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Elephantgate and Spain's ‘elephant in the room’

Por: | 20 de abril de 2012

Don Juan Carlos with a dead trophy elephant

This week King Don Juan Carlos made an ‘unprecedented’ public apology for his Botswana hunting trip following outrage at such extravagance during Spain’s harsh era of austerity.  He also infuriated a legion of animal lovers following claims he not only killed an endangered African elephant but did so while president of Spain’s World Wildlife Fund (WWF).  

But if the 74-year-old-king, who has held the WWF role since 1968, thought his apology: ‘I'm very sorry, I made a mistake. It won't happen again.’ would be the end of the matter he was mistaken.  By the time he said this on Wednesday, an online petition calling for his WWF resignation had reached 85,000 signatures.  And his words did little to placate WWF supporters when it was further revealed that this was not a one off error of judgement.  Media reports claimed over the years he has gunned down everything from leopards and endangered European bison to a defenseless Russian zoo bear spiked with vodka.  

The CEO of the WWF Dutch office Johan van den Gronden put the position simply: ‘Outrageous! If this man were an honorary chairman of the Dutch WWF, and if I had the authority to do so, I would have expelled him from his duties today.’  However, the WWF in Spain has refrained from taking the swift action many of its members had called for.  Its response has been to request an ‘interview’ with the King and to put the scrapping of his honorary position to a member vote. 

But even if the vote leads to the groundbreaking decision to remove the honorary post, the question is how has the King remained head honcho at the WWF for so long? 

WWF Spain, it seems has turned a blind eye to the actions of its honorary president just as the rest of Spain and Europe turns a blind eye to a culture of animal cruelty that finds support at every level of Spanish society - from its royals, celebrities and politicians to the man-on-the-street.  I even discovered that the ‘John Lewis’ of Spain, El Corte Ingles, organises trips just like the King’s to shoot elephants in Botswana.

Animal Equality protest outside Hospital de San José de Madrid

A culture of cruelty

Anyone who has visited and lived in Spain cannot help but fall in love with the place and its wonderful vibrancy.  And of course, many people in Spain have a deep compassion and respect for animals and in no way support blood sports.  But even lovers of Spain cannot brush the ‘elephant in the room’ as it were under the carpet and ignore the scandal of blood fiestas.

Animal rights group, Animal Equality suggests that over 40,000 bulls are tortured each year at bull fighting festivals.  The powerful bullfighting lobby defends the practice as a sacrosanct ‘cultural right’.  And the tourists and Spaniards, who shamefully participate as audiences in this sadistic spectacle, are collectively responsible.

The bullfight is simply an evolved form of the Roman amphitheatre where gladiators were pitched against wild beasts.  The text books tell us how barbarous it was 2000 years ago, so surely it beggars belief that it still goes on in the 21st century. 

And bullfighting is just part of the story.  It is claimed there are thousands of other fiestas that include the torture of animals across the country.  Some feature ritual donkey bashing like the Pero Palo festival in Extremadura, where annually a donkey is beaten viciously by a baying mob.  In the Becerradas in El Escorial calves are tortured to exhaustion by local lads.  On collapse they are stabbed and their ears and tails are hacked off as they writhe in agony, then the still living butchered bodies are dragged out of the ring by their horns. Countless other fiestas see lambs mutilated and bulls speared and crudely castrated live without sedation. 

Becerradas de El Escorial

At state and EU level this abuse is supported and encouraged, often using EU money paid by tax payers in countries that deplore such cruelty. The Daily Mail reported in 2010 that the EU’s annual subsidy to the industry totalled £37 million and annually a further £4.3 billion in agricultural support and £1.1 billion from the EU’s Rural Development Programme, had partly been used for animal sacrifice and to renovate bullrings.  

Celebrities such as Antonio Banderas, Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem have made their name starring in films such as Matador (1986), Jamon Jamon (1992) and The Passion Within (2007) that glamorise bullfighting.  Pedro Almodavar was accused of animal cruelty and breaking the law when four bulls were slaughtered in bullfighting scenes in his film Talk to Her (2002). 

The future

However, the tide could be turning at last.  Even before this scandal broke some animal rights groups such as Animal Equality had exposed terrible instances of hidden animal cruelty in Spain which has led to a number of arrests.  In one example the organisation revealed through undercover footage the horrific mutilation of live pigs by farmhands wielding swords.  Miguel Rodriguez Castaño at the Veterinary Hospital of the University of Madrid, said it was the most horrible treatment of animals he’d seen his career.  

Last year Catalonia banned bullfights in the autonomous region; and according to Fight Against Animal Cruelty in Europe (FAACE) some significant victories have been won such as prohibiting the tossing of a live goat from the bell tower in the town of Manganeses de la Polvorosa in Zamora.  And the economic situation in Spain could also be playing a role; El Escorial town hall said to me that they were not sure the Becerradas would be take place this year due to budgetary reasons. 

What now though?  Will a new generation of Spaniards mobilised by global social media networks drive change and help wean Spain off its gory entertainments?  Or, as we gear up to fiesta season will the recent furore be forgotten and the bullfights, blood fiestas and day-to-day abuse of farm animals continue as before? 

As Laura Gough of Animal Equality says: ‘The animal rights movement in Spain is increasing in size, and awareness about the suffering of animals is commonplace. But we clearly have a long way to go and must continue to aim for a better society for animals.’




Hay 26 Comentarios

Como paso final antes de publicar el comentario, introduce las letras y números que se ven en la imagen de abajo. Esto es necesario para impedir comentarios de programas automáticos.

¿No puedes leer bien esta imagen? Ver una alternativa.

Just because some other countries have folk who enjoy inflicting pain on animals doesn't make it right. It is the 'y tu?' syndrome. By the way,I don't think you can compare John Lewis with Corte Ingles.

The one problem I see with animal cruelty, from an English point of view, is that many supporters in Britain of treating animals humanely (which must be right ) is that they have a further agenda; namely to promote veganism.

Having worked in Agriculture over many years, including shepherding & caring for livestock, I still get accused of being "barbaric" by the "animal fundamentalists".

Yes, there are many barbaric practices still in Spain that the general public are ignorant of, such as their intensive pig or poultry production methods.
The British farmers converted to more 'sustainable' systems years ago.
Hopefully the same will happen here.

Ahí les dejo esa liga de un artículo en el periódico La Jornada sobre la caza de osos y elefantes, para que vean lo que opinamos los mexicanos de su rey.

Oye, que si necesitáis más datos para investigar en vuestro país... tenemos MÁS...
Pero, por lo que vemos, si lo que os gustan son los tópicos manidos...
Contact whit us!

Hay muchos ingleses ilustres, otros son normales y otros hacen lo que pueden y otros... A estos últimos les digo: con la información que os han dejado aquí ya podéis volver a vuestro país a levantar alfombras.

Os quiero.

¡Vaya! ¡Otro vegano! Me alegra saber que hay tantos veganos por aquí (es ironía).
Darling... Todos somos iguales.
Os falta información, documentación.
Incomprensiblemente os sobra ego.

Aquí, viendo los comentarios, lo que pasa es lo de siempre: previsiblemente el español común, en vez de solucionar los problemas y las vergüenzas que afectan a la nación siempre tienen en boca lo de "y tú más" o "pues es tú opinión". Esta nación jamás progresará ya que la cutrez y el cinismo está en sus genes.

La autora del artículo debería documentarse y después hablar. Ver los enlaces que le han puesto en los comentarios de su artículo y que le ayudarían a ser más prudente y más objetiva respecto a los cuatro tópicos manidos que enumera en su artículo. Ahora bien. Si la autora es vegana, retiro lo dicho.

I don't recall seeing this in the UK media. Until I read Laura Edgecumbe's article online here I had no idea that Spain's WWF President (King Don Juan Carlos) had killed at least one endangered elephant in Botswana.

Firstly, I roundly condemn the bare faced hypocrisy of a man in such a high profile role as Spain's WWF President. Secondly, I express my admiration to the journalist and blogger, Laura Edgecumbe, whose research brings out an unpleasant, almost medieval side of Spanish society in need of modernity. What has King Don Juan Carlos actually done to help reduce the cruel carnage of innocent animals pulled limb from limb at so-called ‘fiestas’? Not a lot I’d say judging by his actions elsewhere. Clearly he doesn’t agree with those of us who actually like animals and want to see them humanely treated. So what on earth is doing as Honorary President of WWF? An honorary president that dishonours the very core principal of WWF brings Spain’s role in the World Wildlife Fund into question.

Ms Edgecumbe’s article is spot on when she says Spanish society is turning a blind eye to the whole issue of animal cruelty. Spain a wonderful country with the exception of this stain on its front cover, which nobody there seem overly keen to wipe away. Is the Spanish WWF blameless in all this I ask myself? Well, I’ve just logged on the WWF UK website to find that Prince Charles is the honorary president of the WWF UK and I can’t help wondering what the selection criteria is when the WWF comes to choosing their ambassadors. Maybe there’s just too much snobbery and elitism at the WWF?

Paul Whiteley

Un poco de rigor... por favor.
Hay un refrán en este "salvaje país lleno de gente horrible y torturadora llamado España" (es ironía, bonita) en el que a usted le encanta vivir que dice:

Como dice la cabecera de esta sección, muchos, pero que muchos muchos, compran un "one-way ticket" hacia España. ¿Por qué será?
Eso de "crossed the Pyrenees" suena a turista paleto y lo de " Iberian ideas" ya ni te cuento. ¡Uf, bonita! ¡Te jo juro por Snoopy!

¡Créeme que voy a seguir las cosas que dices que son de antología!

Bonita... documéntate.

It saddens me to see Spain has such a poor reputation for animal welfare and I would be pleased to see this improve. As well as this Spanish fishing fleet is one of the worst for shark finning - this also is barbaric and needs to stop!

Como ha sugerido el recientemente fallecido humorista español, Mingote, en las corridas de toros hay hombres, toros y caballos. Ahora se han sumado asnos.

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