On foot and on horseback, Spanish townspeople armed with lances slaughtered a huge fighting bull on Tuesday in a medieval tradition that sparked angry protests.
Scores of men riding horses kicked up thick dust clouds as they chased the more than 600kg bull named Volante (Flying), with men on foot running to catch up.
In the annual “Toro de la Vega” dating back to at least 1453, the bull is pursued through the fortified town of Tordesillas, central Spain, across a bridge over the River Duero and into a plain, but after the beast reached the plain, it turned around and charged back toward the town in a cloud of dust.
At least one horseman speared the bull in a fatal strike by the bridge, a photographer said, but the lancing took place outside the official area, so the tournament was declared void.
Some villagers demanded a new bull and a rerun, though there was no immediate response from the festival organizers.
Animal rights group PACMA said it would file a a criminal complaint against the organizers of the event “to ensure that this is the last year that the festival takes place.”
“Participants were not even been able to respect their macabre and outdated rules governing the tournament. They killed the bull outside the area they consider ‘allowed,’” it said in a statement. “The terrible outcome of today’s celebration has to be the turning point for politicians of both political stripes, who are determined to look the other way to intervene in the matter and prohibit the festival.”
At the outset, scores of animal rights activists gathered at the bull pen to try to prevent its release and to protest the animal’s treatment, but police reportedly led them away.
Animal rights protesters gathered in central Madrid to protest the tradition, which predates the introduction of the classic bullfight at the end of the 17th century, and at the weekend about 500 animal rights activists protested in Tordesillas ahead of the tournament.
Wearing white T-shirts with the slogan “Break a Spear,” they gathered in the plain and held up wooden sticks representing spears above their heads, before snapping them in two.
EQUO, a citizen’s democracy and environmental group, said the festival was “indefensible.”
“The Toro de la Vega is one of the cruelest bullfighting festivals in Spain, where they kill the bull with sticks, knives and lances,” said the group’s head, Reyes Montiel. “It is a spectacle that EQUO believes cannot be justified by tradition, because Spanish society has developed and we should eliminate customs that are no longer appropriate in the 21st century.”
Bullfighting has been on the decline for years in Spain, with a 2010 survey in leading daily El Pais showing 60 percent of respondents opposed the practice.
Barcelona’s ring held its final bullfight in September last year after the Catalonia region banned bullfighting, the second Spanish region to do so after the Canary Islands.
Each region of Spain has responsibility for its own animal protection laws, usually with exceptions for bullfighting. The festival in Tordesillas is allowed under the laws of the Castile and Leon region.