HSVMA and HSI Present Initial Findings of Veterinary Report on Bullfighting at the UFAW International Animal Welfare Science Symposium

by Susan Krebsbach, DVM

July 25, 2013

Drs. Krebsbach and Jones in front of the HSI bull fighting poster at the 2013 UFAW symposium
Drs. Susan Krebsbach and Mark Jones worked on the Veterinary Report on Bullfighting, which was presented at the 2013 UFAW International Animal Welfare Science Symposium in Spain.

The Universities Federation for Animal Welfare held their annual International Animal Welfare Science Symposium in Barcelona, Spain this year from July 4-5. The aim of this symposium is to provide a forum for all those active or interested in animal welfare science and its application around the world, to meet and discuss current topics in this field and international variation in priorities, concerns, and approaches to animal welfare science.

This year represented the first time the symposium has been held outside of the United Kingdom. The backdrop of Spain could not have been more appropriate for the topic presented by veterinarians Susan Krebsbach, DVM, Veterinary Advisor for the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, and Mark Jones, Executive Director for Humane Society International/UK: Veterinary Report on Bullfighting. This presentation highlighted the initial results of a study that is being done to quantitatively evaluate the distress experienced by bulls in the bullfighting arena. View the poster presentation»

The study involves the independent behavioral assessment by six veterinarians (one from the U.S., two from the U.K., and three from Spain) of videos compiled from 28 bullfights in six different locations. A variable rating scale using indicators of distress supported by scientific literature, termed “Bullfighting Distress Scale” (Table 1), was used to record behavioral observations and quantify the distress the bulls experienced during the bullfights. To our knowledge, this is the first time that a study has been attempted to scientifically quantify the distress of fighting bulls.

Table 1: Bullfighting Distress Scale

The initial conclusions of the study are very revealing. They include:

    • The frequency with which bulls exhibit behaviors identified as indicators of distress during bullfights suggest that fighting bulls experience distress—they suffer in the bull ring.
    • The behaviors they exhibit as a result resemble those demonstrated by other distressed bovines. This raises serious ethical concerns about whether bullfighting can be justified, particularly given that the activity is conducted solely to provide a spectacle for the purposes of entertainment.
    • The manner and length in which the animals suffer in bullfighting (both the bulls and the horses) cannot be deemed humane.

Top Six Most Frequently Observed Characteristics (28 fights):

Top Six Most Frequently Observed Characteristics in 28 Bullfights

In addition to the initial conclusions generated by the study, it was recognized that the methodology used to quantify distress in this venue, that of behavioral assessment and the application of a distress scale, could be used in other situations. Although unexpected, it was a welcomed surprise because it represents a tool, one wielding scientific weight, which can be used to tackle other animal welfare problems.