Open letter calls for end to Vietnam’s biggest buffalo fighting festival

10 November 2017

The buffalos will be slaughtered right after the festival for selling

As a display of death, injury and extreme animal cruelty, the annual festival negatively affects Vietnamese society and reflects badly abroad.

Animals Asia has launched a fresh appeal to authorities in Vietnam’s northern Haiphong province to end to a buffalo fighting contest in which every single animal faces horrific injuries before a terrifying, brutal death.

Not a single buffalo survives the Do Son festival, one of Vietnam’s biggest annual events, which has been staged in the port city of Haiphong every year for almost three decades.

After fighting all the animals are slaughtered - electric shocks are used to stun them before their legs are hacked off and their throats slit - and the meat is sold outside the arena.

The Do Son festival was put on hold earlier this year pending a security review after a man was gored and killed by his own buffalo during a qualifying contest in July.

Even though a referee and members of the public have been injured by charging buffaloes before, the festival’s first human fatality sparked calls from animal lovers and campaigners, including Animals Asia, to end the barbaric contest.

Despite public outcry over the event, the festival took place in September after organisers promised to put in place safety measures, such as reinforced fences.

In an open letter to the Haiphong authorities, Animals Asia’s Animal Welfare Director Dave Neale said the abuse of animals for entertainment was harmful to both the animals and the people watching the spectacle.

Young children who witness such brutality risk growing up inured to the sight of cruelty against animals - and other people. Animal abuse is also linked to domestic violence and violence against children.

“A number of studies have shown that people who witness or conduct cruelty to animals are more likely to be violent to others within their community,” Dave wrote.

Cruelty is the common theme of the festival from start to tragic end.

In the lead up to the festival, many buffaloes are fed dubious stimulants such as bear bile, python oil and even chemical stimulants in the belief it will help them to win the contest, which offers up to $4,400 in prize money or 10 times the average monthly income in Vietnam.

To get buffaloes used to the clamour of the crowds, gongs are bashed close to their heads, causing disorientation and profound stress. Before the fight, owners do everything possible to agitate their animals into an aggressive state, goading them to attack but using a short leash to yank them back.

After the contest, the buffaloes are led out of the arena, broken, maimed and bleeding, only to be violently killed and butchered.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

In response to a 2014 campaign by Animals Asia, organisers of the Nem Thuong Pig Slaughter Festival have come under sustained criticism from all corners of Vietnamese society, appalled that such a barbaric event is used to mark Lunar New Year, the most integral celebration in Vietnamese culture.

The annual event disappeared in the early part of the 20th century only to be artificially revived in 1999. Since the criticism, the event has been forced to fundamentally change its programme although two pigs are still slaughtered.

The campaign directly led to the Ministry of Culture, Sport and Tourism instructing provinces to stamp out all “out-dated” and “uncivilised” events. Since then, no less than seven events have been scrapped.

Dave said:

“These success stories reflect the overwhelming desire among ordinary Vietnamese to treat animals with kindness not cruelty. It shows that many people in this vibrant, modern country believe traditions that are based on tormenting, torturing and killing animals in the most painful way possible belong to the past.

“The continued staging of the Do Son festival cannot be justified in any way. It sends the wrong educational message to the public and younger generation that animals are there to serve as entertainment for humans, no matter how badly they are exploited or abused in the process.

“It also goes against the government of Vietnam’s own instructions to end such outdated, uncivilised events which are utterly at odds with the modern Vietnam.”