Fact Check

Is This the Exact Moment a Bullfighter Became an Anti-Bullfighting Activist?

A photograph purportedly captures the moment torero Álvaro Múnera became an opponent of bullfights.

Published July 16, 2012

A photograph captures the exact moment torero Álvaro Múnera became an opponent of bullfights.

The career of eighteen-year-old Colombian torero Álvaro Múnera (known by the nickname "El Pilarico") ended when he was gored by a bull during a bullfight in 1984, with the resultant spinal cord and cranial injuries leaving him paralyzed. Múnera has since become a council member in his hometown of Medellín, a position from which he advocates for the rights of the disabled and promotes anti-bullfighting campaigns.

A widely circulated photograph displayed above purports to have captured Múnera at the very moment, in the middle of a bullfight, when he came to the realization that what he was doing was an injustice to animals and decided to henceforth campaign against bullfighting:


"And suddenly, I looked at the bull. He had this innocence that all animals have in their eyes, and he looked at me with this pleading. It was like a cry for justice, deep down inside of me. I describe it as being like a prayer — because if one confesses, it is hoped, that one is forgiven. I felt like the worst shit on earth."

This photo shows the collapse of Torrero Alvaro Munera, as he realized in the middle of his last fight ... the injustice to the animal. From that day forward he became an opponent of bullfights.


Although Múnera did undergo such a conversion, this photograph doesn't depict the instant of his change of heart, for a number of reasons:

  • Múnera didn't undergo his epiphany against bullfighting in the middle of a bullfight; he stopped participating in that activity only when he was forced out of the ring for good after a goring permanently paralyzed him.
  • The posture shown in the photograph is not one of a torero collapsing or expressing contrition; rather, it's a common posture of desplante (defiance), a bit of showmanship in which the torero indicates his total domination of the bull by taking up what appears to be a dangerous position in front of the animal's horns. (Also, the quotation that accompanies the photograph was not spoken by Múnera; it is the work of Spanish writer Antonio Gala, who was not himself a torero.)
  • As detailed at The Last Arena blog, this photograph isn't a picture of Múnera at all, but rather a photo of some other torero.
  • In a 2008 interview, Múnera expressed that his conversion to an anti-bullfighting animal rights defender did not occur at any one moment in the ring, but was part of an ongoing process that began before, and extended after, the accident that ended his career:

    Q: Did you ever think of quitting bullfighting before that bull confined you to a wheelchair?

    A: Yes, there were several critical moments. Once I killed a pregnant heifer and saw how the fetus was extracted from her womb. The scene was so terrible that I puked and started to cry. I wanted to quit right there but my manager gave me a pat on my back and said I shouldn't worry, that I was going to be an important bullfighting figure and scenes like that were a normal thing to see in this profession. I'm sorry to say that I missed that first opportunity to stop. I was 14 and didn't have enough common sense. Some time later, in an indoor fight, I had to stick my sword in five or six times to kill a bull. The poor animal, his entrails pouring out, still refused to die. He struggled with all his strength until the last breath. This caused a very strong impression on me, and yet again I decided it wasn't the life for me. But my travel to Spain was already arranged, so I crossed the Atlantic. Then came the third chance, the definitive one. It was like God thought, "If this guy doesn't want to listen to reason, he'll have to learn the hard way." And of course I learned.

    Q: What was the decisive factor that made you an animal-rights defender?

    When I went to the U.S. [for medical treatment], where I had to face an antitaurine society that cannot conceive how another society can allow the torture and murder of animals. It was my fellow students, the doctors, nurses, the other physically disabled people, my friends, my North American girlfriend, and the aunt of one of my friends, who said I deserved what happened to me. Their arguments were so solid that I had to accept that it was me who was wrong and that the 99 percent of the human race who are firmly against this sad and cruel form of entertainment were totally right. Many times the whole of the society is not to blame for the decisions of their governments. Proof of this is that most people in Spain and Colombia are genuinely anti-bullfighting. Unfortunately there's a minority of torturers in each government supporting these savage practices.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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