The days of gladiator battles and public guillotine executions are in the past, but many cultures still hang on to bloody traditions, such as bullfighting. This ‘sport’ is still practiced in Spain, Portugal, France, and several Latin American countries, although its origins may be traced to Rome. During a bullfight, a trained matador (or torero) wearing an elaborate, brightly colored costume maneuvers around the bull waving a red cape, in an attempt to subdue the animal. The objective of the bullfight is to kill the bull, generally with a sword thrust. However, bullfighting is also extremely dangerous for the matador. Last month, Spain’s most famous bullfighter, Jose Tomas, was gored in the upper thigh during a match; the bull’s horn penetrated 6 inches into his leg, through his femoral artery, and he required eight liters of blood transfusions (even though the human body contains only five liters). He survived the attack, but it could have gone either way. Now, I wonder what happened to that bull?
Right now, there is an ongoing battle to keep the tradition of bullfighting alive in Catalonia, a region of Spain. A petition to ban bullfighting was signed by 180,000 citizens and submitted to the Catalan parliament, but the Socialist party is fighting to keep this custom alive with a proposal for ‘kinder’ bullfighting, which includes limits on the length of time a dying bull is allowed to suffer, called “sweetened death”. Without getting too inflamed, I will only say that this is outrageous. David Perez, a deputy of the Socialist party told the press, “The idea is for the bullfight to involve as little suffering as possible.” In a sport based on violence, murder, and blood, how can this be realistic? Nothing about this sport fosters the reduction of suffering. And who is qualified to decide just how much suffering is too much? Too bad we can’t ask the bulls.
I respect and admire the various customs and traditions that cultures around the world have practiced for hundred of years and are still practicing today. But as human society evolves, these traditions must also evolve. And sometimes, they must end. We don’t watch criminals get decapitated or hanged in the town square anymore, so why should we watch a human slaughter a bull’or watch a bull slaughter a human? This is animal cruelty, plain and simple. Turning it into a public spectacle is an endorsement of violence and’in my opinion’murder. In Bolivia, I met an indigenous Alaskan who told me that she enjoys polar bear meat, although she doesn’t get to eat it as often as when she was a child. I’m sure my jaw dropped. There are some customs that just have to be reexamined because our society has changed and our planet has changed; we need to look to the future, not to the past. My hope is that this future will be one where we can escape our anthropocentric mindsets, where human beings are not the only species that has rights.
Photo courtesy of Michel Osmont