The Monumental Plaza de Toros in Mexico City—the world’s largest bullfighting arena—is no longer a venue for bullfights. The bullring closed its doors indefinitely last month, after a judge issued a suspension on bullfighting shows in the Mexican capital. This is the first time in its 76-year history that the 50,000-seat Monumental Plaza de Toros has been legally prevented from staging bullfights.

Judge Jonathan Bass’s decision was based on Article 13-B of the local constitution of Mexico City, which guarantees the "right to a healthy environment" and recognizes animals as “sentient beings.” In 2016, Humane Society International/Mexico worked with local legislators to ensure the constitution reflected citizen concern for animal welfare. We are extremely honored to have participated in the drafting of the constitution and the shaping of that article, which ultimately made this ban possible. We’re also grateful to the lawsuit filed by Justicia Justa, a civil society organization, which brought this issue to court.

Mexico City’s constitution is one of the most animal-friendly in the Americas. It includes far-reaching animal protection language that recognizes animals as sentient beings who should be treated with dignity and whose welfare must be protected. As part of that moral consideration, it frames their care as a common responsibility of citizens and local authorities. It also mandates secondary laws to determine penalties for animal abuse and guidelines for wildlife protection and humane practices for farm animals.

The judge’s decision took account of a study by the Environmental and City Planning Attorney General of Mexico City that describes the suffering and injuries caused to the bulls during the fights. Backed by scientific evidence, the research shows that bulls forced to participate in the spectacle of bullfighting suffer agonizing pain before dying. One of the authors of the study, ethologist Claudia Teresa Edwards, who serves as programs director for HSI/Mexico, shows there is sufficient evidence derived from neurophysiology, pathology and ethology, to argue that animals such as bulls are sentient, capable of feeling pain and generating diverse emotions.

As with any major step forward for animal protection, there has been controversy over the judge’s decision. Bullfighting still has a significant fan base in Mexico, and its supporters see the decision as an attack on one of the country’s long-standing traditions. (The city hosted its first bullfight to honor Spanish conqueror Hernan Cortes in 1526.) Mexico remains one of the handful of countries that still allows traditional bullfighting: Bulls are raised for the fight and usually die in the ring at the tip of the matador’s sword. But the tradition is swiftly falling out of favor as citizens become ever more concerned for animals. Since 2013, five states in Mexico—Coahuila, Guerrero, Quintana Roo, Sinaloa and Sonora—have banned bullfights, and several polls indicate substantial citizen support for a ban. According to a leading polling agency, 80% of Mexico City’s inhabitants consider bullfighting a cruel spectacle in which animals are abused.1

I’ve thought about this issue for a long time because it has come up in discussions of global declarations of heritage under UNESCO and other international entities in which I’ve played a part. But claims of tradition are not a warrant for animal cruelty. As Judge Bass pointed out, "society demands that the physical and emotional integrity of all animals, including bulls, is respected."

We agree with Judge Bass, and we are enormously grateful to him for issuing this suspension as well as to all the concerned citizens who believe that bullfighting should be banned. This is a critical step forward for a more humane future for animals. In the world we’re trying to build, there’s no room for such cruelty.

Follow Kitty Block on Twitter @HSUSKittyBlock

1Parametria Poll conducted in Mexico City on November 2018 with a representative sample of 400 participants and a margin of error of +/- 4.9%.