"Each step forward for bullfighting is a step back for humanity," writes Francis Cabrel on his website. As a native to France's south-west, he takes this stance in defence of a region he loves and which he cannot bear to see disfigured by bullfighting rings.
Sadly, each year more towns host bullfights, despite legal action taken by One Voice and other organisations.
Whatever its aficionados might say, the essence of bullfighting is to inflict pain on an animal. The bullfight takes place in three parts (tercios). The first tercio belongs to the picadors who impale lances into the bull's neck, sometimes several times in the same wound. If the lance is thrust with sufficient force, the ten-centimetre wide ring on the shaft penetrates the wound and, through a lever effect, can break the bull's rib.
The banderillos enter the ring for the second tercio. They drive darts into the bull's flesh. The wounds they cause are not as deep (around 7 cm) but the six darts are left in the flesh causing the bull pain each time it moves. The subsequent heavy loss of blood further weakens the bull.
The final part is the tercio de muerte. The matador armed with an estocada, an 85-centimetre long sword, rarely kills the bull at his first attempt, often plunging the sword three or four times into the bull before it finally succumbs. The "record" is 32 times.
An executioner, the puntillero, can be called into the ring to finish off the dying bull by severing its spinal cord. One puntillero had to slash the bull's spinal cord 34 times before killing it. Butchers have spoken of bulls arriving at the abattoir still alive.
Against all odds
The barbaric nature of bullfighting is masked behind sparkling costumes and festive music. The bull faces preposterous odds. Some bulls are younger than claimed (despite being branded with their year of birth, and birth certificates which breeders might forge). They are subdued with tranquillisers, and their horns shaved. These facts have been testified by Mireille Didrit, who has researched bullfighting at the Sorbonne University.
Other practices to weaken and disorient the bull are to give it laxatives, to place it in a revolving cage, to throw heavy bags of sand on its back and leave them there for the hours leading up to the bullfight, and to leave the bull in the dark before sending it out into the blinding sun.
"None of this respects the bull's normal living conditions. It is ethically wrong and prevents any fair combat by placing the bull in a position of weakness," writes Mireille Didrit. Other illegal practices, this time during the fight, are to stab the bull's muzzle with the muleta, to stick the banderillas into the wounds inflicted by the picadors, and to go well beyond the legal time for the estocada (killing), which sometimes lasts 30 minutes.
Every precaution is taken to make the bull less dangerous than it appears, whether behind the scenes or in the ring. The picas and banderillas weaken the bull by causing it to lose blood and by destroying the tendons in its neck without which it cannot lift its head. The bull is defenceless.
Frequently the bull falls over, for different reasons including an inadequate diet and illness. Even France's bullfighting federation, La Fédération des Sociétés Taurines de France, which as one can imagine is far from spearheading the campaign to ban bullfighting, and which regularly lampoons animal welfare organisations, is obliged to admit that all is not well: "In order to avoid serious problems, a veterinary inspection must be made to avoid sending sick animals into the ring." The leaflet it hands out to spectators invites them to examine the bull's horns: "horns that have been clearly blunted, have tufted ends or bleed require an expert opinion." In other words, the organisers themselves acknowledge that the dice are loaded.
What the aficionados say
"To die in the ring is the finest death a bull can hope for"
The bull is in pain throughout its slow death in the ring. It knows nothing of the dignity and nobility the aficionados claim it feels.
"The matador and the bull equally risk death"
The statistics show this is untrue: one matador is killed for every 33,000 bulls. To claim that "the bull has its chance to win" is an absurdity. It has no chance of winning. The matador takes a carefully calculated risk of one in 33,000 of being killed. Compare this with the one in 8,000 risk of not waking up from a general anaesthetic.
Furthermore, the bull discovers the noise and agitation only when it enters the ring. The matador has had ample time to practice and get used to this atmosphere.
"It is in a bull's nature to fight"
The bulls are selected for their allure. Their alleged aggressiveness is a reflex through fear.
What you can do
Never attend a bullfight… and refuse to visit and spend your money in towns that organize bullfights. Travel instead to the other lovely towns in the South of France where cruelty is not put on for show.