Mon, Jul 12, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Bulls pampered before they die

FIESTA Before they are led to certain death in the ring, bulls chosen for their menacing horns and `noble' attitude live peacefully for four years on sunny farms in Andalusia

REUTERS , PAMPLONA, SPAIN

Runners try to escape bulls from the Miura Ranch during the bull run or encierro in Pamplona, Navarra, northern Spain, on Sunday.

PHOTO: EPA

A metal hook spikes into his neck and the beginning of a ritualistic death begins.

Sorprendido bolts into the bullring, ribbons streaming from the hook in his scruff. Men in sparkling suits lure him with pink capes, disappearing now and again behind walls in the ring.

A man with armor on his legs riding a blind-folded horse jabs a metal-tipped pole into his neck. Sorprendido tries to topple the horse. Gushing blood stains his black shoulders.

The men in gold-embroidered suits run at him, swiftly jabbing decorated darts into his back, near the wound the horseman left. His head hangs lower.

Life had begun with much more promise.

Sorprendido was born on a ranch in the sunny province of Cadiz, in the southern region of Andalusia, four years ago. With plenty of space, he spent his days eating, sleeping and fighting with his brothers and grew to weigh 530kg.

He had seen people before he came to Pamplona, but had never fought with a human or seen the colored capes the bullfighters will tease him with.

"Bulls live four divine years, eating very well, whatever they like," said Salvador Garcia-Cebada, owner of the Cebada Gago ranch that bred Sorprendido.

Then they are led to certain death in the ring. In Pamplona, they are unleashed onto the city's narrow streets to run with thousands of tourists and locals hours before the bullfight.

Late last year the organizers of the Pamplona bull festival started asking around for animals who might be fit for the fiesta made internationally famous by Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises.

Sorprendido was earmarked as being a prime candidate for Pamplona.

"For this bullring you need a certain type of bull. It's got to have a big pair of horns," Jose Javier Garcia-Cebada Cebada, son of the owner, said at the bullring grounds.

About a week before the July 6-14 festival the bulls embark on a 24-hour journey from Spain's southernmost region of Andalusia to Pamplona, in the foothills of the Pyrenees.

On arrival they are put into pens with the herd to recover from the journey. Curious visitors with their children crowd around small windows to admire the fearsome beasts.

The night before they are due to run and fight, they receive their last meal.

"The day [of the fight] they don't eat. No one does exercise stuffed with food," Garcia-Cebada said.

After dark the night before the run, they are quietly herded along the streets into a pen in the city center.

At dawn, fireworks scream into the sky and the bulls hurtle down the cobbled streets, bumping into runners and each other and sliding on the slippery ground, arriving at the bullring two and a half minutes later.

At 1pm the day of the run, the bulls are put into individual pens while matadors or their representatives draw lots over who will fight which.

Ranchers spend the evening their bulls fight on edge, hoping the animal will fight "nobly" and give the crowd its money's worth. They also hope the matador won't botch the job.

"When he doesn't charge, it's very bad, none of us even likes to think about that," Garcia-Cebada Cebada said.

For Francisco Toro, farm manager of the Murube ranch in Seville, watching the fight is tense and upsetting.

"It's a tragedy ... a shame, but that's what they're bred for," Toro said. "We're with them from the time they are born."

The Cebada Gago ranch is known for producing mean bulls with a record for goring runners.

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