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The ethologist Jordi Casamitjana writes about the different types of cruel “animal fighting” spectacles humans still organise in different parts of the world

If they must, animals fight.

If they must, they will fight other animals to protect their offspring or family. If they must, they will fight other animals to gain access to a reproductive mate. If they must, they will fight other animals to get social stability in their communities. If they must, they will fight other animals to get food. If they must, they will fight competing invaders away from their territory. If they must, they will fight predators for survival. But they will only fight if they must. They will not do it to entertain themselves or others. They will not do it for sport. They will not do it out of boredom or greed. Well, non-human animals, that is.

However, human-animals fight for many more reasons — or sometimes for no apparent reason at all. What is worse, though, is that they will force other humans to fight against each other (think Roman gladiators or conscription during a war) or even force non-human animals to fight against other non-human animals. They have made the latter a bloody spectacle for people to attend and watch with sadistic pleasure. A lucrative business to profit from losers who gamble their money on the barely surviving winner. A social hobby for “trainers” to get higher in status in the seeded depraved societies they crawl in. A dark profession for “breeders” who create genetic aberrations bred for agonistic prowess to parade their Frankensteinian creations in their shady halls of fame. 

“Animal Fighting” (i.e. pitting a non-human animal against another and forcing them to fight) is a sad business we see all over the world. It involves many animals of different species, many formats, and different degrees of legality. In some places, they only take place clandestinely because they are against the law. In others, they are perfectly legal and attended by the elites of society. 

Most people have only heard about those animal fights that happen in their country (like dogfighting or cockfighting), but we, vegans like myself, should know more. We not only should try to avoid any form of animal exploitation at home but also wherever we go, so we must know how animals are exploited anywhere so we do not inadvertently end up booking a holiday with a company that promotes animal fighting or having a rest in an establishment where animal fighters frequent. 

Therefore, I thought it would be useful if I wrote an article summarising which types of animal fights exist, and where.   

Organised Animal Fighting

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Organised Animal Fighting is a type of blood sport in which domestic animals are specifically bred and/or trained to fight each other or to fight wild animals, so they can be set to fight in public, under agreed rules, for the benefit of people who obtain satisfaction watching, and/or obtain economic rewards from betting on the outcome of the fights, and/or obtain status in a “sport” ranking. It should not be confused with impromptu animal fighting that may occur in fields or parks at night without an audience or set rules, just for the sadistic blood-thirst of individuals who would force animals under their care to fight other domestic animals, or even wild animals — and in this case, is normally known as “baiting”  — or to show “street” status (sometimes these types are called “status fights”).  

If I would ask people to name a type of organised animal fighting, many in the Anglo-Saxon world would say “bullfighting”. They would be wrong. Although bullfighting was initially created by the English as a type of animal fighting in which dogs were forced to fight bulls, the bullfighting we know today is no longer a type of animal fight because the bulls are tortured to death by humans, not forced to fight against other non-human animals to see who wins (although horses are used in many types of modern bullfighting they are not used to fight bulls, but to carry bullfighters). In bullfighting, there is no competition to see who will win the fight because the bull always loses (even if the bull, in self-defence, kills a bullfighter in one of the stages of torture, the others will always kill him in the end). This is why there is no gambling on bullfighting because the outcome is well known. 

Bullfights are ritualised performances of animal torture and execution acted by a group of dressed-up performers, not really fights, and the term “fighter” in bullfighting is just an error of translation. In Spanish, Portuguese, or French (the languages spoken in the countries where there is still a bullfighting industry) the bullfighter is not called “fighter” but “killer” (matador), and bullfighting is not called “fighting”, but something else (such as tourada or corrida de toros). 

As fighting bulls with dogs (then called bull baiting) was a popular British spectacle banned in 1835 in England with the Cruelty to Animals Act 1835, the English bullfighting aficionados turned to other countries where popular events or exclusive spectacles involved touting or killing bulls, and they call those ‘bullfights’ even if the locals used different terms. So, no, bullfighting is not a type of animal fighting.

Cockfighting

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The other type of organised animal fighting most people would say they know is cockfighting. This is certainly a type of animal fight where roosters are pitted against each other to see who wins, and it is probably the most common type of animal fighting in the world today.

Cockfighting started in India (where chickens were first domesticated). It was a pastime in the Indus Valley Civilization by 2000 BCE and later was also popular in ancient China, Persia, and other Eastern countries. It was introduced to Greece in 524–460 BCE. Cockfighting was brought to Britain by the Romans, and it became very popular there for over six hundred years— reaching its peak during the 16th century (The English Game Fowl is one of the oldest breeds still in existence that has been used for fighting purposes).

In Latin America, cockfighting was introduced by the Spaniards and remained almost intact in all former colonies after independence until the twentieth century. The first country to ban it was Costa Rica in 1922. From 2010, cockfights began to be banned in several localities and regions. In Bolivia, cockfighting has been banned since 2015, although illegal cockfights still take place.

Cockfighting is illegal in all 50 US states, the District of Columbia, and all US territories, but the last state to ban it was Louisiana in 2008. In 2018, the U.S. Congress approved a ban on cockfighting which included Puerto Rico, the last US territory that had legal cockfights.

Cockfighting is probably the most widely practised illegal blood sport in the world today, even continuing illegally in Ireland and the UK after centuries of being banned (in 2017, there were reports that illegal cockfights were at a five-year high in the UK). It is now illegal in most of Europe and North America, but in many other areas around the world is practised legally. For instance, in France, Spain, Nicaragua, Honduras, Colombia, Mexico (in most states), Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Peru, Panama, Philippines (locally termed sabong), Madagascar, Indonesia, Thailand, and others — in some countries the legality of this blood sport is unclear, as there may be bans that are not enforced or national bans that have many regional exceptions.

As you must have noticed, cockfighting is still legal in some EU countries. In France, organising cockfights is a crime in most of the country but there is an exemption under subparagraph 3 of article 521–1 of the French penal code for cockfights and bullfights in places where an uninterrupted tradition exists. So, cockfighting is allowed in the Nord-Pas de Calais region, where it takes place in a few towns, including Raimbeaucourt or La Bistade. Cockfighting is not banned in the totality of Spain either, as it is still allowed in the Canary Islands — where, interestingly, bullfighting is banned, which when it happened in 1991 was considered some sort of trade-off to continue allowing cockfighting. 

In cockfighting, two specially bred birds (known as gamecocks) are placed in an enclosure (called a cockpit) to fight, for the primary purposes of gambling and entertainment. A cockfight, which can last anywhere from several minutes to more than half an hour, usually results in the death of one of the birds (sometimes both).   

In some regional variations, the birds are equipped with either metal spurs called gaffs or with knives, called slashers or tari), that are tied to the leg in the area where the bird’s natural spur has been partially removed. There are also several types of knives: “long knife” or “Filipino slasher”, and the “short knife” or “Mexican slasher” (which is one to three inches long). The fights where the birds do not have any extra “weapon” attached are called “naked heel” fights.

Dogfighting

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The second most well-known type of organised animal fight is dog fighting, which is a practice in which two dogs, usually of a special breed historically bred for fighting purposes, and usually trained for animal fighting, are put into an enclosed area to attack each other —the enclosed area, or ‘pit’, could be a permanent structure or an improvised one that can easily be removed and concealed if the police are around. Spectators bet on which dog will win. On average, fights last about one hour but sometimes last two hours or more. The fight does not end until one of the dogs is no longer able or willing to continue fighting —they usually end in serious injury or death for one or both dogs involved. 

Each dog fighting event normally includes several fights (often six or seven fights). The most successful dogs would survive to fight in future occasions, and if they achieve five victories are labelled ‘Grand Champions’. After a fight, severely injured dogs may be killed using different methods, from drowning to electrocution.

Modern dog fighting in the West can be traced to 1835 in England when bull baiting and cockfighting were banned. After the ban, the owners of “bulldogs”— used until then to bait bulls, bears, and other animals — turned to organised fights between their dogs. The largest bulldogs were soon crossed with smaller and quicker terriers to create the “bull terriers” which became the ancestors of today’s common fighting breeds. Fighting dogs were imported to the US shortly before the Civil War and were crossbred to create the American Pit Bull Terrier, possibly the most recognisable breed of fighting dog — which is banned in countries that have Breed Specific Legislation (BSL), like the UK, that unfairly bans certain breeds deemed too dangerous.

Though legal in Japan, China, Morroco, Western Sahara, and parts of Russia, dog fighting has been banned in most of the world, but illegal dogfights are still common in many places. Despite the bans, dog fighting is organised openly in parts of Latin America, Pakistan (where local breeds are used, such as the Bully Kutta, the Gull Terr and the Gull Dong), Afghanistan (the Taliban banned it but it resumed after they lost power, and this is when charities like Nowzad began rescuing dogs), some parts of Eastern Europe (the Balkans) and Russia. It also happens clandestinely in the US, Ireland, and the United Kingdom (among others).

In “standard” European organised dog fights, two washed dogs of equal size and weight are placed into a circular confined carpeted pit that must be at least 15×15 feet and it should have in each corner a line marked on the floor called “scratch line”, which identifies each dog’s corners. The two handlers of each dog and one referee are the only humans allowed during a fight inside the pit. They are constantly in the pit with the dogs, handling them, pulling them apart, separating them, and allowing them to “scratch” again (launching against each other). Matches are governed by a strict set of rules known as “Pit Rules”.

Apart from the “standard” organised dog fights which follow the mentioned rules, there are other types of dog fighting that are “rule-less”. One of these is street corner “status dog fights” (sometimes between rival gangs), which may take the form of ‘chain fighting” or “rolling”. These involve fights in which young people gather in “ad hoc” places like parks where they hold two animals on chains and egg them on to fight. Another type is “inter-breed dog fights”, between different breeds, to see which one is “better” at fighting. 

Organised Animal Baiting

Young badger licking bait from log. Photo By colin robert varndell via Shutterstock (Royalty-free stock photo ID: 1141235132)

The difference between Organised Animal Fighting and Organised Animal Baiting is that, in the latter, the fights are not equally matched. For instance, when one of the animals is chained or is one animal against many, or the sizes of the animals are very different. Bull baiting, bear baiting, and badger baiting were popular events in England during Tudor times, and normally a group of dogs were set to bait a wild animal who had been captured and taken to an arena where the dogs will kill him after a long fight. These types of events were also made illegal in the UK with the Cruelty to Animals Act 1835, but badger baiting still takes place illegally in the UK. 

Following are several types of animal baiting that still exist today: 

Bear baiting: Bear Baiting was very common in England centuries ago, but it still occurs today in Pakistan (Punjab, Sindh, and Baluchistan). Usually held at local fairs in Pakistan, this cruel practice pits dogs against bears who have had their claws and teeth removed. The extraction of teeth and claws in itself is an agonising practice. Before the fight, the bears are tied to a post which renders them defenceless to the dogs’ attack. The fight lasts for three rounds, and as the dogs are encouraged to attack, the bears will weaken until they cannot stand anymore. This is when the bears’ faces and necks become vulnerable to the dogs’ bites. This cruel practice is illegal in Pakistan under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1890 and in 2001 bear-baiting was specifically prohibited by Pervez Musharraf, then president of Pakistan — it is also illegal under Islamic Law to bait animals — but unfortunately, it continues. In the US, this despicable activity is commonly known as “bear baying”, and still takes place illegally in some states. For decades, bears and wolves in Ukraine were used as bait to train hunting dogs, but this was banned in 2015.

Badger baiting: Badger baiting is when a dog (or dogs) is pitted against a badger for ‘sport’, and it was legal in the UK for centuries, but now still happens clandestinely even if it has been banned and badgers are protected under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992. The badgers — which may at first be partially disabled by being beaten over the head with a spade or by having their jaws broken or their legs chained — are placed in a baiting pit or some other improvised arena. They are then set upon by a succession of dogs (normally terriers), which are encouraged to fight by their guardians. The badgers can simply be wild badgers found locally, or captured badgers kept in captivity and then offered to baiters for cash. In the past, when badger baiting was called “drawing the badger”, the animal would have been taken to permanently built structures called “badger pits”, where people would gather to see the fight — these structures may have an “artificial badger sett”. 

Badger baiting must not be confused with badger digging, with is simply the act of killing badgers after digging them out from their sett. The former is done for “sport”, so the goal is the set a dog against a live badger to see how “good”’ the dog is in fighting him, whilst the latter is mainly done for what euphemistically is called “wildlife control” (for those landowners or farmers who consider badgers as unwanted “pests” or disease carriers) or for the “private” sadistic pleasure of those who enjoy killing animals. 

Hog-dog baiting: Hog-dog baiting (or hog dog “rodeos”) is when a dog (usually a pit bull) is pitted against a feral pig or a wild boar. It happens in the USA, but it seems to be more common in the southern states (Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Texas). In a typical match, the hog is released into a pen with one or more dogs who attempt to subdue him. In more violent versions of the sport, specially trained “catch dogs” try to bring down the hog by biting and dragging. The dogs are outfitted with Kevlar chest and neck armour to guard against injury. In December 2004, authorities in three states arrested the country’s leading promoters of hog dog fighting, including the president and secretary of the International Catchdog Association, a South Carolina-based group suspected of organising, certifying, and videotaping hog-dog events. There is a petition to explicitly ban hog-dog fights throughout the US. Hog-dog baiting also happens in Indonesia, where they call it “adu bagong“. 

Other Animal Fighting 

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There are other types of animal fighting that most people will never have heard about. For instance…

Horse fighting: Historically, the Vikings had horse fighting competitions (called Hestavíg), but today, this blood sport has been outlawed almost worldwide. However, it still thrives in the Mindanao region of the Philippines, in Muna Island in Indonesia, in South Korea’s Jeju Province, and parts of China. Two stallions are being whipped into a fighting frenzy by the presence of a young mare who is “in season” and is being staked to the ground in the middle of the arena. These tournaments are equally traumatic for the mare used as “bait” for the stallions, as they are forced to mate with the victorious stallions from each “bout” (she can be mounted as many as 30 times during one tournament). Hose fighting has been illegal in the Philippines for ten years, but it continues undeterred (as of 2008, about 1,000 horses were being bred every year for horse fighting). The animal protection organisations Network For animals has been campaigning against horse fighting in the Philippines for decades.

Quail fighting. Quail fighting is a blood sport that happens in China, Japan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and illegally also in the UK (especially in the North of England). Quail and Francolin Partridges are used to fight. Historically this activity developed in Classic Greece, as well as in ancient China. Two birds, with their beaks sharpened with metal files, are placed in a circle to encourage them to attack one another. The fights usually end when one bird runs away, and deaths are uncommon. In Pakistan, it is illegal to bet in a quail fight. 

Fish fighting: In Cambodia and other far-eastern Asian countries (such as Thailand and Vietnam), people also use fishes to organise fights. The Siamese Fighting Fish (Betta splendens), also known just as Betta, is a species native to that area, and the males are very territorial so would fight other males when they see them. In a typical fight, two males are placed in one jar, prompting a mutual attack. The victor is declared when one fish retreats to the jar’s perimeter chased by the other. In Cambodia, the activity will only be illegal when the owners of the fishes bet on the outcome. 

Bulls fighting: In Korea, Japan, Peru, and India, bull-against-bull fights are organised (sometimes called bull wrestling). Bulls do not normally die in these combats because when one of the bulls retreats the fight should be stopped. Cows on heat are normally used to excite the bulls into “sexual competition”. In Japan, they call it Tōgyū (ushi-zumo or Bull sumo), and it happens in the Ryukyu Islands (Okinawa Prefecture and the Amami Islands of Kagoshima Prefecture), as well as Iwate Prefecture, Niigata Prefecture, Shimane Prefecture, and Ehime Prefecture. In Peru, where Spanish-style bullfighting also takes place (called Corridas de Toros), bulls fighting is called Peleas de Toros, and it takes place in the Arequipa region (both types of bull abuse are legal there). Buffalo fighting also happens in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India.

Cows fighting: Organised combats between cows can be seen in the European Alps. Switzerland, France, and Italy (which all have Alpine regions) organise these public events. Cows naturally fight to determine dominance in the herd, and this is the behaviour that is exploited in cow fighting. With their horns blunted, the fights (which can last up to 40 minutes) are mainly a pushing contest. Any cow who backs down from a fight is eliminated until one cow is left standing. Each year, the Swiss canton of Valais organises a series of cow fights known as combats de reines (Queens fights). Similar events take place in France, in Haute-Savoie, and also in the Italian Aosta Valley.

Camel fighting: Camel fighting is practised in Afghanistan and Turkey. In Turkey, they are organised primarily in small Turkish villages around the Aegean Sea, and the event begins when two male camels are marched around each other by their guardians. The camels’ mouths are tied shut to make sure the animals do not bite each other. As in the case of bulls and horse fighting, a female in heat is brought into the arena to excite the males and provoke the fight — which, in essence, makes these types of events a form of sexual abuse. In Turkey, Camels wear all sorts of padding, while in Afghanistan they are naked. There are three ways to declare a winner: the first way is for one camel to chase the other out of the arena, the second is for the dominant camel to make the other vocalise in frustration, and the third is if the losing camel stumbles. In any of these situations, the camels are bound to experience great distress. 

Ram fighting: Ram fighting occurs legally in several countries, among them Indonesia (an old west Javanese tradition), Tunisia, Nigeria, Yemen, Uzbekistan, and China. A ram who runs away from his opponent or falls is declared the loser, but rams often lock horns rather than attack each other —in such situations, the referee will pull them apart. Points will also be collected for the “technique”  that ram uses when attacking or dodging an attack. In Yemen, ram fighting has a professional level. In a professional ram fight, there are weight-based categories: Class A weighing 70 kg and above; Class B 60 kg to 69 kg and Class C 50 kg to 59 kg. In China, ram fighting occurs in Kashi, a remote city in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

Songbird fighting: Canaries can become aggressive and fight with each other, especially during the breeding season. This is used as a betting sport in places such as Brazil. The birds are kept in separate cages and then put into a single cage in pairs for the fight. In 2009, authorities caught and shut down an illegal songbird fighting ring in the US city of Shelton where 150 birds were seized and 19 people were arrested (Saffron Finches and Canaries were used). 

I began researching the subject of organised animal fighting in 2009 when I was a freelance animal protection consultant and one of my clients commissioned me some work on this issue. Now that I have revised the subject for this article, it saddens me to see that very little has changed 13 years later. All types of animal fights I found then still take place, and although there have been some bans these have been very rare. 

The problem is that, contrary to the case of bullfighting or circus with animals, bans on organised animal fights are difficult to enforce. Unfortunately, because of the greed these betting activities generate, they remain very popular in many places (especially in working-class areas), so when they are banned they continue illegally. After all, organised crime has always been very good at profiting from illegal gambling, so these criminals can use all their skills to avoid justice (including bribery and corruption) and successfully organise clandestine animal fights. If the animals involved are not very big (roosters, quails, fishes, etc.) it will be relatively easy to hide them while training or fighting, and if the animals are companion animals such as dogs, it would not be difficult to disguise their fighting training with other forms of “exercise”. Therefore, most animal fighting types can survive even after centuries of being banned, and even when the authorities actively try to enforce such bans (as in the case of dogfighting and cockfighting in the UK).

It seems to me that, although efforts to ban animal fighting one at a time, and one region or country at a time, should not be abandoned, we need a more effective strategy. We need to change the mindset of people so they do not want to engage in such cruel activities anymore. We need to make them see that they are indeed cruel and that it is unethical to profit from cruelty. We need to make them realise that any animal exploitation causes harm and they all should be avoided, from forcing animals to fight to breed them and kill them for food. Therefore, what we need to do is to spread the vegan philosophy so people move away from animal abuse not because it is banned, but because they would find it deeply immoral.

We should all learn from the other animals who, when they fight, only do it when they must. They all try to avoid it if they can. If they can get away with just a threat, they will choose that instead. But if not, and they must start a fight, if they are not forced by circumstances — or by those commanding them — they will stop at the earliest opportunity.   

Organised Animal Fighting must stop too, anywhere in the world.

At the earliest opportunity. 

“Originally from Catalonia, but resident in the UK for several decades, Jordi is a vegan zoologist and author, who has been involved in different aspects of animal protection for many years. In addition to scientific research, he has worked mostly as an undercover investigator, animal welfare consultant, and animal protection campaigner. He has been an ethical vegan since 2002, and in 2020 he secured the legal protection of all ethical vegans in Great Britain from discrimination in a landmark employment tribunal case that was discussed all over the world. He is also the author of the book, ‘Ethical Vegan: a personal and political journey to change the world’.