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The Campaign Aiming to End Vietnam's Gruesome Buffalo Fights

Sharpened horns, gashed eyes and slashed skin are hallmarks of buffalo fighting festivals that animal rights organizations are trying to close down.

The Do Son Water Buffalo Fighting Festival takes place in Do Son District — about 20 kilometers southeast of Hai Phong — on the ninth day of the eighth lunar month. While a similar festival takes place in Vinh Phuc Province, Do Son is easily the biggest, and one of Hai Phong’s most popular annual events.

Accredited as a ‘national intangible cultural heritage’ in September 2013, the festival is said to have occurred since the 18th century. An online tourism site describes the “bravery, chivalry and risk-taking spirit” of those who take part, and says that “locals see buffalo fighting as an enjoyable pastime for the guardian gods of the area.”

In recent years, the number of animals featured in the festival has risen from six to 18, and participants have been seen sharpening the horns of competing buffaloes. Owners of the winning beasts can win prizes of up to US$4,400, although numerous buffalo are also sacrificed during ritualistic ceremonies towards the end of the event.

Animal rights campaigners, who claim the festivals breed mistreatment of animals, are increasingly concerned about the event.

“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,” Dave Neale, Animals Asia's Animal Welfare Director, tells Urbanist Hanoi by email.

In an attempt to change attitudes towards the festival, the Hanoi-based NGO has written to local authorities and tourism agencies, held debates, and organized a drawing competition on animal welfare.

While some images of sacrifices are a little too graphic to include, the following series of images nonetheless contains both photos from the festival and drawings from the recently held competition:

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