As animal rights groups celebrate the almost complete halt of Spanish bullfighting due to the coronavirus pandemic, industry insiders warn of a much broader and quieter environmental catastrophe.
Behind the flashy tourist shows – in which activists see cruelty and aficionados see strategy, technique and art – hides a special breed of bulls whose breeding keeps 500,000 hectares in Spain – almost the size of the Federal District Brazilian.
Called a Lydian bull – or simply a wild bull – he is one of the few herbivores to attack to defend his territory instead of fleeing, and his wild temper demands that he be raised freely.
To entities that denounce mistreatment, the sector argues that their cattle are very animal-friendly and compares it to that of beef cattle, in which an ox can be confined to 9 m² (minimum European Union parameter), is frequently stressed and slaughtered when it reaches around 450 kg, from 18 months.
In the herds of wild bulls, each grazes in the equivalent of three city blocks (30 thousand m²), a breeding method favorable to plant and animal biodiversity according to the region’s Ministry of Agriculture. of Extremadura and the Biodiversity Foundation, which signed an agreement to support the activity.
Courageous bulls also live longer – at least two years, when the process of selecting females that will breed for up to two decades begins.
From the age of three, still in the pastures, the males receive a reinforcement which includes vitamins, minerals, calcium, vegetable proteins (soy, barley and oats) to promote muscles and iron and carbohydrates for energy.
“It is a question of developing during more than four years the growth of an athlete who will one day make a display of temperate strength and unique bravery for half an hour, exclusive property of this animal”, declares the president of the Union of Bullfighters of Lídia (UCTL), Antonio Bañuelos.
More area per head and years of “athlete diet” increase the cost of wild bulls by 4,000 to 5,000 euros (from R $ 27,000 to R $ 34,000) per animal.
Before the pandemic, a large investment paid off. In a big square like Las Ventas, in Madrid, the price of a bull exceeded 10,000 euros (R $ 68,000).
But they have an expiration date to enter the Grand Arenas, after which they have no value. “Fighting bulls can only be five years old at most,” says Eduardo Miura Fernández, a breeder of around 700 animals. “It’s when the animal is physically stronger,” says Bañuelos.
With the bullring closed, thousands of them had passed the ideal age and producers who could not afford the cost of their conservation without income had to slaughter them as beef cattle – at an estimated price of 500 euros (3 400 R $) each a.
In the 347 herds registered with UCTL, it was the destination of 10,000 males, in addition to a reduction in the number of cows, not counted.
The only good news has been the climate in 2020, which has helped keep the pastures lush, reducing the need for food, Bañuelos says. Miura, for example, did not have to sacrifice bulls, but farms with larger herds had no alternatives and small breeders simply went bankrupt.
More than the financial disaster, the breeder cites genetic and environmental losses. Decades of breeding are needed to obtain animals with ideal characteristics of aggressiveness, courage and fearless demeanor, properties that only make sense in the culture of bulls. Without bullfights, sustainable farms tend to disappear.
It would be less damaging if it only hit around 200 bulls that make it to the main arenas each year, but the so-called ‘bull culture’ is much broader, says José María Ramos, who runs the agency of educational tourism Aprende de Toros for ten years.
Until 2019, there were also around a thousand “bull games” in Spain (without bullfighters, promoted by cities or entities) and up to 18 thousand “bulls” – activities that vary from cutters ( men and women doing stunts to escape). bull attacks) to run through the city streets.
Loss estimates are still imprecise, but each bull sacrificed represents a difference of around 3,500 euros (R $ 24,000) between the cost of its creation and the price paid for the carcass in slaughterhouses.
In UCTL and Miura’s calculations, livestock losses alone exceed 150 million euros (1.025 billion reais). Outside the gate there are also animal carriers, arena administrators, TV stations, tourism agencies, hotels, restaurants, bullfighting professionals, the sport industry. clothing needed to make their costumes and training schools, among others.
Overall, the calculation is that the main bullfighting circuit brings in 500 million euros (3.4 billion reais), mainly with the box office. That’s a fraction of what football clubs collect, but five times the box office of cinemas in Spain, according to the Economia de Touros platform.
Ticket sales were on the rise – in 2019 940,852 tickets were sold, of which 641,000 were only in Madrid, Feiras de San Isidro, the largest in the world.
In 2020, San Isidro was canceled for the first time since its inception in 1947, and the Spanish bullfighting season was reduced by 89%.
Judging by the plots of places, the activity repeats a comeback in 2021. The La Maestranza arena, in Seville, announces ten bullfights between this Sunday (18) and May 2, with tickets from 26 to 177 euros ( 178 R $ to R $ 1,209).
“But the recovery is still very slow for everyone involved,” says Miura. One of the issues is the audience limit, as over 80% of Taurus’s revenue comes from the box office.
In Seville, for example, the local government imposed a distance of 1.5 meters between spectators, which means reducing the occupancy rate to 12% of the total – an exaggerated restriction for an outdoor event, according to Ramos, who sees the political use of the theme.
“Bullfighting culture has always been of all ideologies and classes, but bullfights have been labeled as right-wing for quite some time now. This is historical ignorance; there are famous communists who adhere to the culture of the Taurus.”
Ramos says he fears the federal government, led by the Socialist Workers’ Party, will use the pandemic as a pretext to strangle the industry. Aid programs for the agrarian sector have been launched, but are inaccessible to courageous or insufficient bull breeders, according to an analysis by Asaja (a professional association that brings together 200,000 members of the agricultural sector).
Protecting livestock from wild bulls, however, should be of interest to politicians, Bañuelo says, as it secures more than 14,000 direct rural jobs – including veterinarians, zootechnicians and cowboys specializing in dealing with wild animals – and 90 000 indirect jobs, “precisely in depressed regions, which are emptying”.
In other words, it not only puts food on the workers’ table, but it avoids the social problems caused by the rural exodus, says UTCL.
Organizations such as AnimaNaturalis and CAS International have launched a campaign against the bullfighting subsidy in La Rioja (northern Spain). According to NGOs, funds intended for bullfighting parties could maintain 30 intensive care beds per year, in addition to purchasing 23,600 Covid-19 tests and 467,000 masks.
“I understand those who don’t like bullfights and respect them, but you should always know before you criticize,” says Ramos, who disagrees with those who see abuse in bullfighting games.
“They are extremely well-kept animals, away from humans until they enter the arena. All activities are subject to strict rules, including sacrifices,” he says.
For Ramos, the bullfights in which the bulls do not die in the arena are hypocritical solutions, since he is shot shortly after. “The moment when the bull is killed is the culmination of a ritual which also involves a great deal of danger for man. Death is bloody, but not cruel, and the fight must be particularly beautiful to magnify the bull and the bullfighter. “he said.
Ramos adds that bullfighting is the only place where a human-raised cattle that has been sent to death can escape. When a bull shows exceptional temperament in the arena, the race director lifts an orange scarf. This is the signal for forgiveness.
These bulls – 5% of the total – return to their pastures, where they will remain until the end of the days.