Photo © Lauren Girardin, used with permission.

The Catalan parliament voted on Wednesday to outlaw the controversial practice of bullfighting across the region, making Catalonia the first Spanish province to end the centuries-old tradition.

The tight and bitter vote pitted animal rights activists, who produced a petition of 180,000 signatures in favor of the ban, against fans of the national symbol. Last January, when the voting process began, a breeder told us us why he thought the law was more about politics than animal rights.

“They hate Spain, not animal cruelty”

Alejandro Melgarejo is a toros bravos breeder whose family has been raising bulls for bullfighting for two centuries. They own a ranch in La Mancha (the central region south of Madrid).

The problem in Catalonia has nothing to do with animal rights; it's more about politics. There is a strong separatist movement in that area and they will use anything regarded as Spanish to attack Spain. Not by the whole population; mainly by local politicians. On the contrary, in French Catalonia bullfighting is on the rise. They love it. They've got very great plazas over there.

The corrida is still supported by the majority of Spanish people, although gone are the days when it was bigger than football. The majority of the country - including Catalans - are not concerned by the allegations of animal cruelty. Our bulls are brought up and live peacefully in the countryside before dying in the plaza with honour. The way bulls are killed for meat is crueller

It's quite expensive to raise a bull on a ranch - from when the bull is taken away from its mother up to the point of selling it at four years old, the cost amounts to €6,000. You must own land in the countryside or rent it, and hire ‘vaqueros' (cowboys who are in charge of moving the herd around in search for water). And those cowboys need horses.  For the last five months the bulls are fed with grain. Finally, a set of five bulls which weigh almost exactly the same are sold to the plaza.

The breed is the result of centuries of genetic engineering by ranchers. To produce the best calves, the breeder has to test all their cattle for three traits: encaste, nobleza and bravura - in all, the animal's level of courage in the face of suffering and pain. For the females, this is done by taunting the cow with a red cape, which they charge at. Males however aren't tested with a cape because when they see the cape in the plaza it must be for the first time. Males instead have to charge against a big horse protected with a thick cover and themselves get jabbed in the back to provoke anger, which causes some blood loss.

These tests are done to find out which animals are bravest and most suitable for the plaza. The job is carried out by the breeder during the spring before the bullfighting season. The cattle undergo a thorough selection process. The creatures with the best features need to be brave, noble and easily infuriated. Once the best three bulls (stud bulls) have been chosen and the best cows, then they are set up to mate.

In total we have between 250 and 300 cattle on the ranch. Of these, three sets of five bulls at four years old, and three or four sets at three years old, are sold each year to the plaza. Of the rest, they are sold off to small plazas and local fiesta activities, like bull running.

This year has been very hard for us. The financial crisis has meant that many small towns have had to cancel their yearly fiesta. Across all of Spain, the number of corridas held fell by 50% from 2008 to 2009. On our ranch, two of the sets weren't sold and the plaza is yet to pay for the third one."

Photos of bulls on Alejandro's ranch in La Mancha:

Bullfight filmed in Barcelona, Sep. 2007:

Posted by “michaelsradics”. 

Animal cruelty protestors in Catalonia

Demonstrations against bullfighting have been staged in Catalonia for over a century. Over the past few decades, the protests have attracted increasing numbers of foreign campaigners. The following photos were taken in spring 2008 and posted by "alezarg", Nov. 26, 2008.

"Enough! Torture is neither art nor culture"

"Not in Catalunia nor anywhere else"