Behavior of bulls in jallikattu videos – my response to PETA India
I am neither defending nor opposing jallikattu. Nor do I intend this to be an adverserial discussion. Bear with me, it is slightly long. The downside of describing behavior of bulls to those not trained to see it is that each picture seems to take a thousand words.
While I don’t agree with PETA India’s view about the ban, I agree that the rights of animals must be protected. My main issue is that it does not seem familiar with the body language of cattle and sees everything as abuse, even when the bulls themselves clearly don’t.
On the similarities between jallikattu and bullfighting—since you raised the point—there are many. You say weapons are used in bullfights—well guess what, they are also used during jallikattu events. During jallikattu, in the holding area, participants stab and jab bulls with sickles, spears, knives and sticks in order to force them to run toward the mob of men (which goes against their desire, which is to flee in the opposite direction). In bullfighting, the bulls are often deliberately disoriented. For jallikattu, bulls may be force-fed alcohol for the same purpose. Jallikattu participants also cause bulls intense pain by yanking their nose ropes, and jallikattu participants also punch, jump on and drag bulls to the ground and twist and bite their tails.
I will post here the video you refer to, that was included in my original article as visuals of the abuse Poorva mentions. An attempt to let bulls speak for themselves, so to say.
Sticks are commonly used to control livestock.If you have to use a stick through a narrow gap, your use is pretty much limited to “poke”. This doesn’t mean you’re skewering the animal. Not something I like, but it is a fact of cattle rearing not limited to jallikattu. Also tail pulling, it is easy to see that the bull’s movement is being controlled to angle him into a narrow space, except the last instance where it is to hold him back. To someone unaware of how cattle move or are moved, this may appear as random harassment, but this is likely shot outside the narrow pen the wary bull has to get into. Precise positioning using vulnerable body parts is normal. Not ideal. But not a jallikattu special either. Ask cattle transporters or… vets.
You claim jallikattu is similar to bullfighting, because weapons are used in the holding area. It may be possible, but so far I have yet to see blood on a bull entering the arena in any jallikattu video. It is also extremely unlikely that the cattle owners will take kindly to prime livestock being cut or injured by a mob. So I am just going to pass on this till I have some evidence it is prevalent.
About the “alcohol”. The video is not certain it is alcohol. Supporters of jallikattu claim it is glucose water for a burst of energy. Whatever it is, the bull is drinking it willingly in the video. I don’t think much will need to be done to make the bulls agitated. Not having control in a situation with a loud crowd and other bulls around will do the trick for most bulls.. Add to it the nature of the activity – youths dispersing when bull faces them, approaching in peripheral vision, pouncing – this sort of thing spooks all herbivores and is enough to make them flee. This is more along the line of harassment than brutality.
Few of the bulls appear intimidated by the men, though resentfully resigned to the control.Jallikattu or not, these are the same people they live with for the rest of the year, who care for them and are trusted, even if they are making freaky demands. Incidentally the same people who have cared for them well – you don’t get these kind of bulls from neglect and brutality. Most of them are just extremely alert (watch ear and tail movements – ears pricked forward is alert, twitching back and forth is nervous, tucked tail is fear, head lowered is aggression). This is not fear, it is wariness. They burst out, get away from the youth and that is that. You will see it if you approach livestock at pasture. The more an animal is in the prime of health, the more it will startle, react. So bursting out of that area is about as normal as a racehorse bursting out of a gate. Some bulls are scared, definitely, where they go around trying to gore people. That is fear/anger behavior. And usually you’ll find the crowd rapidly switch to calming the animal. Not always, not always successful. Basically the bull has “snapped”. The bull has no idea which way is safety, feels cornered, so gets aggressive and does the next best thing, evicts people (the threat) from the arena. Or bulldozes through any and everything to get out of there leading to injuries for people and bulls. There ought to be safety protocols for handling this sort of thing, including the possibility of a referee kind of character who calls it a day for that bull if the men persist.
Cattle have strong flight responses. While they flee a threat, they aren’t too scared unless they get trapped. It is a reflex. The bucking off of people trying to catch it. Left alone without further irritation, they will calm rapidly. For animals, “threat” is not how we interpret it. Anything from the unfamiliar to outright attack is a “threat”. The usual response is a burst of adrenaline and a gallop away from the source. This really doesn’t mean they are intimidated – reflex kind of thing. Spooked. Like we jump when someone goes “boo” is irritating, but not abuse – unlikely thought it may seem to someone not used to them. Or it would be impossible to have thousands of years of sport and get that same reaction over and over.
This is not to say it is “right” to play with them or that it is ethical. There is a need to engage with breeders of prime bulls, veterinarians, animal rights activists such as yourself, lawmakers and get perspectives and contribute to evolving more sustainable practices instead of helicoptering in with the “right interpretation” that those on the ground don’t recognize. There will be negotiation. The worst of the practices will have to be chipped away. There will need to be convincing, not ordering. That is possible only when you have the buy in of those engaged in them.
But the most important thing from this video as well as others on the internet is the importance of a sturdy arena that the bull cannot exit and injure others or himself. Possibly with a little pen at the opposite end of the arena with view of arena blocked for the bulls to cool down where people other than owners should not be allowed. I repeat, I am not an expert or even familiar with jallikattu but it certainly appears that an area for bulls to escape to and cool down safely will largely reduce injuries for all. Regulation can actually achieve things of this sort if a determined effort is made to identify them.
There are other things, but my point is that there is a mix of abuse and normal behavior with cattle in the objections, which makes it difficult to tell what the prevalence of abuse because of jallikattu is. While this approach is very healthily pro-animals, it is hostile to their owners and considers them malicious by default to the point of making breeding and owning bulls at all unviable. This is a problematic view – that the animals who are clearly in excellent condition are better off not existing at all, because of your views on how they are treated on one day. These are bulls worth lakhs that you are consigning to being no better than butcher meat. And they will face worse injuries, because if more money is not to be spent on them, they will have to be provably economically unviable to be butchered. Not the few that accidentally get injured, but deliberate neglect and potentially injury by owners unable to sell them or earn from them anymore. Because here is a thing. An owner loves an animal he takes pride in, not one he has to feed at the cost of necessities for his own home. Livestock are not pets, they are property. Check out the vanishing male cattle in Maharashtra. There is a complete ban on slaughter now, but the law was similar to Tamil Nadu when these numbers happened – no slaughter of cows, only slaughter of economically unviable males. They get abandoned or starved to death now. They got butchered earlier, but every successive rural hardship has led to a decline in their numbers. Such are the alternatives you are recommending when you remove the one thing that makes them desirable and economically viable. With a ban on jallikattu there remains little need for an indigenous cow owner to opt for continuing – this often includes stud fees that are 20 times the fees of artificial insemination – with imported sperm. You are wrong when you say it is entirely determined by dairy industry. It is, if there is no other use for non-dairy cattle, which you are ensuring.
You also claim the bulls used for jallikattu are “aggressive by nature and prone to attack”. Are you sure you’re not talking about the jallikattu players? The bulls run helter-skelter not because they are aggressive, but because they are scared. They are so scared they need to be coerced to participate through weapons and the cruel methods as described above.
In fact, a teacher in Mexico conducted an experiment to prove it is not the bulls, but the humans, who are aggressive. The teacher had the students stand in a bullfighting arena where a bull was let loose and matadors used red flags as they do during bullfights. As you can see in the video, the bull just wants to find a way out, and is working on doing so, without hurting anyone:https://www.facebook.com/HolidogTimes/videos/vb.1077612508960066/1197700626951253/
The video shows bulls will not attack if not provoked.
You seem to think of bulls as terrified, timid creatures. They are not. They are capable of fear, of course, but they are perfectly capable of attacking people if they feel cornered- or, for that matter, otherwise. I have to disagree completely here to the point of DON’T TRY THIS. This video is extremely misleading bullshit. The “bull” in the video is a calf. Watch him run – all legs, no bulk, total frisky. Still has his baby coat of hair. Adorable max, but really he wouldn’t do anything even if the students petted him. Likely around a year to a year and half old, though guesstimate – not familiar with the development of that breed. The male aggressive behavior is a part of sexual maturity. You won’t see it in calfs! It wouldn’t matter even if the students moved all they want or got aggressive. The calf would shy away. There is a reason bulls are castrated as a medical practice. It is because adult males can be very aggressive and territorial. Never mind me. If you can trust the University of Wisconsin Department of Dairy Science to not have an agenda of protecting jallikattu or any other bullfighting, here’s an excerpt from their Farm Safety Fact Sheets. This excerpt is on page 2.
I also have no idea why you think bulls aren’t aggressive. I’ve met many bulls who would dispute that. Heck I know a couple that went out of their way to make that point. Strangers couldn’t pass one of those damned critters without risking getting gored. Zero provocation. Just existence was enough. Magnificent animal, but liked people about as much as I do, was just less inhibited about it. Loved him. From a distance. To the best of my knowledge, he was never mistreated. Was the darling of the family, whom he never attacked. Put him in that Facebook video and it would never get uploaded. There would be a news headline “Bull gores x students in an attempt at a Facebook video gone horrily wrong.” Just like good temperament, bad temperament too is a combination of nature and nurture. And sometimes just the personality of the animal. Most bulls fall somewhere in the middle, though all are territorial to some degree unless castrated. They can also be trained otherwise, but this is unnatural behavior, not easy and cannot be relied on with anyone other than their trainer. They may be trained for fights too, but you cannot invent aggression in an animal. Only train discipline or how to channel aggression.
This is one thing I want to insist – regardless of jallikattu or bullfighting. Please stop spreading disinformation that could put people at risk. You are a voice of authority related with animals. The chances are that you could get a gullible urban supporter gored. Rural folks who know bulls won’t believe.
You have concluded your piece by mentioning that other animals suffer—but the existence of one type of suffering cannot justify another. If it did, setting animal rights aside, even human rights would never progress. You, as a woman, or me as a woman, would likely never have been educated or have the opportunities we have today if people thought this way.
It is a minor point, but defending my honor here. The article is public. You are implying I conclude the article justifying jallikattu by bringing in other instances of animal suffering. Actually, that is not how the article ends. The PETA video which actually makes the opposite argument comes after that. Entirely voluntarily. Why would I do that if I wanted to conclude with justifications of jallikattu and ignore harm to cattle as something other animals go through too?
The rights of animals aren’t a negotiable issue for me. My disagreement is with what constitutes abuse as well as whether the alternative is better or worse. I am also concerned about people and their livelihoods. And I am not concluding that jallikattu does not involve abuse. I am trying to find out more. I am trying to decode the complaints and see what appear to be genuine areas of concern and what appears to be a misunderstanding. I am interested in knowing whether there is a possibility that allows all to thrive without harming another.