No Matter How Fast They Run, Pamplona's Bulls Are Doomed

Jose Escolar Gil fighting bulls take Estafeta corner during the third running of the bulls at the San Fermin festival in Pamp
Jose Escolar Gil fighting bulls take Estafeta corner during the third running of the bulls at the San Fermin festival in Pamplona, northern Spain, July 9, 2016. REUTERS/Eloy Alonso

It's cruelty masquerading as celebration. Terrorized animals, thrust into a world of screaming, slick surfaces, physical torment, and, in the end, serial, protracted stabbing.

It's the annual eight-day running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, as four dozen animals are chased down narrow cobblestone streets among thick, taunting crowds. They are funneled toward the bullring in town and later finished off by the picadors and matadors with their cutting swords and knives. It's only by suspending any empathy for the animals that any participant or spectator to this carnage can deem this a joyful experience.

In the run-up to this year's spectacle -- after assembling investigative footage from 2015 -- Animal Guardians and other groups (including Humane Society International) have released a video that tells the real story, stripped bare of the senseless reverie and phony thrill-seeking that accompanies it. You'll see how the whole thing culminates for the animals -- with open-air, unpunished acts of malicious cruelty.

Besides the running of the bulls, thousands of bull fiestas are held across Spain each year where, once again, the animals are tortured and killed. At fire bull fiestas, for instance, bulls' horns are set alight and the animals teased by onlookers while firecrackers explode all around. This week, HSI and its partners won a long battle when we succeeded in putting a stop to this year's Toro de la Vega, which takes place annually in Tordesillas, Castile and in the León region of Spain. The event involves hordes of spear-wielding men on horseback chasing and stabbing a bull to death.

We are zeroing in on the world's most appalling spectacles of malice to animals, including bullfighting. And there's growing worldwide disfavor with this gratuitous violence toward innocent animals. Between 2011 and 2015, there was a 25 percent decline in the number of bull fiestas. A poll commissioned by HSI last year found that 74 percent of Spaniards opposed the Toro de la Vega event. Many of the bull fiestas are partly or wholly funded by public subsidies, and the poll showed that most citizens did not think public funds should be used to support them. Some Spanish cities, such as Calonge, Tossa de Mar, Vilamacolum, and La Vajol, have independently outlawed the practice of bullfighting and, in 2012, historic legislation came into force after politicians voted to ban the outdated tradition in the Spanish region of Catalonia.

Taking on battles to end animal cruelty in foreign cultures can be difficult, as we often find ourselves aligned against apologists who invoke tradition and culture as a defense for cruelty. But with persistence, we can pull back this cloak of culture with the result that sensible people will recognize naked cruelty when they see it. HSI has, over the years, won some pretty impressive battles, like ending the world's largest animal sacrifice at the Gadhimai festival in Nepal, where half a million animals were slaughtered. In Spain, and in other countries, we will continue our fight against outmoded and cruel blood sports, including those that masquerade as tradition.

This article first appeared on Wayne Pacelle's blog, A Humane Nation.