Thursday 3 March 2011

Owl kicking, bat slapping and bull torture - different reactions to animal cruelty

Luis Moreno flicking the injured owl off the pitch with his foot
After writing my South American football blog for around six months I picked up a story that went global. It involved the plight of an owl that flew onto a football pitch and ended up dead.

The owl was the mascot of Colombian team Junior and on Sunday 27 February 2011 it flew onto the pitch during a game against Deportivo Pereira and was struck by a football. What happened next was by my estimation a little bit out of order, Pereira's Panamanian defender Luis Moreno impatiently flicked the injured bird off the field with his foot. The owl survived being hit by the ball and being kicked off the field by Moreno with only a broken leg however it died a few days later from shock.

I saw a video clip of the incident on the Monday and thought that it was worthy of a post in my series of bizarre and often brutal events in South American football called Cosas Locas. I was one of the first bloggers to pick up on the story and write about it. By the following day a host of international media outlets had also got hold of the story and the sense of public outrage was beginning to become clear. None of my other blog posts has ever attracted more than a dozen or so comments, the owl abuse post currently has over fifty and most of them are from clearly angry people and include statements like "someone should kick his motherfucking ass", "I would  punch him straight in the face with no hesitation", "I wish I could kick him in the face, and break every tooth in his head", "He better wacht his back from now on", "You're a worthless piece of shit and I hope you die in a slow and painful and BRUTAL way" and the classic "I hope you and all of your family fucking die".

I accept that attracting comments from idiots is part of the course in internet publishing but I am amazed at the number of replies from people so stupid that they can't even see the irony in their fantasising about inflicting violence on Moreno for his act of inflicting violence on the owl.

It is pretty hard to understand how this clip has stirred up such a shitstorm of misguided rage especially given the reaction to this incident last year when Argentine basketball player Manu Ginobili killed a bat on the basketball court. The crowd cheered, the commentators laughed and took the opportunity to eulogise about the player and the production team picked the incident as their highlight of the game. Why the different reactions? Are owls that much cuter than bats that the kicking of an owl provokes outrage while the killing of an innocent bat provokes wild celebration and praise?

Having grown up in the English countryside I really like bats. I can see past the primitive dislike of nocturnal creatures with vampirical connotations, caused more by endless bat imagery in vampire movies than by actual fear of their American cousin the vampire bat. The memories of bats flying above my head in the dusk of balmy summer evenings back in North Yorkshire evoke strong feelings of nostalgia so the idea of a load of Americans celebrating the casual killing of a bat is pretty repulsive.

I don't feel strongly that either sportsman deserves to suffer excessively for their instinctive actions against animals, Moreno especially since has accepted that what he did was wrong and apologised repeatedly for his actions. I reckon that he has suffered enough already after receiving death threats against himself and his family, being threatened with jail and suspension from his profession and finding himself in the middle of a global media storm of criticism. Ample enough punishment in my opinion for his moment of stupidity.

The thing that really gets me is that people obviously feel very strongly about animal welfare and that this rage against Moreno is actually wasted on him since he already admitted that he was wrong and publicly apologised for his actions.

The rage should be directed instead at the brutal and barbaric practice of "corrida" (bullfighting). Just look at the embedded video below. Strutting animal torturers that call themselves "toreros" are celebrated as heroes in Spain and across much of Latin America including Colombia where public outrage about the owl incident is spiralling out of proportion when we consider that torturing animals to death for entertainment is still legal over there.

The idea of sticking spears into an animal's neck, shoulders and back in order to weaken it, then taunting it for entertainment purposes before repeatedly stabbing the animal between the shoulder blades until one of the thrusts goes through the heart should be abhorrent to most right thinking people. Fans of bullfighting come up with some absurd defences for their practice of torturing animals to death. They claim that it must be done because it is part of "latin cultural identity", which boils down to a simple plea that "we have done it for ages so we should be allowed to continue to do it". Other people have claimed that it offers a more "noble" a life and death for the bull than it would otherwise have in the commercial farming industry, which is just an inaccurate case of whatabouterry based on an absurd notion of "nobility". Commercial farming is no paradise for male cows, slaughterhouses are dismal and horrifying places however it is absurd to claim that being electrically stunned and "humanely slaughtered" is somehow less noble than being tortured to death by a prancing bastard in a clown costume in front of a baying mob.

I do have to admit that I suffer from the same blood lust as some of the less articulate readers of my footy blog when I see commercialised violence against animals, in the guise of a feeling that the bullfighters that get badly mauled by the bull that they have been torturing are getting exactly what they deserve. This blood lust is not constructive, hoping that the occasional bull gets the chance to gorge and trample one of these nasty strutting torturers doesn't achieve anything.

Anyone that is still upset about what Moreno did should get a sense of proportion, if they really feel strongly about protecting animals from abuse they should check out some of the anti-bullfighting campaigns listed below.

 If you enjoyed this post, maybe you could buy me a beer? £1 would get me a can of cheap lager whilst £3 would get me a lovely pint of real ale.