Spain may have bull fighting but in Switzerland it is the female that gets to enter the ring. Yes, the normally docile cow gets in touch with her inner bovine boxer and locks horns with her rival to claim the title of "Queen of queens."
These moo fighters belong to the small black-coated Herens or Eringer breed, suitable for trekking through steep mountain paths, and are more wiry, muscular and aggressive than their voluptuous placid cousins munching grass in the meadows down below. The robust alpine breed fight amongst themselves to establish hierarchy within the herd.
The "Battle of the Queens," or "Combat de Reines" is a huge attraction in the Swiss canton of Valois, as well as the Aosta Valley in Italy and parts of France, drawing crowds of thousands to the regional bouts. The tradition goes back to the 17th century but the first official cow fight was organized in 1923. Each year the Swiss season culminates in the grand finals in Martigny in October, which are attended by up to 50,000 spectators.
The tournaments are well ordered affairs, with cows put into different categories according to weight. Then each Daisy or Buttercup enters into a duel for dominancy, locking horns and kicking the dirt to show who's boss. While there is aggression and the battles can sometimes take up to 40 minutes, not much harm is done. In fact an animal rights group that turned up to protest one year went off home once they realized how little violence was actually involved.
In fact sometimes the biggest problem can be getting the divas to enter the fray at all. If a cow refuses to take on an opponent then that's that, she is eliminated.
The long-standing tradition in this region with a history of dairy farming, evokes strong passions. In fact it has even merited academic attention. Yvonne Presiwerk, an anthropologist with the University of Geneva, was so intrigued, she wrote a book "The Land Where Cows Are Queens." She told news Web site Swissinfo a few years ago that the owner was so close to his cow that "he thinks through his animals." She also argued that cow fights were used "to resolve conflicts between people."
Whatever the deeper significance of the cow-on-cow action, what is clear is that it provides a welcome source of entertainment in the region, with people flocking to enjoy the carnival-like atmosphere.
And while the owners get to bask in the reflected glory of their cattle, the triumphant fighter herself gets a new bell. She also gets to lead her herd in a parade, wearing a headpiece of flowers and knowing that she is the top cow in the canton.