Why Are Bulls So Aggressive?

The spate of gorings this summer underscore the apparently overlooked wisdom that it's best not to taunt a dangerous animal.

This summer has not been a great season for bull sporting enthusiasts.

Last week, Francisco Rivera Ordóñez, a famed Spanish matador from a bullfighting dynasty who was on a farewell tour ahead of retirement, was severely injured in a bullfight in Huesca, Spain, and remains in serious condition. Earlier this month, the president of a French bullfighting association, Dominique Perron, along with a nearby photographer were gored when a bull jumped the ring at a bullfighting festival in Bayonne, France.

Despite the injuries these men sustained, they might be considered lucky compared to others who endured even more gruesome outcomes as a result of run-in with bulls.

20 Animals You Could Eat But Probably Won't

Over the past weekend, four people participating in bull festivals across Spain were gored to death. That brings the total number of fatalities from bull runnings to seven since July, an unusually high number for such a short period of time, according to BBC News.

Between 1924, when records on bull-related deaths were first kept, and 2014, 15 people died from gorings, according to The Independent. That might be cause for bull festival enthusiasts and organizers to reconsider the sport, given the temperament and physicality of the animals they're dealing with.

Bullfighting has long been a subject of controversy. Some view it as animal cruelty, with an estimated 250,000 bulls killed every year in Europe for these events, according to Humane Society International. Others consider bullfighting an artistic expression and cultural tradition.

Anti-bullfighting activists have additional ammunition to launch their arguments now that human lives are at risk. Bulls are, after all, dangerous animals. Maybe sports that revolve around humans taunting them for the sake of entertainment isn't such a good idea?

But why are bulls so aggressive? All that charging and thrashing seems like a major waste of energy for an herbivore.

Bulls and Cows Get an Online Dating Website

The bull's bellicosity basically boils down to three root causes: a bull's natural disposition as a result of the animal's social structure, generations of bulls bred for aggression, and isolation from a herd.

Cattle are herd animals. Bulls compete with one another to establish dominance through seniority, intimidation and confrontation. Fights between bulls, which involve head butting and pushing, typically end quickly. Once social order is set, it tends not to change, so there is little need for additional aggression.

For bullfighting events, bulls are bred for aggression on Spanish ranches, "where they are tested for bravery and ferocity," according to HowStuffWorks.com. The Spanish fighting bull is a breed known particularly for being a brawler. The more aggressive the bull, the more entertaining the fight for the audiences at the corridas de toros.

Video: Farm Stink Can Make You Sick, Sick, Sick

Because bulls are herd animals and naturally social, the isolation they face prior to an even can also contribute to their aggression. They are alone in the ring surrounded by humans, who end up essentially harassing the bull. In its natural setting in the presence of other cattle, bulls show less aggression.

Bulls, it should be noted, are not provoked by the color red, as Discovery's Mythbusters proved some years ago. These animals are in fact color-blind, and instead are enticed to charge by the motion of a person or object.

Bull runs and bullfighting festivals are common in Spain throughout the summer, as the season runs from April to September. But a recent spike in deaths in these events may lead organizers and participants to reconsider holding them in the future.