IT was a sickening scene that shocked a nation.
A video showing dozens of drunk teenagers torturing and taunting a young bull to its death in Alhaurin el Grande caused public outcry. (see http://www.theolivepress.es/2010/06/03/bull-tortured-to-death-in-spain/)
Not only were animal rights activists incensed, but also aficionados of Spain’s most enduring tradition.
In the aftermath, six youths – including one aged just 14 – were arrested after the Guardia Civil referred to the video evidence.
Yet the chilling footage inevitably stoked fresh calls for the banning of bullfights, known as las Corridas, as well as growing concerns over the mentality of Spaniards towards animal wellbeing.
For, as campaigning Spanish magazine, El Observador worryingly notes: “This year, these brutal attacks have become increasingly widespread.”
And Antonio Moreno, spokesperson for Andalucian Collective Against Animal and Environmental Mistreatment (CACMA) explains: “Such acts make you worry about the mental state of those who took part.”
Indeed, the Malaga councillor for citizen’s rights Francisco Gutierrez has reportedly been inundated with complaints over the appalling scenes.
“These brutal attacks have become increasingly widespread.”
It even led to numerous outraged comments from readers on the Olive Press website, questioning how such a spectacle was allowed to take place.
As wrote Ivan: “If that is how they permit the treatment of animals in Alhaurin then it should be stopped permanently.”
Even long-term bullfighting stalwarts have been quick to distance the corridas from the disturbing event captured on camera.
Writer and bullfighting aficionado Shelley Frade, 60, from Medina Sidonia, explains: “What happened in Alhaurin has got nothing to do with bullfighting and it should be banned.
“Certainly, people in bullfighting want this sort of activity to be stopped.”
Yet it is not the first time such acts of cruelty have taken place in the ring.
A little over two years ago, the crowd at a fight in Granada watched on in disbelief as a bulldozer entered the ring to chase a bull that was unwilling to fight.
As the Olive Press reported (see www.theolivepress.es), the animal retaliated by trying to charge the incoming machine but, appallingly, was almost scooped up by the ten-tonne bulldozer.
It was dubbed a “reprehensible and intolerable act” by Jesus Huertas, the provincial delegate for the Junta at the time.
Now, comic celebrity Ricky Gervais has even lent his support to a World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) to front a campaign against, what he describes as “this cruel sport”.
In a YouTube clip he urges Catalonians to sign a petition to impose a total ban later this summer.
“It sickens me to know that in this day and age, people are still paying money to see an animal suffering,” explains Gervais.
Yet lost amongst the uproar surrounding the sadistic youths and the celebrity condemnation lies the truth that brave men regularly risk all to confront blood-seeking bulls.
In just a couple of months, two of Spain’s most renowned fighters (toreos or matadors) have come within a horn’s width of losing their lives.
The acclaimed Jose Tomas was seriously gored while fighting in Mexico.
Tossed up in the air by the rampaging bull, Tomas suffered a six-inch deep gouge in his thigh which required a life-saving eight-litre blood transfusion.
In fact, fears were so great about the maimed bullfighter’s dramatic loss of blood that an announcement was made over the bullring’s tannoy urging for fellow A-blood type spectators to step forward and donate.
Spanish daily El Pais reported at the time that the 34-year-old’s injury was so serious that surgeons were forced to operate before having even anaesthetised Tomas.
The famous Tomas has now suffered 18 gouges in his career – the first endured during a fight in Mexico in 1994.
A month ago, even the most steadfast of critics would have felt for the plight of a certain Julio Aparicio.
During an ill-fated fight, the Sevilla fighter lost his footing while attempting to perform the faena – a series of passes in which he uses his cape and sword before delivering the death blow to the bull.
While trying to scramble to his feet, the bull seized its chance to charge.
In the blink of an eye, the half-ton bull’s horn had pierced his throat and broke through his mouth.
As the stadium watched on in horror, Aparicio somehow managed to stumble to his feet and stagger out of the ring.
The 41-year-old has now left hospital after successful operations to fix a punctured tongue and fractured jaw.
Indeed, the recent escapes from the clutches of death which Spain’s finest has endured has breathed new life into a tradition whose popularity was seemingly on the wane.
There is no doubt that, for the sake of their proud tradition, bullfighters are prepared to risk everything.
Many have met their death at the hands of a charging animal, even some of Spain’s greatest.
One of the most celebrated of all time, Manuel Laureano Rodriguez Sanchez, better known as ‘Manolete’, was gored to death in 1947, prompting Franco to order three days of national mourning.
Some 15 years earlier, renowned author Ernest Hemingway had written in his book, Death in the Afternoon: “Bullfighting is the only art in which the artist is in danger of death and in which the degree of brilliance in the performance is left to the fighter’s honour.”
And local bullfighting lover expatriate Frade was spellbound by the moving work of art she was confronted with on witnessing her first fight in Sevilla ten years ago.
“It is a moving sculpture between the matador and the bull, these animals are so intelligent and it is incredible to watch a torero and bull working in tandem in the ring,” she explains.
Furthermore, one now long-term fan of bullfighting was once a staunch campaigner against what she once described as a “disgraceful and disgusting activity”.
Former literary agent, Seraphina Clarke, 76, from Gaucin, was converted after begrudgingly going to her first fight in Palma de Mallorca in 1970.
“My friend had said at the time: ‘Shut up and come and see a real fight’,” explains Clarke.
“And I was completely taken by how beautiful it was to see a toro and toreo in tandem.
“You see a transmission between the man and the beast. You see them work together and it is extraordinary.
“And sometimes you are lucky to see a bull fighter who transforms the ring.”
For those that cite the killing of bulls in the ring as a cruel way to die, Clarke argues that the life of a bull bred to fight is far better than the millions reared solely to be eaten.
“What people have to do is compare their way of life to any other managed animal that is raised intensively, for example, beef, pigs or cattle,” continues Clarke.
“Bulls are given a huge area of space, they are fed and drunk and tended to. In fact, a pig would give his right arm to be a bull.
“Just look at abattoirs – I went to one and it was simply awful seeing bulls shoved head to tail together in preparation for their slaughter.”
Nevertheless, a landmark proposal is currently going through Catalan parliament, which, if passed this summer, would ban fighting in the region.
And for the millions of animal rights activists this would not be a moment too soon.
Yet the near-death experiences of the likes of Tomas and Aparicio have succeeded in romanticising the escapades of Spain’s daring matadors.
Indeed, a 12-year-old Mexican called Michelito, recently became the youngest-ever toreo when he fought a bull ten times his weight in front of 45,000 spectators.
Despite the latest ring controversies and animal cruelty outcries, it looks like there is some life left in the old Spanish bull.