The controversial Spanish sport of bull running has been brought into the limelight after Australian tourist Mitch Davies, suffered serious injuries during an event last month. The 24-year-old was pinned down and gored by a 500-kilogram bull during the second daily run of the Sam Fermin festival in Pamplona. Davies was reportedly attacked whilst on the ground, having slipped in the bullring towards the end of the run. He sustained a pierced femoral artery when the bull drove its horns into his right thigh.

The Running of the Bulls raises both human safety and animal welfare issues which regularly attract international media attention.

The Event

The event involves releasing six fighting bulls and eight oxen at the corral at San Domingo. From there, they run among a crowd of white and red clad runners across the Ayuntamiento Square, and through a number of streets. The bulls finally reach a dead end street which accesses the bullring where the run concludes. 

The run is 825 metres in length and lasts approximately three minutes; however the narrowness of the streets, closed curves and dead ends along the way ensures that this short period is precarious for both animal and human participants.

The Sydney Morning Herald described Mitch Davies as ‘reckless’. From a risk management standpoint, it is easy to criticise participation in an activity with such obvious and uncontrolled risks.

However, the activity of bull running operates in a distinctive cultural context which appears to influence the extent to which consideration is given to risk mitigation. The run forms part of an annual religious festival dedicated to the sun god, Sam Fermin, which dates back to the 13th century.

The authenticity of the event and its positive social and cultural impact may be at risk if increased safety and animal welfare measures were implemented.

While modern western standards in human and animal welfare suggest that such events are unacceptable, certainly there is no shortage of evidence to suggest that the human participants are willing to accept the high level of risk to participate.  Unfortunately for the animals, they are not afforded the same choices.