Racing bulls: A jockey spurs on his bulls during the 2010 President’s Cup race in Pamekasan, Madura Island, in this Oct. 24, 2010, photo. The East Java administration has banned the traditional racing which animal lovers say constitutes cruelty against animals. (JP/Indra Harsaputra)
The East Java provincial administration has temporarily banned karapan sapi bull racing, a cultural icon of the community in Madura, following calls from local clerics opposed to cruelty to animals.
East Java Tourism Office’s Tourism Product Development Affairs head Sunarmaji said his office had banned the karapan sapi until further notice, including the President’s Cup event that was to be run at the end of December.
“The ban has been mutually agreed upon by the government, clerics and bull owners in Madura,” Sunarmaji told The Jakarta Post on Friday.
The karapan sapi was introduced in the 13th century by Pengeran Katandur, known and revered as Sayyid Ahmad Baidawi, a grandson of Sunan Kudus from Sapudi Island, Sumenep, Madura.
Apart from generating additional income from tourists visiting Madura, the karapan sapi has also brought positive benefits for local small businesses, including egg sellers who earn millions of rupiah from selling eggs used as a dietary supplement for the bulls.
Besides the egg business, lodgings, hotels and restaurants in Pamekasan, where the karapan sapi is usually organized, also see full occupancy.
In its development, however, wildlife activists and clerics allege the karapan sapi has changed and become a cruel activity.
In order to make the bulls run faster around the arena provided by race organizers, the animal handlers smear hot balm on the animals’ anus and eyes and beat them with a spiked stick injuring the bulls’ hide.
Indonesian Veterinarian Association (PDHI) head Wiwiek Bagja said the effect on bulls smeared with hot balm and beaten with sharp objects was the same as humans would suffer if treated in such a way.
“The karapan sapi causes the animals to suffer pain,” said Wiwiek, who is also an animal welfare lecturer in several universities throughout Indonesia.
Madurese cleric Munif Sayuti said the karapan sapi, including the torture, deviated from Islamic teachings and law.
“In several hadith, Prophet Muhammad told his companions about a woman who went to hell for placing a cat in a cage and not feeding it,” he said.
Munif said clerics had actually urged people not to engage in cruelty against animals in the karapan sapi over the past several years.
The Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) has banned animal cruelty during karapan sapi races.
Animal welfare activists have also urged the government to ban cruelty in karapan sapi races.
Indonesia is a member of the World Animal Health Organization (WAHO), an international animal health institute which has established basic principles for animal welfare.
It is claimed that the karapan sapi violates WAHO principles, in which animals must be free from pain and injury.
A race bull owner from Sampang, Madura, Sahid, however, rejected the association of the karapan sapi with cruelty because, he said, before a race the bulls were provided with extra care which could cost more than Rp 180 million (US$18,793) every six months.
As well as traditional jamu herbal concoctions, the bulls are also given eggs and high-quality grass to make them strong and healthy.
“If a bull is injured during a race, we will take care of it and the wounds will heal in five days. I also don’t want to hurt the bulls, but without hot balm and spiked whips, it would be hard for the bulls to run more than 100 meters,” he said.
Sahid added the ban on the karapan sapi had also caused egg sellers, grass suppliers and buisness owners in Madura to lose income.
“The government and clerics like to impose bans but never provide solutions to improve people’s welfare,” he said.