A whole lotta bull

Granada’s annual bull run, which will be held this Sunday Aug. 12, has become an increasingly drunk and violent affair

When bullfighting became a popular pastime in Spain, and bullrings were being constructed at a fast rate, the only way to get bulls from their corrals to the bullrings was by running them through the streets.

And people—being what they are—started to run with the bulls, some more aggressively than others.

As each year passed, this event became a popular test of mettle, evolving into the world-famous event in Pamplona now known as “Running of the Bulls.”

No where to run: people scatter as the shouts of "bull!" go through the crowd (photo/ Tim Rogers)

Nicaraguan Arturo Solorzano, an agricultural and farm animal specialist, brought the Spanish tradition to Granada in 1981, when a large bull herd was brought from Malacatoya to be sold. He borrowed three bulls that first year to run the streets, keeping with the style of the Pamplona run and giving Nicaraguans the privilege of being chased, gored and possibly tossed in the air like used tissue paper.

The event was so successful, that it grew each year, as did the demand for more bulls and local liquor sales. In Granada, the bull run evolved into a kind of a business. Bull-borrowing became a thing of the past; bull-renting was in.

A special committee in Granada, intent on preserving the tradition, usually picks up the rental tab of 12,000-15,000 cordobas per bull, or roughly $520-650 (The word on the street is that this year’s bill will be picked up by President Daniel Ortega—“Gracias al comandante y la primera dama!”).

According to Dra. Marielena Solorzano, the daughter of Granada’s bull-run founder and a well-known local veterinarian in her own right, renting bulls is getting to be more difficult each year as the event becomes rowdier and progressively more violent.

Sticks and Stones: a bull takes a beating in the street (photo/ Tim Rogers)

“The owners don’t want their bulls to be injured,” she explains. “People beat the animals with sticks and break their tails.”

If the rented bull dies, she says, her father has to pay to replace it. There is also the possibility of injuries to bystanders trampled in the stampede.

“Last year, two babies were close to being run down by the bulls,” said Dra. Marielena. “Fortunately they were rescued by bystanders.”

“Bystander” is also a relative concept during the bull run. In past years, the bulls have veered wildly off course, running through Xaltava Park (and jumping off the stone staircase at the end), and even running into street corner bars, tossing tables, drinks and patrons (some of whom deserved to be tossed anyway).

Another time a bull dropped dead during a run, presumably of a heart attack. In a matter of 30 minutes, the bull had been carved to the bone by knife-wielding spectators who decided to help themselves to a flank.

Former Red Cross volunteer Marvin Bonilla Gutierrez, of Granada, once witnessed the bloody result of a bull goring when a young man was hauled off in an ambulance. The man survived. The Red Cross is contracted each year to tend to the injured. An average of 20 injuries occur each year—some of them quite serious.

“I don’t participate in anything to do with bull running,” explains Gutierrez. “I love animals, and I don’t appreciate people treating them badly.”

His wife, Mary Esther, shares Marvin’s sentiment, but believes that there will always be bull running in the community because of the business profit that it provides, especially in liquor sales. Business is often quite brisk for pickpockets, who usually collect a tidy sum working the overly excited crowd.

One young police officer in Granada approves of the event because “it represents tradition for all of Nicaragua.” He says his job is to prevent injuries.

A frequent visitor and volunteer veterinarian in Granada, Dr. Tom Parker, says the event provides “a lively and exciting day in Granada, and is probably good for the economy.”

“However,” he adds; “from an animal welfare point of view, it is pretty much a disaster. The poor bulls are terrorized and tormented every step of the way. And the more the better from the crowd’s point of view.”

In spite of it being an exotic, exciting, crazy kind of day of fun, Dr. Parker points out that it’s not victimless fun.

For readers who insist on carrying their wallets to this Sunday’s bull run, please consider first making a donation to the ND fund drive, before you have to cancel your credit card (photo/ Tim Rogers)

“A real look at what is going on takes the fun out of it for me,” he says. “Plus, I got pick-pocketed at the last one!”

Parker’s wife, Nina Houle, sees no redeeming value in bull running. “Drunk people being so macho and terrified bulls. There is nothing good about it in any way,” she says.

Fred Belland, a 16-year expat resident who is married to a Nicaraguan, says he respects Nicaraguan customs, but adds, “I have never found anything uplifting or even exciting about tormenting bulls.”

Raised in the cowboy corner of the United States, in the States of Montana and Wyoming, where rodeos are common, Lorine Dolin-James considers bull runs, like rodeos, to be “macho events that somehow make a man a REAL man.”

Dolin describes them as “sports of drunks and fools at best. And when you have those two combined, poor judgment and suffering are close behind.”

Carol and Jim Lynch, Canadian transplants living in Granada, would like people to become more knowledgeable of what constitutes abuse as well as the laws protecting animals from abuse.

Local veterinarian Dr. Jasson Figuoeroa says he remembers “back when” the event was less torturous on the animals. “It’s not like it used to be,” he recalls wistfully.

This Sunday, 8-10 unfortunate bulls will be unwilling participants in their attempt to outrun packs of drunken brutes yielding sticks and ropes and, as needed, toss a fewer of slower fools into the air and onto their butts (if the booze doesn’t land them there first).

  • Allie

    It’s too bad the bulls don’t go crazy and kill every idiot in the crowd. Talk about showing the world how uncivilized you are!!!

  • Erika Jakubassa

    There must be better ways to stimulate the Nica economy ….

  • nicafred

    I say import some REAL bulls from Spain (the half ton, big horned ones) and then we’ll see how brave the street punks are.

  • NICAraguan

    Sure, the Bull Run is unnecessary and many people and even a few bulls will get hurt. However this well written article only but touches on the real issue. As Donna knows, the culture towards animals here is down right sickening. I live in Granada and love almost everything about it, however seeing the every day abuse of animals (whether it’s the street dogs being kicked, cats being thrown in the garbage, or the often over-used and starving horses) is an aspect of Nicaragua that I will never understand. When you see animals as “incapable of feeling” you’ve made an egregious mistake, one that is often made through ignorance and laziness, rather than a cultural stipulation.

    “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated” – Mahatma Gandhi

  • Nero

    The typical Nica mindset is to treat animals like livestock and to serve.. I live in “el campo” and out here they are not treated like friends and family and fed Friskies Buffet. Dogs eat bones and raw hide when available, the table scraps are saved for the pigs. Cats are not fed so they can kill mice and rats. Guess Ive become hardened to this thru the years but I still cant get over the ducks being hung upside down and getting their heads ripped off by drunks on horseback.

  • linda johnson

    Barbaric. As are rodeos.. Am embarrassed for the human race. Seems so simple to know how heinous both are. Speaking of simple, those entertained by such cruelty come immediately to mind. The world evolves around you; many have been waiting a long time for you to join in.

  • terrance rogan

    Animals! oh and look theres a bull