By Ruth Sharpe
“WE WILL never visit your country again.” This is the shocking reaction that ANIMAL, Portugal’s premier animal rights organisation, regularly encounters after tourists see how animals are treated in Portugal.
ANIMAL was founded in 1994 in Porto and, after conducting much of its activity in Lisbon, it is now based in Portimão, run by director Miguel Moutinho and Rita Silva.
ANIMAL campaigns against bullfights, rodeos, animal circuses, pigeon shooting, zoos, the fur industry, vivisection and the use and exploitation of animals for food.
High profile campaigns, initiatives and court cases have helped turn Portugal from a nation indifferent to the suffering of animals into a nation increasingly aware, concerned and active in defence of animals.
Portugal and animal rights
Miguel and Rita are adamant that Portugal still has the worst record in Europe in terms of animal rights, they say only Greece comes close to equaling its poor record.
Miguel and Rita, who campaign and lobby for countless causes, are extremely frustrated at how little politicians listen to them and the publics reaction to their campaigns.
Those that do take notice of the information provided by ANIMAL are rarely compelled to donate money or help their cause, a stark contrast to the charitable nature of the UK and other, more developed EU countries. This means that ANIMAL face huge limitations with what they can achieve.
With so many animals in need and the many issues that need facing, they struggle to fund their organisation and find volunteers to aid the cause.
ANIMAL works in partnership with many UK organisations, including the League Against Cruel Sports and Animal Defenders International (ADI).
Miguel and Rita feel they do not receive as much help from other, larger foreign organisations, due to Portugal’s lack of political and economic influence. “No one cares about Portugal,” states Rita, who sees more investment in animal rights going into Eastern Europe and countries like Germany, who hold more political sway.
Bullfighting and animal circus events are still an ongoing spectacle in the Algarve. ANIMAL are encouraging tourists and foreign residents to make the authorities aware of their strong opinions against these so-called forms of entertainment and, in particular, help them make the Algarve an anti-bullfighting zone.
The organisation recently carried out the Anti-bullfighting city campaign, where a vehicle, carrying a three metre by four metre publicity panel, visited 10 cities in the Algarve making public announcements urging people to boycott bullfights. The vehicle circulated city centres and tourist zones, in an attempt to get the local population and tourists to apply pressure against local authorities.
The tourist trap
Bullfighting and circus shows tend to occur in the summer season to accommodate tourists, who may be unaware of the mistreatment that the animals involved go through.
Even though bullfights are not an important part of the Portuguese culture, and most of the population does not attend these spectacles, câmaras approve them with the belief that they will attract tourists.
Miguel describes how tourists are a vital part of the Portuguese economy and are probably unaware of the huge sway that they can hold. “These bullfights and circuses are deliberately preying on tourists with children, many of whom visit the spectacles and are then horrified by the suffering they see,” he said. “We want to ensure that tourists don’t visit these events in the first place and, if tourists send a clear message to the authorities, this animal suffering will be stopped.”
For the bulls involved, ANIMAL says bullfighting is an ordeal of continuous torture and terror. Firstly they are transported to the bullfighting ring in cages that are too small for them, which can result in them losing up to 10 per cent of their body weight due to stress.
Before entry into the ring the end of the bull’s horns are sawn off without any anaesthetic, causing blood loss and severe pain to the bull. They are also deprived of food and water before the fight, leaving them weak when they enter the ring.
Far from being the aggressive animals that bullfighting supporters advocate, the bulls’ behaviour in the ring is rooted in terror.
ANIMAL are targeting tourists, especially those from the UK, to help their anti-bullfighting campaign, as they bring substantial funding to cities in the Algarve, and are likely to have the most influence on local authorities.
By getting tourists to boycott certain towns in favour of anti-bullfighting zones, ANIMAL hope that politicians will begin to take notice.
In October 2005, ADI and ANIMAL launched a Stop Circus Suffering campaign in Portugal. In March 2006, the campaign came face-to-face with multi-national TV giant, Endemol, the company behind the television reality show, Big Brother, when it unveiled its latest reality TV show in Portugal, Celebrity Circus, broadcast on Portuguese television station TVI.
ADI and ANIMAL launched a campaign urging Endemol, TVI and the Celebrity Circus sponsors to remove the animals from the show, as well as raise awareness about animal suffering in circuses.
A DVD showing horrific footage of animals suffering in Portuguese circuses, including Circo Victor Hugo Cardinalli, was sent to every Endemol office around the world.
ANIMAL tirelessly pressured the broadcaster and the sponsors, with protests at the doors of the companies involved, e-mails from supporters, faxes and phone calls. Steadily, the programme received more and more negative publicity, causing sponsors RE/MAX, Bom Petisco, Credial and Bayer to withdraw their support, leaving Endemol to fund the completion of the series themselves, at a large financial loss.
You can make a difference
There are numerous ways you can get involved and help ANIMAL, all of which can be found online at www.animal.org.pt or www.cidadeantitourada.org.
ANIMAL feel it is up to English speaking residents and tourists to make the first move.
If you would like a copy of the DVD revealing the shocking treatment animals face in Portuguese circuses, or would like to make a donation to ANIMAL, contact Miguel or Rita on 282 491 216 or 962 358 183.