Proponents of bullfighting say the tradition is not as cruel as critics make it out to be. First off, the animals are raised in conditions significantly better than average livestock. It's as good, if not better than the countless animals raised in factory farm conditions (only to then be slaughtered "humanely"). Bulls are raised in the best possible conditions because they're highly valued by owners.
The bulls' psychological and physical well-being is part of what determines whether they perform to their potential. This encourages breeders to raise them as “naturally” as possible: in herds, with varied grazing, space, shade, dust baths, water and hidden spots to which they can retreat. These formidable creatures are incredibly sensitive to change. To ensure proper care and minimise disruptions, the foreman works with a team of cowhands, working horses, the estate owner/manager, secretaries, grounds staff, vets, ethologists and even nutritionists.
People argue the label of "blood sport" or "torture" is too extreme and doesn't accurately describe what bullfighting actually is. Bullfighting is closer to an art form than a sport. It's not as simple as killing animals for entertainment, it's more than that. It's like saying Michelin star restaurants are slaughtering animals to feed people. It's technically correct, but it misses what's actually going on. Spanish bullfighting is an art.
It was not long before I started to see the beauty of toreo – bullfighting as a word does not exist in Spanish, and in English comes from our artless, riskless and brutal hobby of bull-baiting. It is for beauty that the real aficionados attend the corrida, not for pomp, not for thrill and certainly not for blood. In my adopted city of Seville the bullring is silent until beauty appears. This is usually in the final and most famous of the three acts of the fight, the “Third of Death”, in which the matador passes the bull with a red cape, as closely and as elegantly as he can. The only chant you will hear is that of “olé” at each pass.
Critics say all of the justifications to continue bullfighting are just excuses that minimize the fact that a living animal is being tortured for human entertainment. They don't see the art in bullfighting because there isn't any art in torturing animals. It's an outdated tradition that does not need to be continued.
That's the crux of the issue. The art and tradition of bullfighting is negated by bullfighting's inherent cruelty. Between the animal cruelty and dwindling interest, critics say it's time for bullfighting to be banned.
Animal rights groups say the matador rarely succeeds in killing the bull on the first try. More often than not, he is forced to use more than one sword to finish the job. As the bull's blood spatters across the arena’s sand it may still be conscious — even while one or both of his ears and tail are cut off and awarded to the matador, depending on his performance.
About 2,000 bullfights are held yearly across Spain, and are often featured in municipal events like Pamplona's annual bull run. But audiences for bullfights are reportedly dwindling, with 8.5% of Spaniards attending bullfights in 2011 (compared to 9.8% in 2007), and TV numbers falling to a record low, with under one million viewers, according to El País.