“Social distancing” also shuts down SeaWorld, seal hunt, fur auctions, Kentucky Derby, & the carriage horses in Central Park
PAMPLONA, Spain ––The 700-year-old Festival of San Fermin, featuring bullfights and the “running of the bulls” through the cobbled streets of the oldest part of Pamplona, Spain, was on April 21, 2020 indefinitely postponed due to the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic.
Scheduled for July 7-14, the Festival of San Fermin is the latest of many postponements, cancellations, and quiet retreats removing from visibility some of the most prominent celebrations and symbols of institutional animal abuse.
Tripping and even felling some of the most enduring provocations to animal advocacy, COVID-19 has in a few months accomplished much that organized protest has not.
Animal Care Expo also cancelled––but not Earth Day
Closed for the duration of “social distancing” due to COVID-19 are the SeaWorld orca-and-dolphin-centered theme parks in Orlando, Florida; San Antonio, Texas; and San Diego, California. And with every passing day the Canadian Department of Fisheries & Oceans appears less likely to ever open the 2020 Atlantic Canada seal hunt, initially postponed because of COVID-19 and now probably impossible to hold due to lack of whelping harp and grey seals on the rapidly melting ice floes in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and along the Labrador Front.
Major animal advocacy events have also been cancelled or delayed, notably Animal Care Expo, the signature event of the Humane Society of the U.S., which will not be held in 2020, for the first time since 1992.
But April 22, 2020 activities marking the 50th annual celebration of Earth Day, a highly decentralized event from the beginning in 1970, have scarcely been affected––especially activities centering on animal issues, such as advocating against opening more National Wildlife Refuges to hunting and weakening the Endangered Species Act.
Meanwhile back in Pamplona
“As of today,” acting Pamplona mayor Ana Elizalde told media, “it seems unlikely that the festival will be celebrated this year, but let’s wait and see how the events evolve.”
The “running of the bulls,” made internationally famous by the 1926 Ernest Hemingway novel The Sun Also Rises, annually attracts as many as 1.45 million tourists to Pamplona, about 20,000 of whom actually join in running ahead of the bulls en route from holding pens to the arena.
Dangerous as the event looks, only 15 runners are known to have been killed by bulls since 1910.
Spain by contrast has logged more than 21,000 deaths from COVID-19, about 350 of them in and around Pamplona.
“No place for fireworks, bullfights, or bull runs”
“In this context, there is no place for fireworks, bullfights or bull runs,” Elizalde said.
An economic mainstay of the community, the Festival of San Fermin has been cancelled only four times in at least 228 years for which records exist: in 1937-1938, due to the Spanish Civil War, and in 1978 and 1997 due to other political violence.
Cancellations of other bullfighting events have cost the Spanish bullfighting industry as much as $800 million thus far in 2020, according to industry claims.
But bullfighting has already steeply declined in popularity. The number of bulls killed in Spanish bullrings reportedly fell from about 16,000 in 2008 to circa 7,000 in 2018.
Fur prices collapse at online spring pelt auction
At the opposite end of Europe, in Vantaa, Finland, the fur trade is blaming COVID-19 for yet another catastrophic collapse of sales at the Saga spring pelt auction.
Reported Respect for Animals, headquartered in Nottingham, England, “Saga Furs, the major fur auction house owned by the Finnish fur industry, has released a statement announcing plans to lay off all of its staff for a three-month period. The company has also admitted that its financial results will again be ‘in the negative.’”
Switching to an online auction format, Saga Furs reportedly hoped to sell the pelts of 3.6 million mink, 56,000 tanuki (“raccoon dogs”) nearly 54,000 foxes, and more than 25,000 sable, all of them “raised in terrible factory farm conditions,” Respect for Animals said.
41% sold, at pennies on the dollar
But only 2,375,212 mink pelts were actually put on the block, according to Saga Furs posted auction records, and only 977,763 of those pelts (41%) were sold, at pennies on the dollar compared to the peak years for the international fur trade, now more than 35 years ago.
Only 14% of the fox pelts sold, and only 9% of the tanuki pelts, Respect for Animals said.
“According to Saga Furs latest financial statement,” Respect for Animals continued, “the company’s total sales fell by 28% from the previous year, as the price level of mink skins fell by 24% and fox skins fell by 20%. World mink production is also estimated to have fallen by 20% in 2018,” but the contracting supply did not drive prices up.
Saga Furs auction profits have fallen from 26.7 million Euros since 2013 to net losses in each of the past three winters.
Kopenhagen Fur not optimistic
Kopenhagen Fur, representing the Danish fur industry, whose multi-day spring fur auction opened on April 21, 2020, did not expect a profitable outcome either. Danish mink pelt production reportedly fell from 17 million to 12 million over the past three years––but Denmark still ranks first in the world in mink raised and skinned, since Chinese output has fallen over the same time frame from 40 million pelts per year to about seven million.
Said the Kopenhagen Fur web site, “Kopenhagen Fur expects to sell only 18 million mink skins in 2020,” apparently including holdover stock from previous years.
Whether Kopenhagen Fur actually sells that many would appear to be questionable.
Kentucky Derby postponed
The Kentucky Derby, traditionally run at Churchill Downs in Louisville on the first Saturday in May, except in 1901 when it was run on April 29, and 1945, when it was run on June 9, was on March 17, 2020 pushed back to September 5––if it is run at all.
The other two legs of the Triple Crown series, the Belmont Stakes and the Preakness States, have been indefinitely postponed, with running dates likely to conflict with the Major League Baseball divisional playoffs and World Series, and with pro football, if spectator sports resume.
Horse racing continues for televised audiences, without spectators, at a variety of venues. The Del Mar and Santa Anita tracks in Southern California, notorious for spates of thoroughbred deaths and injuries in 2016 and 2018-2019, respectively, are closed, but at least a dozen horses have died so far in 2020 on the Los Alamitos track in Cypress, California.
Carriage horses vanish from Central Park
Carriage horses working the streets of busy cities, however, have infuriated more animal advocates, for longer, than any other horse issue. Though the carriage trade involves very few horses compared to the racing industry and wild horses removed from the western range, it is prominent in many big cities, especially New York City, where alleged cruelty to carriage horses incited protest from time to time even before Henry Bergh founded the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in New York City in 1866.
“The horse-drawn carriage trade in NYC is currently not operating,” the Coalition To Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages reported on April 20, 2020, the carriage trade having been shut down by order of New York state governor Andrew Cuomo on March 22, 2020, several days after restaurants, bars and schools were closed.
The Coalition To Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages expressed concern for the fate of the estimated 170-180 horses currently belonging to more than 60 carriage owners.
Where did the horses go?
“The horses are privately owned and the owners are not obligated to tell the Department of Health where they are––whether they are on farms or have been sent to auction for sale,” the Coalition To Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages said.
“It is possible that some horses are in their midtown stables and hopefully cared for by staff,” the coalition continued, while noting, “There are no pastures in NYC, and if exercised, the horses would need to be walked up and down the street,” where none are known to have been seen.
“Owner/drivers will need to continue to pay rent for stable space in the NYC stables and outside of the city,” the Coalition To Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages mentioned. “Do they have the money to weather the storm or will they dump their horses?”
As the present New York City carriage horse stables are in an area slated for development, it is possible that the carriage horse industry there, at least, is at an end––unless the city reopens to tourism soon, and assuming tourists are willing to return in significant numbers to the city.
COVID-19 as of April 21, 2020 had killed 10,667 New Yorkers, more than twice the toll in the whole of China, and more than the toll in all but four of the other 203 nations and island territories where COVID-19 cases have occurred.