As of 1 July 2010, the use of any animal in a circus has been banned in Bolivia. A handful of other countries have banned the use of wild animals in circuses but only Bolivia has banned exploitation of domestic animals in circuses as well.
The Bolivian law, which states that the use of all animals in circuses ‘constitutes an act of cruelty’ was enacted on 1 July 2009, with operators given a year to comply.
The bill took two years to pass through both chambers of the Plurinational Assembly, meeting stiff opposition from the eastern states of Bolivia where there was concern that the law would be expanded to include bullfighting, which is popular in rural villages. Bullfighting remains legal in Bolivia.
The legislature were eventually won over by a screening of videos shot by undercover circus infiltrators in Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia co-ordinated and funded by Animal Defence International (ADI), a London-based NGO which found that ill-treatment and violence against animals in circuses is commonplace.
Bullfighting was banned in the autonomous Spanish region of Catalonia on 28 July this year, with the ban coming into full effect in 2012.
Now, three months to the day later, the Spanish Constitutional Court (housed in a rather Beehive-esque building) has accepted an appeal lodged by the Partido Popular (People’s Party, PP) challenging Catalonia’s ban on cultural, economic and administrative grounds. The PP is a conservative, nationalist party known for such other legislative projects as restricting immigration to Catalonia and deporting immigrants who have not learnt the Catalan language to proposed minimum standards.
It is the second Spanish region after the Canary Islands (which banned bullfighting in 1991) to outlaw the practice and the first on the mainland.
Bullfighting is a brutal spectacle in which the torture and death of the bull is the end of a life-long process of abuse and mistreatment (I’ve written on this in more detail here) and this is a significant victory for a coalition of Catalonian animal rights groups called “Prou!” meaning “Enough!” They initated the vote by submitting a 180 000-signature petition to the parliament, calling for a ban.
The vote was not a cut-and-dry animal welfare issue as the rejection of this emblematically Spanish tradition is also widely interpreted as animated by separatist sentiment. Of Spain’s semi-autonomous regions, Catalunya has the greatest degree of autonomy along with the Basque region. It has even been suggested that the vote was calculated in last-minute lobbying as retaliation for a recent decision from Spain’s Constitutional court which has curtailed some of the proudly-independent region’s autonomy in law-making.
This is an exciting advance made against one of the most tradition-bound forms of animal suffering. The commercial significance of the ‘sport’ falls far short of that in the Spanish capital of Madrid and Andalucia to the South, when the law comes into effect in 2012 it will close Barcelona’s last remaining bullring, La Monumental. This may limit the spread of the ban to the other regions.
But there is still work to do. Activists have now set their sights on a ban on the Correbous, an annual festival in the region in which flaming torches and even fireworks are fastened to the bulls’ horns and they are set loose, frightened, disoriented and often suffering burns, to run around an enclosure for the amusement of onlookers.