MADRID – In an unprecedented investigation spanning three years, CAS International and AnimaNaturalis have released shocking figures on the harsh reality of Spain’s bull festivals, challenging the cultural, financial, and ethical aspects of a deeply ingrained tradition.
The investigation dug deep into the festival programs of more than 8,000 towns and villages across Spain. Astonishingly, 22% of all Spanish municipalities—that’s 1,820 in total—organise one or more bull festivals each year. The findings suggest that at least €42 million of public funds are annually poured into these festivals, which span nearly 18,000 events involving bulls, cows, and calves. However, only 46.8% of these municipalities have disclosed how much they actually spend on these events.
Valencia: The centre of Spain’s bull festivals
The autonomous region of Valencia took the dubious honour of hosting the most events—8,623 in 2019 alone. A staggering 50% of municipalities in Valencia and an incredible 94% in the province of Castellón organise these fiestas, spending €17 million in public funds.
The gory details
Despite popular belief, bull festivals outnumber traditional Spanish-style bullfights by a shocking 37 to 1 ratio. This discrepancy raised concerns as Maite van Gerwen, Director of CAS International, commented, “The animals used in fiestas are often reused, subjected to repeated suffering. It’s far worse than we had anticipated.”
A crack in credibility
The study also calls into question the credibility of statistics provided by the Spanish Ministry of Culture. It is pointing to severe underestimations and discrepancies in official figures when compared to the actual numbers.
Behind the glittering lights: Abuse and neglect
The investigation paints a bleak picture for the animals involved. More than 30,000 bulls, cows, and calves are used in these festivals every year. These animals are subjected to immense stress and suffering throughout their lives. When they are no longer ‘fit’ for the events they will be sent to slaughterhouses. From forcing bulls into the sea to setting their horns on fire, the festivals have been noted to have a myriad of cruel variations.
Several incidents have led to criminal complaints against the organisers. These include children participating in setting bulls’ horns on fire and bulls dying from extreme conditions. Fines ranging from €3,000 to €6,000 have been imposed.
Alarmingly, the investigation noted that minors are often participants in these events. Despite UN recommendations to keep children away from such violent activities. In 2022, 23 people lost their lives in these festivals. Among them, a 74-year-old woman who was fatally injured by a runaway bull.
Tradition vs ethical arguments
As Spain struggles with the moral, financial, and cultural complexities unearthed by this groundbreaking investigation, one thing is clear: the romanticised version of bull festivals cherished by many stands in stark contrast to the grim reality exposed by CAS International and AnimaNaturalis. This report offers a perspective that challenges us all to ponder the price of tradition at the expense of ethical considerations.