Sun, 13 Mar 2005


Pamplona bull run threatened by virus

Ben Sills, Guardian News Service/Madrid

The Pamplona bull run and hundreds of smaller Spanish festivals are threatened this year by a rare cattle disease, blue tongue virus, which has led to government restrictions on the movement of livestock in Andalucia, Extremadura and Castilla-La Mancha.

Bullfight organizers have asked the government to exempt bull running because of the bull's special status in Spanish culture.

But the agriculture ministry has insisted that the restrictions would remain in place as long as necessary. They would be reassessed at the end of this month.

Its spokeswoman said: "It's still early to talk about what might happen in July. We have to hope the situation improves, and it is already changing a lot. But our first priority is the health of livestock."

Breeders have been warning of a potential problem since the controls were introduced in November.

Julio Fernandez, a bull breeders' association vet, asked the government last week to help organizers find a way round the problem.

He said: "Bullfighting has particularly strong roots in this country - it is second only to football in popularity - so it merits special consideration.

"All we are asking for from the government is a bit of common sense. It should be possible for bull runs to take place while also making sure that the problem doesn't spread."

Tens of thousands of people travel to the San Fermin festival in Pamplona in the second week of July each year. For a week the town is overrun by a non-stop street party and the air filled with music, fireworks and cheap wine sprayed from leather bottles.

Every morning at 8:00 a.m. the six bulls that will fight that afternoon run half a mile through the narrow, twisting streets to the bullring. Some festival-goers run alongside them while others watch from behind stout wooden barriers.

Every year there are injuries, and often deaths, as the bulls, weighing up to half a ton, crash into spectators and trample or gore the runners.

Blue tongue virus is spread by mosquitoes and can affect both sheep and cattle. The current outbreak arrived in Spain from Morocco.

Although Pamplona is hundreds of miles from the restriction areas, all the bulls booked to fight at this year's festival are affected by the restrictions.

Manuel Cases, vice-president of the Association for the Defence of Animal Rights, which holds a protest human run at Pamplona, welcomed the prospect of a cancellation.