Cruelty v. tradition as festival’s use of donkey questioned

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Bernabé was led through the streets of Villanueva de la Vera for more than an hour during the village's annual Peropalo festival.
Bernabé was led through the streets of Villanueva de la Vera for more than an hour during the village’s annual Peropalo festival.

A petition with more than 24,000 signatures has been presented to government officials in Spain calling for a change in the law to stop the use of a live donkey in the Peropalo festival.

The annual Peropalo festival, the origins of which are not known, depicts the historical hanging of a rapist by dragging a donkey ridden by a drunk man through the cramped streets of the village of Villanueva de la Vera in the province of Cáceres.

Tests on Bernabé, the donkey used in the festival earlier this year, showed increased levels of cortisol in his blood after the event when compared to the sample taken before, said Veronica Sanchez, director of El Refugio del Burrito, the Spanish branch of international charity The Donkey Sanctuary. The charity had been campaigning for a change in the law regarding the use of a donkey at the festival, which is allowed due to a legal loophole that permits animal cruelty when part of a cultural tradition.

“Our scientific tests don’t lie,” she said. “We know the donkey has to endure stress and trauma as part of its participation in the festival, but for anyone that doubted it, we now have categorical proof – and the authorities need to act on that proof.”

On Tuesday representatives from El Refugio del Burrito handed a petition, containing 24,229 signatures, to regional government officials of Extremadura, Spain calling for a change in the law to stop the use of a live donkey in the Peropalo festival.

Extremadura’s Chief of Interior Affairs and Health and Safety at Public Events, Victor Garcia Vega receiving the petition from Veronica Sanchez, director of El Refugio del Burrito.
Extremadura’s Chief of Interior Affairs and Health and Safety at Public Events, Victor Garcia Vega receiving the petition from Veronica Sanchez, director of El Refugio del Burrito.

Extremadura’s Chief of Interior Affairs and Health and Safety at Public Events Victor Garcia Vega received the petition from Sanchez and donkey welfare adviser Andrea Torreño.

“El Refugio del Burrito and The Donkey Sanctuary would like to thank Victor Garcia Vega for the opportunity to meet with us, where positive discussions were held. This is an important milestone in our campaign to stop the use of a donkey in the Peropalo festival,” Sanchez said.

“We would like to also thank all those who have supported our campaign and signed our petition. We can end abuse such as this only with our collective voice.”

A recent opinion poll showed that 61% of adults in Spain agree the authorities should do more to stop the use of live animals in festivals if they are stressed and at risk of physical harm.

The Donkey Sanctuary firmly believes that Peropalo is no place for a live donkey, and the festivities could easily continue without one.

“We recognise that it is important to maintain traditions, but not where they cause unnecessary harm to animals,” said Simon Pope, rapid response and campaigns manager at The Donkey Sanctuary.

“Cruelty like this has no place in a modern, forward-looking Spain, and the veterinary results are supported by the poll results that the people of Spain are of this opinion too. Unless the Extremadura authorities act in response to the polls findings, they will not be reflecting the will of their own people.”

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