How Bullfighting Works

The End of Bullfighting?

While the popularity of bullfighting has ebbed and flowed over the centuries, it has never disappeared. That may all change in the 21st century. Energized animal rights activists combined with a floundering economy may be the death of bullfighting.

The first Spanish region to ban bullfighting was the Canary Islands, where it has been illegal since 1991.

Catalonia was the first region in mainland Spain to vote to ban bullfighting. The ban, which passed in 2010, will take effect Jan. 1, 2012. This area is significant as the home to Barcelona, which has three large arenas.

Also in 2010, TVE, Spain's state television broadcaster, banned live coverage of bullfighting because of a law saying that cruelty to animals can't be shown before 10 p.m., during what are considered children's viewing hours. Most bullfights begin in the late afternoon or early evening, so they fall right in this time frame [source: Tremlett].

In what some see as a countermove against the campaign to ban bullfighting, in 2010, the Spanish government shifted the regulation of bullfighting from the Interior Ministry to the Cultural Ministry, a move supporters say elevates the art of bullfighting to the status of cultural event, and may have been done in response to the ban in Catalonia. [source: Associated Press]

Some areas offer bull sports where the bulls aren't killed in front of an audience. In Amposta, a Catalan region of Spain, flaming torches are attached to bulls' horns in a makeshift arena -- a corral of farm vehicles and carriages -- during 12 days of festival events [source: Tremlett]. Local ranches provide animals for the fiestas and some animals return year after year. Animal rights activists say the activity scares the bulls, even if it doesn't kill them, and also should be banned.

Bullfighting in Portugal and part of southern France is still done on horseback, with the goal being to wrestle the bull to a standstill using horses that charge and dodge the bulls. The bulls are lanced, but not killed in the ring. They're taken out of the ring and killed immediately after a fight, however, which many argue is no more humane than a traditional Spanish bullfight.

Jallikattu is a bull-wrestling competition held during the Pongal festival in the state of Tamil Nadu India each year. Packages of money are tied to the horns of bulls. Participants with no weapons try to control the bulls by jumping them and holding their horns, in order to get the packages. In this sport, the men are injured or killed more often than the bulls.

Given the long history and widespread spectacle of bullfighting, it remains to be seen whether forces can combine in the 21st century to kill bullfighting off completely.

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