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
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.
Countries: Latin America, Mexico, the Caribbean, the Canary Islands and an island or two in the S. Pacific.
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.
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.
Countries: Spain (illegal in Catalonia and has declined in popularity in recent years nationally), Portugal, Mexico and a few S. American countries.
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.
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.
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.
Countries: Several in Asia, including China and Japan. While the games tend to be legal, the gambling on them is not.
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.
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.
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.
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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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.
Steven Depolo (bullfight)
Ryan (insect fight)
Larry_Antwerp (goose pulling)