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Is a Bull Run Fun?

As well as the Munich Oktoberfest and mid-summer partying on the island of Ios, the European travellers circuit includes, for many, the Pamplona San Fermin July fiesta of the Running of the Bulls (known in Spain as the ´encierro´).  This historical tradition makes for an entertaining, invigorating and adventurous 9 day party... at the bulls expense.

bullrunBut what I was surprised to discover on moving to Spain was that bulls are not just incorporated in this well known event and in bullrings in large cities, but the taunting of bulls is part and parcel of the vast majority of Spain's towns and villages yearly fiesta celebrations!   And in parts of Portugal, France, Mexico and some South American countries as well.

Unlike bullfights, where professionals perform, anyone can participate in the encierro.  What originally began as the transporting of cattle to sell at market became a competition for those who dared to run in front of the bulls.  Cages are set up along the route which the participants can dart into for safely if their nerve goes or a bull gets too close.  Of course many people get injured - they trip or bump into each other and fall into the path of the stampeding animals, or get a goring from one of the aggitated animals horns. 

Bullfighting may have been banned in Catalonia but still the running of the bulls remains legal. There is no sign of an end to these traditional activities despite pressure from animal rights campaigners.  In 2002 a dozen young activists from People of the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) took to the streets of Pamplona in naked demonstration against the spectacle hoping to draw more attention to the suffering of the bulls.  This protest continues each year causing amusement or anger from spectators.

jallikattuAfter an agressive campaign, by PETA, in India bulls have been added to the directive that prohibits certain animals (including bears, monkeys, tigers, lions and panthers) from being used for performances.  However, a cruel and dangerous spectacle in the Tamil Nadu province called Jallikattu has residents chasing and provoking the bulls in an attempt to grab money tied to their horns.  Bulls have been known to have their tails twisted and testicles pinched, to be fed alcohol and have chilli rubbed into their eyes during the event.  Unfortunately Jallikattu still continues despite the change in the law.

I understand that its traditional, and yes, its a big party, but aren't there other ways to do this without the torture of animals?  Well, there is. In New Orleans each year in July there is an alternative take on the Running of the Bulls.  Nola Bulls, as it is known, replicates the Pamplona event but with the bulls replaced with rollerderby leagues from across the US.  These 4-wheeled skaters, with batons in hand, make for a fun alternative as they chase the white and red clad runners through the city streets.