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Latin America

The Mexican patron saint feast where tired, old bulls are tortured

In Tlacotalpan, Veracruz, the animals are dragged through a river and beaten by locals

In Tlacotalpan, Veracruz, local ranchers donate their working bulls for a religious festival. The animals are first dragged through a nearby river and afterwards beaten by local residents – many of whom are inebriated – as they climb back on to the riverbank.

Video from past editions of the festival in Tlacotalpan, Veracruz.

The bulls in Tlacotalpan are not raised to fight or run – they live peacefully in the fields, and when the time comes their meat is used to feed the hungry.

But every year six elderly, tired bulls, donated by their owners, are sacrificed during during the celebrations of the feast of the Vírgen de La Candelaria. The popular annual event in this town of 8,000 residents has angered many animal rights groups.

The bulls used to be forced to cross the river before being beaten by spectators. But town officials had to change the rules after protests, and Mexico’s Secretariat of Environment called on organizers to tone down the cruelty.

The bulls used to be forced to cross the river before being beaten by spectators. But town officials had to change the rules after protests

So now, instead of crossing the river, the bulls are taken to the other side on a raft.

But animal rights organizations believe that these rules do not go far enough.

“[The cruelty] should be prohibited and eradicated from our society, especially from religious festivals, which should instead focus on teaching people positive values,” reads a joint statement issued by AnimaNaturalis México, PATAS, and Project ARPA.

Even Tlacotalpan Mayor Homero Gamboa has acknowledged that nothing has changed.

“Despite the awareness campaigns over the treatment of the animals, many spectators ignore the rules and try to beat the bulls,” he says.

The bulls are taken individually to the other side of the river where the townspeople wait for them. Hundreds pull the bulls out of the water using a rope.

“This activity should be prohibited and eradicated from our society, especially from religious festivals”

Animal rights groups

They expect the massive animals to run after the spectators, but the bulls can’t or won’t. Unlike fighting bulls, the breed in question is docile and, they are usually already exhausted and can hardly move by the time they arrive at the festivities.

But because the spectators expect an 800-kilogram bull to be more aggressive and combatant they begin to beat the animals.

“I think these are the same animals from last year,” a resident tells reporter Ana Alicia Osorio.

Attendance at the patron saint celebrations has dropped, and as a result the ranchers may be holding back on donating their finer bulls.

But in just two days, Tlacotalpan’s population has been multiplied by eight. According to town officials, 60,000 people came to take part in the festivities this year.

When it is apparent that the bull is exhausted, the spectators drag the animal to a corral and try their luck with another one.

When it is apparent that the bull is exhausted, the spectators drag him to a corral and try another animal

“There was a very intoxicated man who jumped onto an animal and tried to ride it. Obviously, given the fact he was inebriated, when the bull moved a bit, he fell to the ground,” explains Osorio about the celebration that was held on Monday.

Police watched nearby and did nothing to prevent the public from beating the bulls, she says. Some spectators even used an electric cattle prod. Any movement from the bull was enough to get the townspeople’s adrenaline going.

Some of the bulls arrive on the riverbank bleeding from the nose. In past years, some of them have drowned in the river.

Tlacotalpan is the final destination for the old bulls that nobody wants – a violent prelude to an impending death.

English version by Martin Delfín.

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