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.”
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.
“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.
“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).