Cruelty to Animals: Spain Criticized for "Quail Catapulting"

The Spanish sport of quail-catapulting, in which the birds are flung into the air alive and shot down, highlights that cruelty to animals is a firm part of Spain's culture, says Germany's animal welfare society. Germany has had some cruel traditions too, though. Ever heard of cat-poking? Or goose-clubbing?

Germany's animal welfare organization has protested against a form of quail shooting practiced in a region of Spain in which baby quails are fired from a cannon and then shot down for fun.

Thousands of quails are being killed in this way in the region of Valencia on Spain's Mediterranean coast, said the German Animal Protection Federation -- Europe's largest animal welfare society, with 700,000 members.

Photos showing the quails, bred for the purpose and just a few weeks old, being pushed into a cannon, fired into the air and fired at with a shotgun were published in Germany's Bild newspaper on Tuesday.

"Spain tends to defend behavior that is cruel to animals by arguing that it is part of its tradition and cultural heritage," said Thomas Schröder, director of the federation, noting that animal rights groups routinely complain about bullfighting.

He noted that Spain was a top destination for German tourists, some of whom have come back with shocking accounts of the birds being mistreated in this way.

The federation issued a statement complaining about quail catapulting two years ago in which it declared that Spain was more cruel to animals than any other country in Europe. Schröder said the group had in 2005 sent letters to the Spanish embassy in Berlin and to Spain's Queen Sofia, but had received no response.

Animal rights campaigners scored a success in 2000 when the village of Manganeses de la Polvorosa in northwestern Spain abandoned its annual custom of tossing a live goat from the church tower.

He noted that Germany itself is not free of bizarre and cruel traditions such as "tomcat poking". In 2004, the federation filed a legal complaint against people in the eastern German village of Wiednitz who had carried out the medieval custom for a bachelor party.

They put a young cat in a sack and locked him in a crate which had a hole drilled in the side. Blindfolded, they prodded the broomstick through the hole to make the cat miaow while others banged on the crate. The cat was released after 45 minutes of torture. "It was like in the Middle Ages," said Schröder. The tradition has since been abandoned.

Another German custom is "goose clubbing", which used to be popular in the industrial Ruhr region of the northwest: A goose is hung up and clubbed until its head comes off. Villagers still indulge in the custom, although these days the goose is killed before it is strung up, said Schröder.

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