Vaquejada: Abuse of bulls and horses in Brazil

+ bull tumbling 5-1A special post to the Other Nations blog, written by lisa kemmerer, Francisco Matos, Eloah Vieira, and Tiago Barreto;photos and video by lisa kemmerer

A little bull, perhaps no more than 600 pounds (272 kg), was herded between two horses down a fenced strip by two riders on horseback. One man, the escort, held the bull’s tail, forcing him forward. As they approached a chalk-line at the end of the runway, the escort handed the bull’s tail to the second rider, the puller, who leaned low and away from the bull off the side of his horse, then yanked on the tail (see photo), shifting the bull’s hind-quarters and causing the bull to tumble to the ground with a thud. The bull rolled, feet flailing in the air, face disappearing into the dust. The escort stayed right on top of the downed bull, keeping him between the two white lines as required in vaquejada competition, while his agitated horse’s hooves pranced around the felled bull’s head and legs.

The bull struggled to rise, flailing, but his hind legs stuck straight out as if paralyzed. He lifted his head repeatedly, struggling to move, then gave up and lay quietly, blowing hard, visibly distressed. The tuft from the tip of bull’s tail lay in the dirt next to him, forcefully torn from his body by the puller’s strong grip. An attendant emerged, grabbed what was left of the bull’s denuded tail, and yanked until the bull struggled to his feet and moved stiffly for what looked like safety—a gate leading to a corral that channels bulls back for a second, third, and even fourth forced tumble into the dirt (video).

Bulls forced into vaquejada competitions such as the one described above are range cattle, completely unaccustomed to and terrified of humanity—controlled only with pain and fear. After the first run, the bulls know what lies ahead—forced between two large horses, tumbled to the ground under the hooves of two large horses. Spectators never see how these bulls are handled just prior to the competition. Pushed down a narrow shoot with sticks, shots, and slaps, the terrified and desperate bulls climb onto each other’s backs, knocking one another down, crushing and trampling one another as they try to escape, perpetually dripping urine in fear. Further along, a piece of lumber is pulled to allow just one bull into the final section of the shoot, though the bull behind, forced forward by the crush, invariably slips halfway into the tiny final space. The men working the shoot stab and smack the bulls, but there is no room for them to move—they are trapped between frightened bulls behind and a wall up ahead, creating a jumble of legs, heads, torsos, and tails.

+ scars, spurs, bloodWhile local range cattle suffer a day of senseless pain and fear because they are forced to participate in vaquejada, the misery of vaquejada horses is ongoing. Riders use jagged metal chinstraps and nosebands that look like part of a steel-jawed trap—guaranteed to stop forward movement under any circumstance. They also wear spurs with large spikes, which they rake across horses’ bellies and dig into their tender sides. Vaquejada horses show visible scars from spurs, nosebands, and chinstraps; many leave the competition dripping blood over old injuries that are never allowed to heal. Riders often use spurs and reins simultaneously to encourage their mounts to look fiery, powerful, and difficult to control, but the opposite is true—these horses are prancing in place, wild-eyed, and frothing at the mouth because they are afraid to go forward and afraid to stand still, caught between pointed silver spurs and jagged metal jaws.

Records indicate that riders have been dropping bulls by pulling their tails since 1870, but this only became a sadistic pastime—a competition in Northeast Brazil—around 1940. Today, competitors pay some 300 reais (Brazilian currency), generating some 600 million reais each year for those who win, those who breed and sell vaquejada horses, those who provide the bulls, those who provide the food and horse trailers, and so on. This abusive form of entertainment is becoming entrenched because such massive profits are at stake.

Even as you read this, the Ministers of Brazil’s Supreme Court are debating process #4983, which challenges the constitutionality of law 15.299/13. This law accepts vaquejada as a sport in the state of Ceará, but Brazil’s constitution protects animals from cruelty, and vaquejada is clearly cruel to both bulls and horses—too cruel to be accepted as a Brazilian sport. Please contact Brazil’s Supreme Court ministers and ask them tovote yes to #4983.

Minister Marco Aurélio (the reporting judge of this process):

Minister Ricardo Lewandowski:

Minister Gilmar Mendes:

Minister Cármen Lúcia:

Minister Dias Toffoli:

Minister Luiz Fux:

Minister Rosa Weber:

Minister Teori Zavascki:

Minister Roberto Barroso:

Minister Celso de Mello:

Minister Edson Fachin:

Special thanks to Bárbara Bastos, Elizabeth Mac Gregor, and Fernando Pires.

Happy Year of the Sheep! (Domestic or wild, it’s no party)

Animals Australia Unleashed - click image

Animals Australia Unleashed – click image

The Chinese lunar new year arrived recently, and regardless of whether you’re in the sheep or the goat camp, for the purpose of this post I wish you a Happy Year of the Sheep! Of course, there’s nothing happy about live export, perhaps only the worst fate to befall any given sheep on Planet Earth. Shame on Australia!

But wait a minute, Yanks–let’s don’t get too smug. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “Farm Animals are regulated under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) only when used in biomedical research, testing, teaching and exhibition. Farm animals used for food and fiber or for food and fiber research are not regulated under the AWA” (source). This puts a sheep between a rock and a hard place–protected by welfare standards in biomedical research labs, but not in factory farms. Hmmm. Which hell would you choose?!?

But let’s not get our knickers in a twist over a hypothetical choice–wait–those aren’t wool knickers, are they? Because wool is another thing that cuts a sheep’s celebration short (not to mention her hind-end) in this age of industrial farming. (See “What’s Wrong with Wool?”) But even back in the day–when farms weren’t factories–it’s a sure bet that Baa Baa Black Sheep ended up on the dinner table once her shearing days had waned. (Aside: In the animated video, note how poof! the animal disappears and becomes the end product itself! Speciesism indoctrination starts early…and never lets up.)

Sheep and goats, second only to dogs in originally cozying up to humans, were domesticated some 10,000 years ago in Central Asia–sheep most likely from the wild mouflon (photo), an animal resembling the North American bighorn. While wild sheep aren’t intensively exploited the way their domesticated brothers and sisters are, they don’t get off scot-free; they are intensively managed. Disease–often transmitted by domestic sheep–is one downfall; hunters’ bullets are another.

You’ve probably noticed humans’ propensity to play god with animals’ lives, and nowhere is this more apparent than here in Montana. Sometimes it’s just a numbers game–x number of individuals are culled (killed) with no regard to family group, the larger social structure, or genetic loss (a perfect example is Yellowstone’s native, wild bison–hundreds have been killed so far in 2015). Other times they’re picked up (see photo of bighorn transplant) and moved like so many widgets–extracted from one place and plugged into another–perhaps shuffled between hunting districts. In other cases, entirely new populations are established; Montana’s “2010 sheep management plan calls for the development of five new huntable populations in the state.” And why not, when “(t)he auction for Montana’s bighorn sheep tag brought in more than $400,000 last year and more than $300,000 this year” (source). (Aside: If you’ve ever wondered about the seemingly incestuous relationship between state management agencies and hunters–roughly 5% of the population–and their advocacy groups, as well as the management that passes for “conservation,” read the section on hunting in this book!)

Shuffling the wild widgets; MT Fish, Wildlife & Parks photo

Shuffling the wild widgets; MT Fish, Wildlife & Parks photo

Wild sheep are susceptible to disease–right now they’re dying off just north of Yellowstone, where, incidentally, a couple ranchers raise domestic sheep. Even more distressing is a proposal by the state management agency to snuff out an entire herd and “start over.” Originally a transplanted herd, they’ve suffered disease outbreaks and die-offs over the past 20+ years, resulting in low lamb survival and leaving the herd “stunted” (so managers say) with 50 members, though “(p)redators, competition and poor habitat also share the blame” (source). Attempts to augment the herd have been unsuccessful. So what does this mean in management-speak? Depopulating. “Wildlife officials are now considering depopulating the herd primarily using hunters to make way for a reintroduction…” Yes, 50 unique, sentient lives could be discarded simply because they aren’t reproducing effectively enough to accommodate management-for-hunting objectives.

Speaking of hunting deaths, the local paper delivered a couple of gushing, full-page ammunition store ads over the past few months–the first one wishing happy birthday to a 19-year-old who had completed her Super 10 Slam by killing an immense moose. A month later another full-page ad appeared–this one congratulating the same, insatiable young killer for achieving three-fourths of her Sheep Slam.

Sheep Slam. Live transport. Wool. Rack of lamb. Research subject. Mulesing. Depopulating. Lanolin. Mutton. Mutton busting. Trophy mount. Docking and castrating. Even in the lunar year dedicated to them, sheep don’t have much to celebrate. Of the millions who suffer, only a lucky few will find sanctuary and tail-wagging happiness, but as the Talmud instructs, “whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.”
Learn more:

  • Live export: The facts (video)
  • Live export disaster in Pakistan, 2012 (video)
  • “The welfare of Australian livestock transported by sea,” Veterinary Journal
  • Australia’s factory farmed “ultra-fine” wool: text & video (who knew?!?)
  • Bighorn pneumonia, video (1:37 minutes)
  • Bighorn sheep hunting in Montana, video (Watch as one guy strokes the dead ram’s horn and says, “Thank you, buddy.”)

Comment on this post at Animal Blawg!

Speciesism in three uneasy pieces

I don’t read the morning paper anymore so much as I confront it. What will it be today–a romantic, river-runs-through-it feature on catch-and-release fly fishing? Gloating trophy shots of dudes in hunter orange and the ungulates they conquered with high-powered rifles? Another guest opinion column defending trapping as a management tool for a renewable resource? (Or, in the case of wolves, as suppression of unwanted competition for the aforementioned ungulates?)

Maybe a photo of a child clinging to a sheep in a mutton bustin’ contest? An article on taxidermy, horse racing at the fairgrounds, or a feature on the derring-do of bullfighters? (You used to know them as rodeo clowns, but they’ve come up in the world.) A full-page ad for a local ammo manufacturer featuring teenage girls and their African safari kills? Ice fishing tourney stats? No matter the season, there’s always a reason for animal exploitation–and someone willing to talk about it, someone ready to report it, and someone eager to read about it.

Within four days recently, a trio of items appeared in the paper to perfectly illustrate the speciesism that so naturally saturates the human experience. Whether for entertainment, convenience, or greed and entitlement, we human animals are a speciesist species.

Speciesism for fun: Don’t fence me in (and display me at the zoo)

Our Montana governor, what a hoot. The sometimes folksy, sometimes outrageous soundbites. The bolo tie. Jag, the ever-present border collie. The Missoulian reports that Gov. Schweitzer recently visited Zoo Montana to provide a boost to the Billings facility now under new management after a fiscal meltdown and loss of accreditation. Talk revolved around new funding sources, regaining accredited status, even expansion. A zoo, after all, is a tourist attraction–and that means money.

Zoos aren’t sanctuaries. Some sanctuaries, like the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, don’t allow people in to gawk at the animals, whereas zoos are all about gawking. Zoos claim to be educational, but how educational is a Siberian tiger “exhibited” in Montana? In the wild, a male Siberian tiger’s range can be over 77o square miles–nearly half a million acres. The Billings zoo, including botanical gardens, is 70 acres. What small fraction of that do the tigers occupy? How much natural behavior–if any–can be exhibited in extreme confinement? And the obvious question (well, obvious to some)–what gives our species the right to steal the liberty of another? To display them as curiosities–as living trophies? (Apparent answer: Because we can.)

Dale Jamieson (writing in Morality’s Progress: Essays on humans, other animals, and the rest of nature, 2002), asks in his essay Against Zoos, “Couldn’t most of the important educational objectives better be achieved by exhibiting empty cages with explanations of why they are empty?”

But I’m guessing that empty cages wouldn’t fly with Gov. Schweitzer, who called Zoo Montana “the crown jewel of Montana wildlife” and suggested that people heading to Yellowstone could stop off at Zoo Montana for a captive preview of what they might see in the wild. Isn’t that kinda like visiting the Black Velvet Art Emporium as a warm-up for the Louvre?

Most telling, though, was the reason for Jag’s atypical absence during the visit, even though zoo staff had prepared for the border collie’s presence. “We’re going to the zoo,” said the governor, “and he doesn’t like seeing animals in cages.”

Smart dog. Compassionate dog.

Speciesism for convenience: Don’t fence me in (and kill me for being captive)

“Deer on base to be killed,” read the headline. The base is Malmstrom Air Force Base on the eastern edge of Great Falls, MT. The deer are native wildlife–whitetail and mule deer–who used to roam freely on and off base but were trapped inside when a 7.8-foot-tall perimeter fence was installed in 2010. Now? They’re inconvenient interlopers. Hazards. Why, they could even pose a national security threat. Hey America, you’re either with us–or you’rewith the deer.

You are perhaps envisioning tens–maybe hundreds–of deer frolicking on runways, browsing with impunity around missile silos, and carelessly leaving piles o’ pellets with no thought to the looming terrorist threat. But no. “The estimated population of 13 deer on the base could increase to 36 in three years,” said the agent-assassin from Wildlife Services, called in to save mission readiness from the Bambi insurgency. “We wanted to address this issue with the deer before the numbers got too high,” said the ironically-titled chief of conservation for Malmstrom.

Look, these are people who can deliver highly-sophisticated intercontinental ballistic missiles to targets on, well, other continents. And they want us to believe that–where 13 deer are concerned–the lethal solution is the only solution? There’s your proof that when all you have is weaponry, everything looks like a target.

Speciesism for greed, entitlement: Saving natural order as we know itwant it

Coming Soon to Public Land Near Me: Wolf Trapping! Along with trapping are increased opportunities for trophy by bullet or arrow. Wolves can now be hunted and/or trapped a full six months of the year in Montana, from September 1st through February 28th. In a cursory nod to revered national park wildlife, quotas are in effect in two hunting districts near Glacier and Yellowstone, but any statewide quota has been discarded. Have at ’em!

Sounds authoritative, but anyone care to guess which carries more weight–the “biological realities” of wolves or “public tolerance and values” of humans? (For more on the social ecology of predators and how hunting can actually thwart control, read “The Politics of the Montana Wolf Hunt” by ecologist and author George Wuerthner.)

Here’s the crux of the matter:

With the exception of hideously cruel snaring, sportsmen’s and ranchers’ wish lists were filled by the benevolent state agency, whose spokesperson has already engaged in some pre-damage damage control: “These trappers must be thoughtful and they need to understand that they’ll be representing their fellow Montanans and hunters and trappers everywhere.” Likewise, a rancher and trapper offered this caution: “Without a ton of ethics and a ton of experience, we’re going to be in trouble. Trapping is under major attack, and we are going to be under the microscope.”

Thoughtful trappers who possess a ton ofethics? These are people who bait, load, and conceal maiming and deadly weapons on public lands and walk away from them. There’s no so-called “fair chase”–there’s no chase at all. “We trappers do cause pain and suffering to animals and apologize to no one,” said a local trapper in an oft-quoted guest column. How’s that for thoughtful?

Wish I could check this out for Jag’s reaction. If he doesn’t like seeing animals in cages, imagine how he must feel about traps.

This post first appeared at animal law blog Animal Blawg, where comments are accepted.