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rexpresso's avatar

Can bulls really cry?

Asked by rexpresso (920 points ) September 23rd, 2010

I’ve seen a couple of videos recently of bullfighting bulls crying. What’s the science of it? Do they have something in their eyes, or are they really expressing suffering with their tears? References appreciated. Thanks

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zen_'s avatar

This is from: When Bulls Cry: The Case Against Bullfighting

Another sideshow here is that sometimes the horses get gored. That is why they are padded. The practice began in the 1920s thanks to the decisive influence of the Queen of Spain—herself an Englishwoman—who not only hated the bullfight but especially could not stomach seeing horses disemboweled “with their intestines hanging out of their abdomen.” Because the bull’s horns pose such a threat to the horse, even with padding, fans of the bullfight are forced to admit that the horses are drugged with morphine or heroin before a fight to dull their reflexes, to desensitize them. It is believed that they have even had their vocal cords cut to keep them quiet if gored. This has been denied, but the American John Fulton, who was himself a matador, admits to never having heard a gored horse cry out. A final thought on the goring of horses: in Death in the Afternoon, Hemingway found the sight of a horse tripping over its own entrails as “comic.” It is too bad that the old reprobate could not have had an out-of-the-body experience and seen himself on that fateful day in 1961 after he had put a shotgun to his face and pulled the trigger. He might have laughed his head off, or at least what he had left of it.
With the departure of the picadors, the bull, now wounded and exhausted, must, as one bullfight enthusiast puts it, “receive another lesson.” That means he now faces the three banderilleros. The banderilleros are so named for the banderillas they carry. Each banderilla is a wooden stick 27 inches long and tipped with a barbed iron point. They are like little harpoons. Or as one writer describes them, they are “barbed prongs wrapped in streamers.” Each banderillero, armed only with two of these mini-harpoons, will run at the bull and then, “leaping acrobatically across the bull’s path,” will plunge the two banderillas into the hump between the bull’s shoulders.
This is definitely “a bad moment for the bull … with the sting that the banderillas deliver.” Multiply the pain each barb inflicts times six and the product is excruciating. The cries of the bull at this point bear witness to his plight. With the bull predictably enraged, he will make quick bursts toward the banderilleros, who meanwhile taunt the bull and then dash behind the burladeros.
Apologists for the role played by the banderilleros argue that for the matador to be able to kill the bull with one thrust of the sword, the bull must keep “its head straight when it charges.” Thus, the banderilleros correct “the bull’s tendency to hook right or left,” which could spell trouble for the matador when the bull charges the cape. Furthermore, aficionados claim that the pricking of the barbs serves to actually enliven the bull. Thus, the combination of the pike thrusts and the stinging barbs has been called an “ingeniously conceived treatment” that prepares the bull for the final showdown with the matador.
When that time finally arrives, however, the matador has a decided edge. The bull is weak and tired, and his breathing is labored. Meanwhile, the matador switches from his large cape to a red muleta—“a heart-shaped piece of cloth folded over a stick.” It is the motion of the muleta and not its red color that incites the bull to charge, for bulls are color blind. While the crowd might cheer a series of well-executed passes, bear in mind that all of this fancy capework comes “when the animal is already riddled with wounds, the picks in his back swaying as he moves, and, morbidly decorated as they are with ribbons, increasingly discolored by blood.”
Finally, to please the crowd and not be whistled out of the arena, the matador must do his maneuver correctly in trying to kill the bull. Theoretically, the matador, having exchanged his wooden stick for a sword, cites the bull “across the top” of his weapon. Theoretically, the slightest movement of the cape coupled with a yelp from the matador will incite the bull to charge the cape; the torero then drives the sword into the notch between the shoulder blades, piercing the aorta. Killing the bull on the first attempt is 50 percent luck. If the matador drives the sword “too low down on the neck,” he can puncture a lung and the bull will “vomit blood profusely.” Also, if the sword severs the spinal cord, the bull will be paralyzed. One can only imagine the pain that the bull is in under such circumstances as he waits to die.
When the matador fails to kill the bull cleanly, he will use a small sword to finish the job. This type of ending is usually met with catcalls, whistles, and even the flinging of seat cushions from the disappointed fans in the stands. Conversely, a good performance—by aficionado standards—will get a matador a trophy, i.e., the president of the corrida will give the matador permission to cut off the bull’s ear, or both ears, or even the tail. For someone like Ernest Hemingway, such trophies are well earned, for to him the matador “is a champion, a paragon.” As for George Bernard Shaw, the matador’s performance left him cold. He wrote: “Who would go to see this posturing bully, the matador, if he were dressed in workman’s clothes and cap? It is slaughter-house work and in any decent country the public is denied the sadistic satisfaction of abattoirs.”
As for the bull a team of mules or horses will drag his lifeless carcass out of the arena. Beneath the stands, he will be skinned and carved up. It was once believed that the meat was at least given to the poor, which might have been some consolation for the foes of this tragedy, but, alas, that is not true. It is sold to butchers or to the Civil Guardia.
Upon witnessing a bullfight, one scholar writes that “the entire spectacle appeared as a living anachronism—the image of the Roman Coliseum came to mind.” Perhaps the games of the ancient Romans had more integrity, however, for the human combatants might have been exposed to more risk. The following incident involving the matador, Manuel Benítez, commonly known as “El Cordobés,” is offered as proof. During a corrida on 19 May 1968, El Cordobés was getting ready to kill the bull when Miguel Mateo (whose stage name was “Miguelín”) jumped into the ring and ran over to the bull in an effort to unveil the true nature of the “ferocious” bulls that El Cordobés was victimizing. Tickling the bull’s nose and patting him on the head, Miguelín carried on with his antics while the whole time the bull just stood there, at peace with his surroundings. Attempting “to show how trivial El Cordobés’s work was,” Miguelín succeeded in humiliating the popular matador.
Aficionados, of course, would scoff at this example. To one of them, John McCormick, El Cordobés was “the product of social pathology, not of talent or performance” (in this, according to McCormick, El Cordobés was just like the Beatles!). Rather, they would point to the career of Juan Belmonte. Belmonte was a famous matador from Seville who killed over 2,000 bulls in 12 years. He was almost killed twice in the ring. The most serious episode was when a bull’s horns ripped open his face from his ear to his chin. In three months, he returned to the ring. In a 1925 interview in The New York Times, Belmonte offered the following self-serving remarks as to why he resumed his career: “It takes nothing but courage to fight a bull. One need not be agile, for a good matador does not jump about. He selects his position and stands erect, dexterously enticing the bull with his capote, so that death brushes by with several millimeters to spare.”

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

If they did this to people, we’d probably all cry. Thanks Zen, that was a well written, very disturbing piece of work.

zen_'s avatar

Oh, I can google with the best of ‘em. The real credit should go to the author, and his book can be found here

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gorillapaws's avatar

@zen_ thanks for the link. That was enlightening in a very sad way.

I think bullfighting might be a prime candidate as one of many counterexamples for those advocating cultural moral relativity.

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Plucky's avatar

As for the question…can bulls cry/tear?
Yes, they can cry. If they are in physical pain, they will produce tears. They do not cry emotionally as humans do ..but as a physiological reaction to pain, yes (many animals do).
I don’t have references but I know they are out there ..it is just something I have learnt over the years of living/working around, and studying, various animals.

bob_'s avatar

Yes, see here, around 8:50.

Beware, it’s not pretty.

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Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I don’t care if this gets modded: if they can’t, should we then be okay with bullfighting? How human (supposedly) do animals have to act before people start to give a shit?

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Adirondackwannabe's avatar

If you’ve been around cattle long enough they usually all do it at one time or another, due to irritants, dust, etc. And simone was spot on.

bob_'s avatar

So anything with “I don’t care if this gets modded” as a warning is on-topic?

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@bob_ Sometimes (and in my year and a half on here, this was the first and will probably be the only time I’ve used that ‘warning’), what needs to be said is more important than fluther rules. But, by all means, flag it if you love bullfighting.

bob_'s avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir How is the question about bull-fighting? It’s about animal biology, not about the morality of anything.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

Yes, yes, the inevitable backlash, I get it. You know me enough to not need to ask these qs, but whatever.

bob_'s avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir Whatever indeed.

BoBo1946's avatar

My answer AGAIN, I’ve researched the internet and cannot find anything that indicated bulls cry.

Whatever indeed Bob!

bob_'s avatar

@BoBo1946 Should have researched a bit more…

This article discusses lacrimal glands in cattle. Therefore, bulls can cry.

BoBo1946's avatar

that is cool…it makes sense, if a bull gets something in their eye, this allows the eye to get rid of it.

MRSHINYSHOES's avatar

Even if bulls didn’t cry, they are still living, feeling creatures. They may not cry like human beings, but that doesn’t mean they don’t feel the anguish and suffering of being tortured to death. Human beings are the only animals that kill for the “fun of it”, which to me means that they are also the most vile and cruellest of all animals.

LostInParadise's avatar

While humans should know better, they are not the only ones to kill for the fun of it. Spend some time watching a cat. Nature can be very cruel, but that is not justification for acting in kind.

MRSHINYSHOES's avatar

@LostInParadise Yes, but cats and other animals don’t know any better. They don’t have the intelligence of human beings to decide what is right and what is wrong. Humans should know better for the very fact that they have a moral conscience and intelligence. Cats “play” with their prey because it’s instinctual. Humans torture and tease animals out of pure connivance and evil. That makes them the worst of all living creatures.

LostInParadise's avatar

Why cats play with their prey is not clear. I think in part it is because they are such extraordinarily good hunters. In any event, I agree that cat behavior is no excuse for us to act the way we do.

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