Cultural Traditions or Animal Cruelty? Many ‘Games’ Still Being Played Worldwide

Plaza de Toros Bullfight and Folkloric Show Cancun, Mexico

Cock fights. Bull fights. Dog fights. Rodeos. And yes, even insect matches. These and other animal-focused sports—created for human entertainment and most often, financial gain—are still in existence today despite activists’ best efforts to eradicate them.

Are these ‘sports,’ some of which date back to Roman times, merely ‘cultural traditions’ or outright ‘animal cruelty’? Or an unpleasant combination of the two? 

Before discussing this topic, let’s look at several types of what many consider to be ‘blood sports,’ including some that are less commonly known, and where they’re occurring in the modern world.

Types of Animal-Oriented Sports

Cock Fights

Two roosters in a ring, doing a violent dance, viciously rip into each other’s necks. They’re cheered on by people yelling and throwing money down to bet. The match ends when the ‘umpire’ declares that one of the ‘fighters’ is dead or close to it. After it’s over, people collect their winnings.

Roosters in a cock fight

Countries: Latin America, Mexico, the Caribbean, the Canary Islands and an island or two in the S. Pacific.

Dog Fights

The premise here is similar to that of the cock fight. According to the Humane Society, the dogs are usually pit bull terrier-type dogs with powerful jaws, and they’re trained to fight. Other breeds are used, however, including rottweilers. They attack each other in a pit (sometimes on a street) with spectators encouraging them. They bark wildly and attempt to tear each other apart.

The fights can last up to two hours and end when one dog can no longer fight. Many die of blood loss, exhaustion, infection, shock, etc. This sport is considered a felony offense on a Federal level and in all 50 states in the US.

Countries: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Cuba; illegal in most developed countries, it occurs anyway.

Bull Fights

The corrida de toros (the Spanish version) occurs in phases, each one announced via trumpet. Each stage is aimed at progressively weakening the bull to facilitate the final kill by the matador. There are picadores—men riding blind-folded horses—who stab the bull’s neck with lances–and banderillas, who run at the already-weakened bull to distract him and  insert darts into its back, drawing more blood.

Eventually, the matador goes in for the final kill. First, he puts on a ‘show’ by provoking the bull to charge a few times while working the audience into a frenzy. Then, he inserts a sword into the bull’s aorta  People, who have paid big bucks to witness the ‘fight’, yell Ole! at the moment of death (if it goes well) and wave white handkerchiefs. “The crowd wants to see bravery, strength, and finesse when it comes to subduing the rampaging bull,” according to the website Cuando en España.

Plaza de Toros Bullfight and Folkloric Show Cancun, Mexico

Countries: Spain (illegal in Catalonia and has declined in popularity in recent years nationally), Portugal, Mexico and a few S. American countries.

Rodeos

The word ‘rodeo,’ Spanish in origin, means to ‘round up.’ This sport involves horses, cattle and other livestock. There are bucking horse events, barrel racing, calf roping, steer wrestling and other activities that involve taming animals for brief periods of time.

Rodeo

The athletes, cowboys and cowgirls, receive a variety of awards as well as prize money. Animals are injured at times, but the numbers are difficult to estimate because not every incident is reported.

Countries: USA (Wyoming, S. Dakota, Texas); Canada (Alberta); Mexico; Brazil, Argentina Australia and New Zealand.

Insect Matches

In this sport, practiced in several Asian countries, beetles, crickets and put together (sometimes with species mixed) in a small ring where they fight. Often, non-insect invertabrates (spiders, scorpions, millipedes, etc.) are contestants. The loser is the fighter that leaves the ring first or is killed. Gambling is often part of this game, and children are among the spectators.

bug fight

Countries: Several in Asia, including China and Japan. While the games tend to be legal, the gambling on them is not.

Less Common

Camel Wrestling

Limited to the Aegean region of Turkey, this involves bulky bull camels—called bull camels—who are exicited by a cow who walks around them. Or a female in heat near them. They push and lean on each other and sometimes appear to be wrestling as they try to lean on each other or pin the other. Maintaining these animals is expensive and so, this sport has been declining in popularity.

Goose-Pulling

This involves a rope stretched across a road and a goose, with its head greased, hanging from it. A man rides by on a horse grabs it, hoping to pull its head off. It’s still practiced today in some parts of the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany, but according to several sources, the game is now played with a dead goose.

Goose pulling

My Experiences

Over my many years of traveling, I’ve encountered two such sports firsthand—the bullfight and the cock fight.

Bullfights: I was enamored of Spain and wanted to have the complete cultural experience, so I went. Like others, I believed it was an integral part of the Spanish culture, ‘in the Spaniards’ blood.’ But when I witnessed the brutality up close, I felt it was cruel and walked out. Although I lived in Spain several years later, I never attended another bull fight.

Cock fights: A few years ago, I stumbled onto a cock fight while visiting Los Patos, a small town in the Dominican Republic. The locals, including the elderly, were gearing up for the fight, preparing to sell sugar cane and various beverages. Many were simply exciting about attending and/or winning money. As a way of understanding the village, I documented the experience via photos, but I didn’t stay at the fight too long. It was barbaric  and hard to watch.

And when I visited a traditional village in Bali, it happened to be on their annual day of gambling. In addition to card and dice games, there was a cock fight in progress. I was shocked as I didn’t know that was a tradition there. I took a few photos and walked away.

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Your Thoughts/Reactions/Experiences?

Each culture has its own traditions and rituals and not everyone agrees with them, especially when someone gets hurt in the process–in this case, animals. However, many have no issue with it. They want to watch, to bet and to capitalize on the games via vending, animal raising/selling and betting itself. Local economies, in some cases, benefit from these ‘games.’

My questions to you:

Where does culture end and where does cruelty begin?

Are ancient traditions OK in our modern world or should they end because people ‘know better’ now? If a country is considered ‘developing’ and the group in question is tribal/indigenous, should they be cut some slack? But if the culture is a modern ‘first-world’ country, is it a different story?

Also,  is it right for people in one culture to question and/or criticize another culture for its traditions and rituals–such as the ones in this post? Or do some cultures simply have different moral codes, which are no one else’s business?

Final question: should tourists attend these events or boycott them? Have you attended any? If so, why did you go and what did you think?

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Comment policy: Comments that add to the discussion are welcomed; those that are considered attacks on the author or other commenters are not. Comments will be moderated and those deemed inappropriate or offensive or as personal attacks will not be approved.

Accuracy of content: I used a variety of sources to write this post and at times, found contradictory information. It’s possible there are a few minor inaccuracies. If you notice any, please let me know via my contact form and I’ll be glad to make a correction. Thank you.

Photo Credits:

Steven Depolo (bullfight)

Calamityjane (rodeo)

Ryan (insect fight)

Larry_Antwerp (goose pulling)

15 Responses to Cultural Traditions or Animal Cruelty? Many ‘Games’ Still Being Played Worldwide
  1. Karyn Colombo
    March 14, 2014 | 9:57 pm

    Lisa,

    Very interesting article (as always!).

    When I lived in Spain (I was a pre-schooler, about 47 years ago) we all (parents and brother) went to a bull fight one day. We were invited by my dad’s local co-workers, so off we went. Apparently, not too long into the event, I broke down in tears.

    I don’t believe there’s any pass on cruelty because of cultural traditions. I’m glad to hear some of these cruel traditions, like bull fighting, are fading away, and I hope all the others do quickly. (I believe England outlawed fox hunting? Or at least the killing of the fox at the end.) It’s heartbreaking to imagine the suffering these animals endure.

    • CB Driver
      March 14, 2014 | 10:28 pm

      Thanks, Karyn!

      So you were little and you cried at the bullfight? Wow.

      It’s true–these ‘traditions’ are fading in some countries, but they’re alive and well in others. Like the insect fighting in Asia. And dog fights in certain countries.

      What do you think about these things occurring in cultures that have been isolated from modern society–eg, a tribe in a remote jungle? Is it ok if it’s part of a ritual (eg, making a sacrifice to please god or the gods) versus an actual ‘game’ played for entertainment and financial gain?

      It is heartbreaking to imagine all of this–while researching it, I found some of it shocking.

      • Karyn Colombo
        March 29, 2014 | 2:04 pm

        I guess I have this perception that if the animal is a sacrifice, then it is killed quickly? But I would still have issues with this. What are your thoughts? Another facet of this issue is eating meat/poultry and consume animal products (eggs etc). I’m not, as you know, a vegetarian, but I believe we’ve all become more aware of the cruelty that exists in the process of producing food. I’m trying to make food choices that have integrity, but it’s neither easy nor cheap. The farmer’s market in West Palm sells locally grown chickens, raised and processed humanely. A dozen eggs is close to $6. Chicken was I believe @$5 a pound.

        • CB Driver
          April 2, 2014 | 10:08 am

          Hi, Karyn. I see what you mean re: a sacrifice. It is fast and it’s not meant to be fun or a form of torture and, as far as I know, people do eat those animals. That’s different than playing cruel games with them.

          Re: the food issue…I had thought of that while writing this. It’s tricky subject. And yes, making those kinds of food choices can be expensive.

          I’m not sure what the real answer is to all of this, if any. It seems that the games are the cruelest. However, one culture does not have power over another.

  2. Martha
    March 14, 2014 | 11:36 pm

    Interesting article! I was wondering if you’ve ever heard of “ferret legging.” It’s considered a “sport” in Yorkshire, England, especially among coal miners. The participant places a live ferret into his pants, while having the pant legs tied around the ankles, so the ferret can’t escape. The winner is the person who can keep the ferret in his pants the longest. Obviously, this is a test of endurance for the human, but it can’t be pleasant for the poor ferret either. Most people can only tolerate about 30 seconds of the ferret scurrying about and biting them in the nether regions, but there have been attempts to set new world records in this sport. The world champion was able to keep a ferret in his pants for over five hours. Can you imagine how scary that must have been for the ferret? I don’t if any animal rights groups have taken issue with ferret legging, (after all, the ferret does survive the ordeal) but it still seems kind of cruel to me.

    • CB Driver
      March 14, 2014 | 11:50 pm

      Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts. Ferret legging? I did not come across that ‘sport’ when I was researching and writing this. Can’t believe that would be considered a ‘sport.’ Yikes. Ferret in the pants? I feel for the ferret. Ugh.

      Biting them in the ‘nether regions’? That is hilarious. (Sort of).

      That sounds pretty sick. It must be awful for the ferret. I think it’s cruel, too. I’d imagine that animal rights groups would not be OK with this.

  3. Linda
    March 16, 2014 | 6:05 am

    It’s cruelty. I’ve given this a fair amount of thought, since I live in Spain, and was an avid reader of Hemingway when young. As humankind develops, improves itself, evolves, we are realizing that we are not here to enjoy seeing others, including animals, suffer. We have an awful long way to go, an awful long way. Obviously even in societies where we have banned different forms of cruelty, whether bullfights, bear baiting or dog fighting, other forms of cruelty still exist in pockets (marital abuse, bullying, homophobia etc), but we are making painfully slow progress to enlightenment. Painfully slow.

    • CB Driver
      March 16, 2014 | 9:13 pm

      Hi, Linda. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.It’s true–we’re not here to enjoy seeing others suffer and regardless of traditions, and these ‘games’ do seem wrong no matter what. Unfortunately, even in countries where they have been banned, they’re still being played. Good point re: the other forms of cruelty. Sad that the progress has been slow, but at least it has been occurring.

  4. Charu
    March 17, 2014 | 11:17 am

    This is truly sickening…it’s a lack of understanding and respect to animals and deep rooted in centuries’ old traditions. I’ll never subscribe to this type of voyeurism.
    Charu recently posted..A Clean Drink anywhere you Travel: Bobble Water FilterMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      March 18, 2014 | 12:31 am

      I agree, Charu. It’s sickening and sadly, these ‘sports’ are still around–and in countries where one might not expect it. I think it’s time for activists to step up their game and work even harder to eradicate these ‘traditions’ (with assistance from others, of course). I also think it’s good to expose those who do this whenever we can.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  5. Paola
    March 18, 2014 | 12:50 am

    I studied veterinary medicine in my country, Peru. During my time as a student and a Veterinarian, I saw many different kinds of animal cruelty. I went to those kinds of “spectacles” (bullfights and roosterfights) and I was very disappointed because I cannot understand how why people like to see this kind of barbarism.

    Well, my first and only time that I went to the “Plaza de Toros” was when I was visiting my best friend’s town. She always told me about the parade with the “toreros” (very handsome guys from Spain and other countries) and the party after the event. I was very excited to enter the “tauromaquia art” show. How they can say this is art? A poor bull is stabbed several times before it goes to the ring. I remember that I started weeping when I saw the poor bull moaning because of the pain. In addition, the poor animal was bleeding and breathing with difficulty because of the huge wounds in its lungs. Moreover, the bull was alive when they cut off its ears and tail!!!

    My ex boyfriend invited me to a rooster-fight that was held in a coliseum. Once a year, “galleros” (people who raised a rooster) meet in those places to have their events. I remember that I went around 2:00 pm, but the event started in the morning. It was a very shocking moment. I could not even breath for been because of being in a very crowed and small place with all the smell of blood surrounded it everywhere. I performed many surgeries at the time, but that smell was very repulsive and I almost fainted.

    I remember a very sad episode (situation?) from when I was working as a vet. A customer came to the clinic early in the morning and asked me if I was busy because he wanted to bring his dog, who had been injured the night before by “something”. He tried to stop the bleeding, but he could not do it. When he brought his dog, you can realize what had occurred because it was very obvious that those injures were made by sharp teeth. The good thing was that the dog’s body temperature didn’t drop and the bleeding had stopped. I took the dog to surgery and I charged the owner a very high price for that.

    In some Andean towns of Peru, people celebrate the “Yawar Fiesta” (Feast of blood). This celebration consists of catching a “condor” which is decorated with ribbons and it symbolizes the town. The condor is sitting on the bull’s back, tied on the nail that is put through the bull’s skin. The condor stars to ripping??? starts to rip open the bull’s back and sometimes peeks??? picks? an eye or an ear. This event represents the Inca’s anger about the Spanish conquest in a sea of blood with two innocent animals.

    Unfortunately, in my country, no laws currently exist to protect animals against cruelty. I know that many groups of people who protect animals went to the Congress of Peru and claimed for (??) the animals rights. But I know, that would be a very difficult goal to achieve because richest people who are cattle ranch are congressmen or friends and family of a congressmen.

    • CB Driver
      March 18, 2014 | 3:57 pm

      Hi, Paola. Thanks so much for sharing this. It’s interesting (and in this case, sad) to know what goes on in other countries. I had no idea that what you’ve described happens in Peru. What a shame. That Feast of Blood sounds so barbaric. I can understand having traditions related to history, but it’s not necessary to bring innocent animals into it.

      And that’s a shame about animal rights activists struggling to make a difference. It’s very difficult when the politicians are in the back pocket of the wealthy.

  6. leidy
    March 19, 2014 | 9:50 pm

    At this moment in my life, I don’t know exactly what believe of culture.The human race is suppose to be the smarter in this world, but all this situations do not tell me that.Even though,in the actuality most cultures know about cruelty and disease, they continue whit their Barbary traditions.The use of creatures that can’t defend or say some thing in defense of their lives of integrity, it’s an act of cowards.Although I was born in a country that practice some of this brutal activities,I know that not all people are agree whit these practices.Our world continues to evolve Therefor it’s our obligation to do the same whit our minds and traditions.Most important, the lac of knowledge it’s not an excuse.The participation just for curiosity or other reason in these activities is the principal reason because these still happening at this time.Moreover, there are some laws that prohibit these acts in most countries in form to protect the animals.Unfortunately the illegally practice of these act are groin up.

  7. Yraida Francisco
    March 20, 2014 | 9:53 pm

    I disagree with any cultural traditions related to animal cruelty. Before I came to live in USA, I lived in the Dominican Republic. The cockfights were normal for me, I remember my uncles engaging in fights and my aunts or my grandmother cooking the loser rooster. When I was thirteen years old I visited Spain and bullfighting was normal for me, at that time I worried more for the (torero)bullfighter’s lives than the bull’s life. After a couples years living here I have changed a lot, I’m more conscious about different things that were normal for me especially my vision about animals, in my country they’re only that animals, here they’re family especial dogs and cats.

  8. Griselda Enriquez
    March 24, 2014 | 11:54 pm

    Interesting article, I totally disagree with the animal cruelty. Animals were created to be free and not to satisfy people’s delight. For instance, the bullfight is considered a tradition in Spain; however, people from Spain kill those bulls as part of their traditions and also as trophies for them. But what they don’t realize is that these animals weren’t created to be sacrificed or abused, these animals are the most kind and lovely as dogs if you treat them with love. The bulls are categorized as wild animals,but what they do bull fights is in their own defense and trying to preserve their lives.Furthermore, roosters fight is well known in the Latin America culture,but people don’t prepare these roosters for a simple fight, they prepare these animals with sharps knives in their feet, so the fight will become more excited for them, and it only last less than a minute which is unfair for an animal. Thus, one rooster is winner and the loser is killed of course, so the owner of the loser rooster discharges the poor animal as just garbage or junk. These people make this more for gambling rather than a tradition. In my opinion, if this cruelty was stopped, animals will be used for other purpose and this poor animals wouldn’t pay with their lives the hobbies of others. Also dog fights is the most stupid I could see, because these animals are friendly and for people considered as part of their family. All these types of fights should be punished and send to jail to those who practice these fights, so that, nobody else will try to do it again.

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