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The World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) Seeks to End Bullfighting

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In Latin America and Europe combined, approximately 250,000 bulls die each year. Do these bulls fall prey to a deadly virus, perhaps? Far from it. The bulls are tortured and killed for the sake of entertainment. Have we evolved at all since the Roman times?

Latest polls show that over 72% of Spanish citizens have no interest in bullfighting, yet, because of a small group of influential people in Spain, this inhumane tradition is being kept alive. Fortunately, in Europe and Latin America a growing segment of the population is standing up against bullfighting and calling for an end to this cruel spectacle.

Here to talk about bullfighting and what we can do to help is Alyx Dow, Programmes Officer (Anti-Bullfighting) for the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA).

Thank you for this interview, Alyx. Could you start by giving us some historical information on how bullfighting began? What is its origin?

There is not much specific information on how or where bullfighting began, but it is thought to date back to Roman times when many different species of animal were killed for the sake of entertainment in public arenas.

Bulls were also sacrificed for religious purposes and more recently, bullfights were (and often still are) held on Sundays, as part of Christian Saints festivals.

Most people associate bullfighting with Spain. Besides Spain, which other countries practice bullfighting? 

Bullfight in Spain

Within Europe, bullfighting can be found in Spain, France, and Portugal. Approximately 40,000 bulls die in bullfights every year in Europe.

In Latin America, bullfighting can be found in Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela. ‘Bloodless’ bullfights can also be found in the USA. Approximately 210,000 bulls in bullfights die every year in Latin America.

Does bullfighting differ according to the country? If so, in what way?

There are three types of bullfighting ‘styles’ – Spanish, French, and Portuguese. The Spanish version is the most common across both Europe and Latin America. Bulls die in both the Spanish and Portuguese versions, although in the Portuguese style it happens behind the scenes, after the bullfight has finished. The French style does not lead to the death of the bull but is also very stressful for the animals involved.

A lot of people ignore what really happens during a bullfight. They have a simple, even romantic image of a torero taunting a bull and of one final thrust of the sword bringing death to the animal. What exactly takes place during a bullfight?

In the Spanish style, which is the most common, there are three stages:

1. After the bull enters the ring, toreros wave capes so that the bull charges several times. This is followed by the entrance of the picadors on horseback, who drive a long spear into the bull's back. Both of these short stages are designed to tire the bull and weaken its neck and shoulder muscles, causing it to drop its head. There is also a significant risk to the horses involved – although they wear padding, the experience is very stressful for them and can cause serious or fatal injury.

2. Men called banderilleros enter the ring and use weapons called banderillas (colourful short spears with harpoon ends) which further weaken the bull when they are stabbed into the top of the bull's back. By this point the bull has lost a significant amount of blood and is exhausted.

Bullfight, Spain3. The matador enters with a cape and sword. Tiring the bull further with several runs at the cape, the matador thrusts the sword through the bull's back, with the intention of severing the aorta. The sword often misses, piercing the lungs and the bull drowns in its own blood – as can be witnessed when bulls are often be seen with blood pouring from their nose and mouth at the end. If the bull does not die quickly, a small knife is used to sever its spinal cord at the neck. If the crowd deems it a ‘good’ kill, the matador is ‘awarded’ the bull’s ears and tail which he cuts off himself (the bull is often still alive during this).

The whole process takes approximately 20 minutes – and the bull suffers an agonizing and torturous death.

In spite of bullfighting being a cruel and inhumane tradition, many people — not only Spaniards — watch this spectacle. Why do you think this is and what does this say about human nature?

Within bullfighting countries there is a small but strong following that keeps bullfighting alive, largely based on the claim that it is part of the country’s culture. All bullfighting countries have a fascinating history, with a rich culture that they should be proud of. However, evidence is showing us that most citizens of these countries do not want animal cruelty to be part of their heritage. Just as with the ban on fox hunting in the UK, citizens are speaking out about the importance of animal welfare over an archaic ‘tradition’ that is neither necessary nor humane.

The latest polls in Spain show us that over 72% of Spanish people have no interest in bullfighting. This climbs to over 80% in the autonomous region of Catalonia. Anti-bullfighting sentiment is growing across Europe and Latin America – people are standing up against the protection of bullfighting as part of national heritage and calling for an end to this cruel spectacle.

Furthermore, the WSPA believes that culture is no excuse for cruelty, no matter where in the world it happens or the rationale behind it.

Unfortunately a huge amount of support also comes from tourism; again because tourists are led to believe that bullfighting is part of a particular country. They are unwittingly supporting a dying industry that thrives on the torture of an animal: many leave the fights shaken and disturbed by what they have witnessed, which is, simply, animal cruelty for the sake of entertainment.

What arguments do supporters of bullfighting use to defend their tradition?

They use many arguments to defend the spectacle, mostly in reference to culture and the economy. You can read more on these ongoing debates at Bull-Fighting Free Europe, a website sponsored by WSPA and ten other animal protection groups across Europe.

What is the WSPA doing to end bullfighting? Have there been any significant developments in the last few years?

In Catalonia, WSPA is running its Culture Without Cruelty campaign with member society ADDA, and there have been a series of successes in the region in recent years. Forty-seven towns, including Barcelona, have declared themselves anti-bullfighting. You can sign our petition, calling for a ban on bullfighting in Catalonia.

In Spain, WSPA is supporting work done by member society Stop Our Shame who are working to end the national subsidies (funded by Spanish taxpayers) given to the bullfighting industry, which total a staggering 530 million Euros a year.

In France, three towns have recently declared their anti-bullfighting status. You can find out more at Anticorrida.com.

WSPA is also working closely with an alliance of ten other animal protection organizations from across Europe to tackle the issue at European level. The EU currently gives subsidies (funded by EU taxpayers) to breeders of fighting bulls, as part of its annual agricultural subsidy system. We recently held a series of events in Brussels at the European Parliament to highlight this issue and call on Parliamentarians and the Commission to end these subsidies. You can find out more at Bull-Fighting Free Europe.

In Latin America many of WSPA’s member societies are working towards bans of bullfighting across the region. The first two anti-bullfighting towns in the region have recently been declared: Baños de Agua Santa in Ecuador and Zapatoca in Colombia. In Medellin, Colombia, the first ever group of anti-bullfighting city councilors has been established. You can keep up to date with the latest developments on the WSPA International website.

What is Spain’s position?

In Spain, there is a small group of powerful and influential people behind the bullfighting industry that are keeping it alive. Bullrings are suffering from declining attendance and a lack of patience from the public in terms of its increasing awareness of animal welfare. Unfortunately, government officials often hesitate to speak out against the spectacle; as was the case a few years ago with fox hunting in the UK. However, the Spanish people are telling us they have had enough, as shown in Catalonia and the Canary Islands (who have also banned bullfighting), and by the recent banning of the broadcast of bullfights on state TV, following the assertion that it is too violent for children. We think it is about time that the government listens to its citizens and ends bullfighting for good in Spain.

Do you see Spain making bullfighting illegal any time soon?

Based on public opinion polls that have been done, dwindling attendance at bullfights as well as the achievements in recent years in getting anti-bullfighting declarations, we are confident that bullfighting is a dying industry that is destined to be banned in the near future.

Is there a way bullfighting could be modified to become a humane practice?

No; the practice would still involve placing an animal into an unnatural situation that causes the animal stress and anxiety, for the sake of entertainment. WSPA wants to see an end to bullfighting worldwide, in all its forms.

What can Spaniards do to help stop bullfighting in Spain?

Spanish people can help to end bullfighting in their country by writing to their local politicians and high level officials within the government, expressing their wish for national subsidies to the bullfighting industry to end, and for there to be a national legislative ban on bullfighting in Spain. They can also avoid attending bullfights and spreading the word to their friends and family.

They can also sign our petition to achieve a ban in Catalonia.

Another way to help is to support their local animal welfare organizations, either through donations or by attending peaceful events that call on the government to end bullfighting.

What can the rest of the world do to help?


The number one thing that people can do to help end bullfighting is not to visit bullfights when they go abroad. Tourist money is a huge factor in keeping the industry alive. Whilst curiosity can often lead people to ‘just go once’, this is enough to sustain the industry and the animal cruelty that it promotes.

  • You can pledge not to visit a bullfight at WSPA member society The League Against Cruel Sports.
  • Sign the WSPA/ADDA petition to end bullfighting in Catalonia.
  • Spread the word to any friends, family, and colleagues, especially if you know they are visiting Europe anytime soon.
  • Write to politicians in your own country, asking them to call on bullfighting countries to improve standards of animal welfare and not to promote cruelty for entertainment’s sake.

Is there anything else you’d like to say to our readers?

The WSPA is also campaigning for a Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare (UDAW) at the United Nations – international recognition that animals matter and governments should be doing more to protect them. Such an agreement would help us talk to governments about issues like bullfighting. You can sign the petition in support at Animals Matter.

Thank you very much for taking the time to answer my questions on this important subject.

I would like to end this interview by quoting some wise words from Mahatma Ghandi: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

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About Mayra Calvani

Mayra Calvani writes fiction and nonfiction for children and adults and has authored over a dozen books, some of which have won awards. Her stories, reviews, interviews and articles have appeared on numerous publications such as The Writer, Writer’s Journal, Multicultural Review, and Bloomsbury Review, among many others. Represented by Serendipity Literary.
  • There appears to be something askew in the statistics cited.

    250,000 bulls a year would supply almost 42,000 bullfights (each normally using six bulls).

    Reaching that number of bullfights in a year would require 114 bullfights a day, 365 days in a row.

    That is an almost laughably inflated number.

    The interviewee goes on to imply that Latin America holds five times more bullfights each year than do the taurine countries in Europe.

    This is an Americas:Europe ratio that bears absolutely no resemblance to reality (i.e., to the overwhelmingly greater number in Europe each year).

    Surely the WSPA and/or BC Magazine could use fact checkers.

  • Jordan Richardson

    Good article, Mayra.

    Stanley, do you have any facts to offset those used in the article? The appearance of the “laughably inflated numbers” as such doesn’t make them untrue. The notion of children dying in Africa seems, to me, to be an incredibly high number. Yet I don’t doubt its veracity simply because I can’t fathom it. Perhaps if you provided some statistics of your own before chastizing the interviewee or the author of the article, your words would have more validity. Not trying to be rude, just looking for clarity.

  • Having lived in Spain for over 6 years, I learned a bit about bullfighting.

    The Spanish actually consider it more of an art form than a sport and, when pressed to explain it, the best defence they can come up with is that it is part of their culture.

    It is certainly NOT a sport because the bulls are actually especially bred and chosen not to be too aggressive or violent, so as to make the matadors look better.

    Spanish style bullfighting is particularly unfair not only for this but the way the animals are deliberately weakened before the matador does his thing.

    I much prefer Portuguese style bullfighting in which the matadors get in a line one behind the other and have direct face to face impacts with the bull, adding more and more matadors until they can stop the beast in its tracks. Now that is impressive!

  • Thanks for the compliment, Jordan.

    Stanley, the WSPA is a serious, legitimate, and well-respected organization. I doubt they would throw wild statistics and risk their credibility.

    BUT ultimately, it doesn’t make a difference if it’s 100 bulls or 100,000. What they do to the bulls in bullfights is sadistic, cruel and inhumane, and it should be stopped.

  • I don’t think you were being rude Jordan. The best I can do for statistics is to point you to the website of the Spanish Interior Ministry. They have online a summary report of the statistics from the “taurine” season of 2007.

    On page 88 you’ll see a table showing the number of bullfights in all areas of Spain during 2007, and the total number is 5,992 — that would be roughly 40,000 bulls killed. That is roughly the number reported for “all Europe” by the WSPA interviewee.

    How Mayra got to the total of 210,000 for Europe and Latin America combined (a figure five times higher than for Spain alone) is the problematic number.

    I don’t have any quick access to numbers for Latin America similar to those of the Spanish Interior Ministry, but there should be no doubt that it is a far, far, far smaller number than that for Spain.

    Documenting this last assertion hardly seems necessary. It’s as obvious on its face as the assertion that there are more bagpipe players in Scotland than in Nova Scotia.

  • I wasn’t trying to suggest, Mayra, that the WSPA is not serious, well-respected, or legitimate. I was simply making a comment about the statistics used in the WSPA’s statements.

    The ultimate argument, as you suggest, is a moral/ethical/cultural one, not a quantitative commodity issue.

    But if the 1st statistic reported by the WSPA interviewee is this far facially out-of-whack, it does beg for the interviewer to have inquired about the origin of the numbers.

    PS — sorry if, in previous comments, I may have referred to you as the interviewee. That was unintentionally sloppy on my part.

  • Marcia Neil

    ‘Bullfighting’ does not necessarily mean ‘bullkilling’ and perhaps the org seeks a way to prosecute cruelty incidents. [in Stuart, FL]

  • I can clarify for you some of the figures discussed here. The numbers shown in the article are the best estimations known at the moment, and include all the bullfighting bulls killed by the bullfighting industry, not only in bullfights as suggested here. The Spanish Ministry of interior figures only show bulls killed in official permanemt bullrings. To that number you have to add those killed in mobile bullrings (which are many, going from town to town), those killed in private bullrings (not open to the general public), those in bullfighting schools (children learning to kill bull do that in these schools, where many bulls and cows die), those in ‘fiestas’ without bullrings (such as several types of running of the bulls, etc), and finally all those bullfighting bulls that, for one reason or another, are killed when they do not measure up to be sold to a official bullring (bullfighting bulls are bred by the industry and are killed by the industry when there is no more use for them; bulls can live an average of 12 years or so but they hardly every live more than 6 because the industry kill them well before they are old).

    In terms of comparing Europe and America, these days there are more bullfights taking place in America than in Europe. In Europe we only have bullfighting in Portugal, South of France, and Spain (although there are very few in the North of the Peninsula Iberica), but in America you found bullfighting industries in Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, USA and Mexico (this last country is very big and has many bullrings all over).

    So, WSPA’s estimations are the closest to reality that I can find.

  • None

    I believe bull fighting is very cruel. We should definitly put an end to such a cruel sport. I know many people dont like to call it a sport, but even if its not i dont find it imppresive or amusing I would never go watch something so cruel and sad. I think all the types of bull fighting should be put to an end. Wether the person thinks its imppressive or not, its not right to the animal. I would never find this kind of thing cool or amusing, its very sad and cruel.

  • Raymond M. Denton

    Could we use our intelligence for more forth right purposes other than disregaurd of an animal’s dignity. They have no rights being that most of their well being is supported by society. If we use their lives and natural insticts, under most likely most of the time artificial situations as entertainment we really have not aquired the G-d conscienousness. We in reality need animals more than they need us for sustanence. They have not built use a shelter from their cruelty and neglect. We need to rise above our conditioned attitude that they are lesser life forms and are at our disposal. I do not eat animals as much as eggs. I am also not unrealistic, I am not a vegetarian. If my life did depend on eating an animal I would most likely eat it. But I have a choice. I think of it in terms of life for life not mindless abuse and a craving for a steak.

  • sarah cooper

    I believe that bullfighting is very cruel and I have heard that the bull is tormented to the state where it has no chance that it will survive as it has poisoned arrows stuck in it’s neck. I have heard of no-one that wants this to carry on and would love it to stop.

  • M. Lewis

    Stanley, you just don’t get it.

  • Michel Michaeljohn

    Bullfighting is not a ‘fight’ at all, but a systematic ‘torture-killing’ that pits a gang of armed thugs wielding ‘razor-sharp’ barbed spikes, spears, swords and daggers (these weapons are designed to ‘inflict intense pain and cause blood loss’ to weaken the animal) against a lone, terrified; confused; ‘fatally’ disabled and wounded animal.

    The continuation of bullfighting depends on ‘government subsidies’ and the ‘tourist industry.’

    Don’t be an ‘accomplice’ to this ‘savagery’ by supporting it with your ‘tourist dollars.’

  • sam

    this is soooooo cruel and mean i beleave that we stand up to stop the pain!!!!!!!

  • J

    I don’t believe in bullfighting, but i can’t say that I want to stop it all costs, due to it being a part of their culture. But killing animals for “sport” seems to be a little rash for culture don’t you think? But I suppose everyone has their opinions..