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Pamplona’s Famous Bull-Running Festival Started Today: Why PETA Is Protesting The 700-Year Old Spanish Tradition


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The opening ceremonies for the Festival of San Ferm?n, known as Spain’s annual running of the bulls, on Thursday was preceded by a protest that saw animal rights activists don bull horns and floor-length, blood-red robes to protest the series of bullfights that take place each night of the nine-day festival.

Key Facts

Roughly one million spectators have descended on the city of Pamplona this week for the annual running of the bulls, a tradition that dates back to the early 14th century and involves running in front of a small group of bulls through the city streets before the same bulls participate in a bullfight to the death.

Protesters with PETA and the Spain-based nonprofit AnimaNaturalis on Wednesday, the day before the official start of the event, took to the streets wearing red robes and bull horns while holding signs with messages denouncing the killing and torturing of bulls during the event.

Activists have long protested the tradition–dozens covered themselves in fake blood before the Pamplona festivities in 2016 and last year supporters wore dinosaur costumes and denounced bullfighting as “prehistoric”–but the Spanish government has recognized the sport as an “artistic discipline and cultural product” since 2011.

Season tickets to the Pamplona bullfights, which are sold only to city residents, sell out well ahead of the event and only 1,000 tickets per day are sold to the general public, leading to a popular secondary market that sells in-demand tickets for “many multiples of the face value.”

Activists covered in fake blood protest against bullfighting and bull-running during a demonstration … [+] called by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and Anima Naturalis pro-animal groups on the eve of the San Fermin festivities in the Northern Spanish city of Pamplona on July 5, 2016. Photo by Ander Gillenea/AFP via Getty Images

AFP via Getty Images

Activists against animal cruelty in bullfightings, lie on the ground like dead bodies inside chalk … [+] outlines of bulls during a performance before the San Fermin celebrations in Pamplona, Spain, on July 5, 2019.Photo by Celestino Arce/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

NurPhoto via Getty Images

Animal rights activists dressed as tyrannosaurus rex and as bull-running runners hold placards … [+] reading ‘Bullfighting is prehistoric’ during a protest against bullfighting on July 05, 2022 in Pamplona, Spain. Photo by Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images

Getty Images

People covered in red fabric, the color of San Fermin festival, protest against animal cruelty in … [+] Pamplona, July 5, 2023. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Key Background

Bull-running can be traced back to the 14th century in northeastern Spain, when transport of bulls from the countryside to the city center organically turned into races between men and bulls that expanded to the tradition that still stands today. Daily events at the festival include the running of the bulls, a parade featuring large figures known as “giants and big-heads,” sports exhibitions, fireworks and bull fights, in which the six bulls driven to the bullring during the daily running of the bulls are killed. A typical Spanish bullfight starts with bullfighters pushing the animal to exhaustion before a blindfolded man on a horse enters the arena and drives a lance into his back. A matador then stabs the bull to death. Humane Society International estimates 250,000 bulls are killed in bullfights each year. While Spain defends its bullfighting as a cultural event, it is illegal in most countries, including the U.K. and Canada. The sport is not outright banned in the U.S., but fights that end in death are illegal.

Surprising Fact

Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, which depicted the modern Festival of San Ferm?n, brought worldwide fame to the festival and helped turn it into the tourist destination it is today.

Revellers celebrate during the ‘Chupinazo’ rocket, to mark the official opening of the 2023 San … [+] Ferm?n fiestas in Pamplona, Spain, Thursday, July 6, 2023. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)

Alvaro Barrientos

A music band plays in the town hall square after the ‘Chupinazo’ rocket, to mark the official … [+] opening of the 2023 San Ferm?n fiestas in Pamplona, Spain, Thursday, July 6, 2023. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)

Alvaro Barrientos

Chief Critic

PETA has called the festival a “horrific form of speciesism” and is encouraging supporters to bombard the Instagram pages of each matador “with comments urging them to stop inflicting this fatal violence on bulls.”


Fundaci?n del Toro de Lidia, an organization dedicated to promoting bullfighting, defended the activity in court as recently as this year, The Guardian reported. Spain’s bono cultural joven (youth culture voucher), which gives all Spaniards turning 18 an allowance to attend cultural events, this year omitted bullfighting from the list of approved activities. Victorino Mart?n, the foundation’s president, said bullfighting is one of Spain’s “most distinctive cultural expressions” and called its exclusion “cultural censorship and an attack on freedom.”

Big Number

$163 million. That’s how much Europe’s bullfight sector is reported to have lost during the Covid pandemic as events like the annual running of the bulls in Pamplona were canceled, The Guardian said. Events featuring bulls in Spain have dropped from 3,651 to less than 1,500 since 2008.

Further Reading

Will Bullfighting Survive The Next Decade In Spain? (Forbes)

A Guide to Running with the Bulls from Someone Who Has Survived It 25 Times (Forbes)

In Photos: Spain Holds First Running Of The Bulls Since 2019–Leading To 6 Injuries (Forbes)

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