Another year, another bullfighter gored in the Zapote ring.
Luis Salas remains in serious condition at San José’s Calderón Guardia hospital after he was flung into the air by a 990-pound bull Sunday night at the close of San José’s Zapote festival.
An injury like Salas’ is not unusual at a traditional Tico bullfight like the ones held at Zapote. Unlike the bullfights in Spain or Mexico where the animal is killed, Tico bullfights put random bystanders — known in Spanish as improvisados — into the ring to taunt bulls into charging at them. Improvisados who put on a good show by teasing and then evading the bull are rewarded with the crowd’s admiration and, occasionally at bigger festivals, cold hard cash.
Salas was performing such a feat when he was injured while sitting on his knees jeering at a bull named Bayo. Bayo charged forward and dug his left horn deep into Salas’s shoulder. Live footage of the incident aired on Teletica.
Though Salas was the most severely injured at this year’s Zapote festival, he was not the only one roughed up by the bulls. Forty-three other improvisados were remitted to Calderón Guardia on Sunday alone, and in the festival’s first five days, the Red Cross treated 186 people on site. According to the Red Cross, a total of 4,070 amateur bullfighters required medical treatment at the annual Zapote festival between 2007 to 2013.
The festivals are widely beloved in Costa Rica — more than 30,000 people went to Zapote on Jan. 1 alone — but the bullfights also routinely draw criticism. On Christmas, dozens of animal rights activists gathered at the festival to protest the treatment of bulls during the traditional fights. Though no bulls are killed during a Tico bullfight, animal rights activists have long condemned the prodding and teasing the bulls are subjected to.
Salas’ injury prompted former President Laura Chinchilla to speak out on her Facebook page. While the former leader acknowledged the cultural importance of the bullfights, she condemned their violent nature.
“Some enter the ring for money and some for risk and glory,” she wrote. “But despite the motivations of these ‘improvised bullfighters,’ they make a lot of money for those in charge of the spectacle.”