Cockfighting: Cruelty or Culture?

cockfighting Fernando-Decillis

“The idea of bullfighting as an expression of culture is considered archaic to many, today. At the beginning of every bullfighting season and before every bull fight, there was a group consisting mostly of college students from all over the city demanding this ‘cultural practice’ be put to an end. Finally, this year, mayor Gustavo Petro announced his plans to turn the bullfighting ring into a center for culture and education. This is considered a major step forward in the developing nation of Colombia. Yet deep in the urban barrios of south Bogota, the practice of fighting cocks still exists.

“Small crowds gather on Friday and Saturday nights in halls specially designed to house these brutal fights. As I entered, the smell of the fried chicken wafted through the air. The girl sitting at the door scoured me with her eyes before permitting me entrance. I walked into the small arena and was overwhelmed by how much work it seemed to take to get this whole thing moving. It’s more of a practice of preening the prima ballerina than throwing two chickens in a ring and watching them kill each other. One bird is pitted against another, after being strapped with sharp prosthetic claws made of tortoise shells, sanitized with lime, plucked up to the breast, oiled, and weighed.

“I documented as much of the event as I could as I was seeing it. This poor-man’s past time is engrained into the Saturday night culture of the people who participate. Decide for yourself if it’s cruelty or culture.”

Fernando Decillis is a Bogota-based advertising photographer who was inspired to photograph cockfighting after reading an article about the recent mayoral decision to shut down the bullfighting ring in Bogota.

cockfighting Fernando-Decillis


cockfighting Fernando-Decillis

cockfighting Fernando-Decillis

cockfighting Fernando-Decillis

  • Disgusted with Feature Shoot for posting this. Animal abuse should never be considered art. Whoever made the curatorial decision to post this – how can you honestly ask the question: Cruelty or Culture? How it is even possible that we are still asking this question? I am blown away and saddened.

  • Mel Gregory

    I am also saddened and outraged with your photo essay. Even if it is culture, that does not make it right. We had no problem with doing away with head hunting so why not cock fighting.

  • rob

    Shameful, you’ve hit a new low

  • Alison Zavos

    Mel and Jess,
    Thanks for your comments. I’ve been vegetarian for over a decade and I personally agree that cockfighting is cruel and inhumane. But I’m also aware of the cultural differences between myself and someone living in rural Columbia. And truthfully, a life of a cockfighter in Columbia is probably much preferable to the life of a chicken in a factory farm in the U.S…(too bad that does not stop people from eating chicken and supporting this massive industry).

    This blog does not support animal abuse as art. This work is documentary photography and as disturbing as it may be, I believe it deserves to be seen.

  • Hi Jess & Mel, (and Alison!)
    Thanks for your responses to the article. I’m Kim- I work with Fernando and helped write the article that goes with this feature.
    Fernando and I both agree that cock fighting is a horrible and ugly practice. A colleague of Fernando invited us to go watch the fight- we were actually quite hesitant, “horrific,” I thought, when he mentioned it to me. Fer’s colleague, comes from a family who raises, trains, and preens the birds to fight. Of course, the consideration to pass up his offer crossed our minds. We talked about it for a little while, and decided that refusing the offer would have been a neutral act, while going and taking photographs would document a mysterious and dark side of the human psyche. I don’t know from where the drive to watch other living things suffer comes. It saddens and angers me, AND- it happens.
    Over the phone, Fernando says to me, “I didn’t take these pictures to make people smile!” -I think that sums it up.
    And Alison- you make a good point about chicken farms in the U.S. Maybe we’ll go there next.

  • Just because you may not morally agree with something, doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve to be seen. I don’t see this post as promoting cock fighting, it is as Alison said, a documentary project.

    If we all agreed to never show projects that disgusted us we wouldn’t see half of the images we’re subjected to in the news. And most of these images are shown to enlighten us, despite our disgust…

  • tribyen

    I don’t see how that is an either/or question. Something can be linked to culture while at the same time being an undeniably cruel practice. All you have to do is replace “cock” with “dog” or “bull”. It’s causing animals to fight/injure/kill each other for enjoyment and profit by humans.

  • Realist

    Clean up your culture first on animal welfare before you point fingers on cockfight loving cultures!

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