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Bullfighting: A Tradition of Tragedy

Each year, approximately 40,000 bulls die in bullfights, an inaccurate term for events in which there is very little competition between a nimble, sword-wielding matador (Spanish for “killer”) and a confused, maimed, psychologically tormented, and physically debilitated animal.1 According to one matador, some of the top performers may “ask breeders to deliberately select placid bulls …. It’s the only way to sustain your energy for the duration of the season.”2

Ritualistic Slaughter
Most bullfights are divided into three parts. First, a bull is forced into the arena and taunted by a matador with a cape.3 The bull is then approached by picadors (men on horses), who drive lances into the bull’s back and neck muscles, impairing the bull’s ability to lift his head. They twist and gouge the lances to ensure a significant amount of blood loss.4 Then come the banderilleros on foot, who proceed to distract and dart around the bull while stabbing the animal with brightly colored darts called banderillas.5 After blood loss has weakened the bull, the banderilleros run the bull in more circles until he becomes dizzy and stops chasing. In the final act, the matador appears. After using his cape and sword (the faena) to provoke a few exhausted charges from the dying animal, the matador tries to deliver the death blow, or estocada, with his sword.6 If he misses, succeeding only in further mutilation, an executioner is called in to stab the exhausted animal to death. If the crowd is happy with the matador, the bull’s ears and tail or a hoof may be cut off and presented as a gift.7

A few minutes later, another bull enters the arena and the sadistic cycle starts again.

Opposition to Bullfighting
Pope St. Pius V decreed that “spectacles” such as bullfights are “removed from Christian piety and charity.” He wished that “these cruel and base spectacles of the devil and not of man” be abolished and he forbade attendance at them under penalty of excommunication.8

Barcelona has declared itself “an anti-bullfighting city,” and 38 Catalan municipalities have followed its lead; the last bullring in Barcelona closed in 2006 because of poor attendance.9

According to a 2013 Ipsos MORI survey, only 29 percent of Spaniards support bullfighting and 76 percent oppose public funds being used for it.10 Interest in bullfighting has also declined in Mexico and Portugal, and according to one report, officials in Beijing, China, decided not to build a bullring at a popular tourist destination for “fears of the country’s image.”11 Unfortunately, there are still more than 1,200 government-funded bull ranches and dozens of state-sponsored bullfighting schools in Spain.12 In France, bullfights are held in the cities of Nîmes, Arles, Dax, Toulouse, and Bayonne.13

What You Can Do
If you are planning to visit a country that permits bullfighting, please tell your travel agent that you are opposed to cruelty to animals in any form and that you do not want tickets to bullfights included in any tour packages. Before vacationing abroad, you can write to the country’s ambassador and ask whether rituals involving animal slaughter are among the country’s tourist attractions. Make it clear that you want no part in such activities, and never be afraid to talk about the cruelty of bullfighting.

Please write to the Spanish, Mexican, and French embassies and explain that as long as this cruel blood sport continues, you will never visit these countries.

Embassy of Spain
2375 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W.
Washington, DC 20037
[email protected]

Embassy of Mexico
1911 Pennsylvania Ave.
Washington, DC 20006
[email protected]

Embassy of France
4101 Reservoir Rd. N.W.
Washington, DC 20007
[email protected]


1Alex Duff, “Bullfighters Say Hollywood May Rescue Spain’s Dying Tradition,”, 5 Apr. 2006.
2Leslie Crawford, “Life in a Cloak and Dagger World,” Financial Times 30 Jul. 2005.
3Darwin Porter and Danforth Prince, Frommer’s Spain 2010 (Hoboken: Wiley, 2009) 26–7.
4 Laurence Lowe, “The Justin Bieber of Bullfighting,” Details Dec. 2010.
5Porter and Prince.
6Todd Venezia and Ginger Adams Otis, “Matador Gets Spain and Suffering,” New York Post 22 May 2010.
7Porter and Prince.
8Pope Pius V, Bullarum Romanorum Pontificum, Vol. 4, 2nd Part, 1567, 402–4.
9Fiona Govan, “Bullfighting’s Future in Doubt,” Telegraph 20 Dec. 2006.
10“Bullfight Opinion Poll: As Spain Debates ‘Support for Bullfighting’ Bill, Most Spaniards Oppose Use of Public Funds for Cruel, Waning Bloodsport,” Humane Society International 23 Apr. 2013.
11Abigail Wild, “On the Horns of a Dilemma,” The Herald 25 May 2005.
12Tom Hundley, “Ole! Fading Away,” Chicago Tribune 8 Sept. 2006.
13Keith Johnson, “Besieged Bullfighting Finds Young, French Savior,” The Wall Street Journal 24 Jul. 2006.