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Tourists Unwittingly Support Cruel Bullfighting Industry

WASHINGTON (Oct. 22, 2008) – Humane Society International asks travelers heading for warmer climate this winter to leave bullfights off the itinerary.  

“Many spectators at bullfights are tourists, and choosing not to patronize these cruel spectacles will ultimately lead to the end of bullfighting. For example, more than 90 percent of bullfight spectators in Cancun, Mexico are from the United States or Canada,” said Susan Prolman, HSI director of international campaigns.

Bullfighting is illegal in many countries, including Argentina, Canada, Cuba and Italy.  Bullfights take place in Spain, France, Portugal, Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, Peru and Ecuador.  In these countries, pressure against bullfighting is increasing.  Some Spanish cities, such as Calonge, Tossa de Mar, Vilamacolum and La Vajol, as well as the Mexican city of Jalopa have banned it.  

At bullfights, spectators cheer as bulls are taunted, injured and often killed in the name of entertainment. Veterinarians, zoologists and former matadors agree that bulls are submitted to unnecessary suffering both in and out of the ring.  Bullfighting creates an atmosphere that desensitizes people – especially impressionable children and young adults – to suffering. 

In countries that still allow bullfighting, only a small and declining percent of the local population participates. Seventy-two percent of Spaniards have no interest in bullfighting, according to a 2006 survey. The already low interest is expected to continue declining in the years ahead. The bullfighting industry receives significant financial support from foreign tourists whose tourism dollars are better spent pursuing other cultural events. HSI encourages travelers to discover the many sights and sounds these countries have to offer -- away from the bullfighting rings. Many places features outdoor markets, live music, salsa, museums and of course, beaches and more beaches.

The bullfighting industry also receives government subsidies, despite growing taxpayer opposition. Humane Society International is confronting the use of public funds to support bullfighting.

Every year, approximately 250,000
bulls are killed in bullfights

An Unfair Fight
Assertions that bullfighting constitutes a fair and even fight between the bull and the matador are simply untrue. Each bull is weakened both mentally and physically before coming face-to-face with the matador. Prior to entering the ring, the bull suffers the stress of transport and may also endure branding. In the first act of the bullfight, the matador’s assistants provoke the bull with large colorful capes, then the picadors (men on horseback) pierce the bull’s neck with a barbed lance. All of this takes place before the matador’s “fight” even begins.

An Agonizing Death
After the bullfighter, or matador, stabs the bull with banderillas (wooden sticks with spiked ends), his objective is to “conquer and kill the bull with a swift clean kill by placing a sword in a coin-sized area between the bull’s shoulders.” (1) Advocates of bullfighting argue that if the matador aims correctly, the animal dies in a matter of seconds. This type of quick, clean death, however, is not the norm. In most cases, the matador misses the target, injuring the bull’s lungs and bronchial tubes, causing blood to flow and bubble through the animal’s mouth and nose.

Bullfighting Myths

1. I should attend a bullfight if I want to experience the country’s true culture.
Spain, Mexico and other Latin American nations are all beautiful countries, rich in history, art and culture. There are so many other ways to enjoy and experience a country’s traditions that do not involve harming animals. 

Even if bullfighting has been used as entertainment in the past, that is no argument for continuing this cruel and outdated practice. Other traditions of cruelty as entertainment, such as Roman gladiatorial games, have been relegated to history, as bullfighting should be.

In countries that still allow bullfighting, only a small and declining percent of the local population participates. According to a 2006 Investiga (formerly Gallup) survey titled “Interés por las corridas de toros” [Interest in bullfights], 72.1 percent of Spaniards have no interest in bullfighting and Investiga expects interest to continue declining in the years ahead. (1)

Many spectators at bullfights are tourists, not members of the local culture. For example, more than 90 percent of bullfight spectators in Cancun, Mexico are from the United States or Canada.

2. Bulls are violent and aggressive animals by nature.
On the contrary, bulls are generally calm, peaceful animals who tend to behave violently only when defending themselves or their territory. According to zoologist Jordi Casamitjana, bulls are “very peaceful animals that spend most of their live[s] eating grass, sleeping and playing with each other... ”The breeders of bulls used in bullfights admit that these bulls are purposely bred to be aggressive,  fierce, and to attack, not defend. 

3. Bullfighting is a fair sport—the bull and the matador have an equal chance of injuring the other and winning the fight.
If this were the case, there would be an equal number of matadors and bulls that die in the ring. According to ex-matador D. Alvaro Múnera, “Los toreros muertos son muy pocos, es un índice insignificante al lado de los toros que se matan cada día en las corridas [The dead bullfighters are very few; it is an insignificant number next to the bulls that are killed every day in the bullfights].” (3) The matador, unlike the bull, can use planned tactics and previous training to deceive and have advantage over the bull.  Furthermore, the bull is subjected to significant stress, exhaustion, and injury before the matador even begins his “fight.”

4. Bulls do not suffer during the bullfight.
Contrary to claims that bulls do not suffer at any stage of the bullfight,  numerous scientific studies have proven that bulls do suffer in the ring. Veterinarians, zoologists and bullfighters themselves all agree that bulls undergo both physical pain and psychological stress during these bloody events. According to Dr. Susana Munoz of the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, “Durante todo el tiempo que dura esta tortura psicológica el toro esta sufriendo un intenso estrés . . . El toro sufre muchísimo [During the whole time that this psychological torture lasts, the bull is suffering an intense stress... The bull suffers a great deal]. 

Copyright © 2008 Humane Society International.

Humane Society International is the international arm of The Humane Society of the United States, the nation's largest animal protection organization — backed by 10.5 million Americans, or one of every 30. For more than a half-century, The HSUS has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education, and hands-on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty — On the web at


Kristen Everett
Humane Society of the United States, 
2100 L Street, NW, Washington, DC 20037


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