Bizarre cruelties born of repression

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The village of Coria in the Spanish province of Extremadura, where Vicky Moore was badly gored on Sunday night, celebrates the festival of San Juan on 24 June by shooting barbed darts at a bull through a blowpipe until the beast resembles a pin cushion.

The practice, a tradition which goes back centuries, is typical of regional fiestas where part of the fun for many Spaniards is to inflict pain on animals.

Among the more bizarre village celebrations are "jumping the goat" in which a goat is thrown from a 25-metre church bell tower, chicken racing, ripping the heads off geese, drowning calves in foam and tying flaming torches to a bull's horns.

Many of these practices have their origin in pagan times when Spanish people endured conditions of great cruelty and repression. But the fact that the customs persist today does not mean Spaniards are particularly bloodthirsty, according to a leading Spanish animal rights campaigner.

"I do not believe Spaniards are more cruel than other Europeans, but in small villages there are bands of youngsters who like cruel diversions," says Mariana Sanz de Galdeano, President of the Madrid-based National Association for the Defence of Animals, a group she founded in 1989. "But it is true Spaniards are more indifferent to cruelty against animals, compared to the British. It is more difficult to get them to react. That's our main problem," Ms Galdeano says.

Spain's animal rights campaigners have made some headway ,she says, through promoting an animal protection law, now in force in all but three of Spain's 17 autonomous regions but excluding the poorest region of Extremadura "where it has not even been proposed".

The law is limited, however, banning only the introduction of recent forms of cruel amusements.

Hence, the practice of tying flaming torches to a bull's horns, introduced five years ago in the village of Colmenar de Oreja near Madrid, was vetoed this year - much to the displeasure of the locals. But in nearby Torres de la Alameda, the mayor refused a ban, talking of a 17th century tradition and how "the animal doesn't suffer".

Ms Galeano shares Mrs Moore's disgust at the Coria bull run - "an exercise of cowards" - but disapproves of her methods. "It would be better to work through an organisation instead of going it alone. The truth is sad enough."