as the stoning of pigeons and squirrels encased in clay pots, the crushing of donkeys, and the beheading of chickens buried to the neck. They’ve documented blindfolded teenage girls hacking apart live chickens, horsemen decapitating chickens slung from a line, and religious followers tossing a live goat from a church tower.

Uncensored creative expression? I’m all for it. As a modern dancer, I champion choreography that dares to reflect the ugly as well as the beautiful. Still, I question art or religion that cannot exist without the torment of a defenseless animal.

While different cultures may not understand one another’s customs, all rational human

Skewered bulls.

beings comprehend cruelty. It is our capacity for mercy that puts the “kind” in humankind. Bullfights and blood fiestas have no place in a morally accountable world.


  1. If you plan to tour a country with legalized bullfighting, let your travel agent know you do not support animal abusive practices. Reject lodging accommodations where bullfight arenas are promoted as “recreation” and write to the resort’s owner to clarify why you won’t stay there. Consider traveling to resort towns that have banned bullfighting: Tossa de Mar, Vilamacolum, La Vajol (Spain); Jalapa (Mexico).
  2. Prior to a vacation abroad, contact a country’s Embassy to find out if bullfighting, blood fiestas or other animal rituals are advertised as tourist attractions. Identify your self as a potential tourist who vigorously opposes the cruel exhibition of animals.
  3. Tell the Spanish and Mexican embassies in your country you will not visit any community that hosts bloodsports and rituals involving animals.
Contact information for embassies around the world:


  1. Greg McMurry and Rhonda Gunner at bullfight in Puerto Banus (Spain)
  2. FAACE, UK-based Fight Against Animal Cruelty In Europe
  3. (McMurry & Gunner) Matador Christina Sanchez, Puerto Banus. Triumphant gesture. Waving of the cape.
  4. (FAACE) Ears and tail removed, a bull is finally killed outside ring, in back of a lorry.
  5. (FAACE) Chickens hung from line, decapitated by horsemen in Nalda.
  6. (McMurry & Gunner) Matador Christina Sanchez, fight in Puerto Banus.
  7. (McMurry & Gunner) Matador kneels by dying bull.
  8. (FAACE) Bull killed slowly with handknives.
  9. (McMurry & Gunner) Matador Christina Sanchez, fight in Puerto Banus.
  10. (McMurry & Gunner) Matador kneels by dying bull.
  11. McMurry & Gunner
  12. (FAACE) Bloody ox killed with handknives.

To reprint this article in your publication, web site or list, please request author permission:

Kinship Circle’s column runs bimonthly in The Healthy Planet. Ms. Shoss is also a contributing writer for The Animals Voice, Satya Magazine, VegNews, and other publications. If you would like to reprint this column, please request author permission at


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