Provoking Aggression in Bulls

Humane Society International

A bullfight is commonly depicted as “a dramatic struggle between man and beast,” (1) feeding the popular myth that bulls are fierce and violent creatures. Bullfighting spectators may agree as they witness the bull charge at the bullfighter, occasionally causing injury and even death. Former bullfighting fan Antonio Moreno explains how at a young age he was “taught that the bullfighter was risking his life against this wild beast, and that he had to conquer it and humiliate it by getting it to chase the cape at whatever cost… This is the reality that a child sees: the bull is the ‘bad guy’ and the other participants in the bullfight are the ‘good guys.’” (2)

The truth is that bulls normally are calm, peaceful creatures. In fact, when a bull charges at the bullfighter, he is not actually trying to attack. According to zoologist Jordi Casamitjana, when a bull is provoked in the ring, “[t]he most common response to attack would be to turn towards the attacker and try to push him away with its horns… In other words, the charging of the bull should not be interpreted as an attack (so the term “fight” in bullfighting is an absolute misnomer), but as a way to push away the attackers, to avoid the adverse situation.” (3)

Manipulation in breeding

Bullfighting industry insiders acknowledge that bulls are expressly bred for increased aggression in the ring. Says sociologist Jorge Ramón Sarasa Juanto, “La bravura nace durante la selección realizada por los distintos ganaderos que han creado el desarrollo del toro de lidia [The ferocity is born during the selection, carried out by different breeders that have created the development of the bull used in bullfighting].” (4)

Breeders have recently turned to cloning in an attempt to replicate “aggressive” audience-pleasing bulls for future bullfights. Those fans who regard bullfighting as a deep-rooted facet of their culture might ask themselves, with new biotechnology manipulating the bullfight today, if this “tradition” really is the same as it was years ago.

1 Wall, Allan.  Will Cloning Change Bullfighting in Mexico? Accessed July 11, 2008.

2 Moreno, Antonio.  How is a Bullfighting Fan Born? Accessed July 21, 2008.

3 Casamitjana, Jordi.  ‘Suffering’ in bullfighting bulls; An ethologist’s perspective.  Accessed July 14, 2008

4 Juanto, Jorge Ramón Sarasa.  Sociología del Toro de Lidia: Tesis Cultural de la Bravura.  Accessed July 14, 2008.