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Pets and their people: OX RACE HORROR; Gentle beasts forced to gallop for festival fun.

Byline: BRITT COLLINS

TERRIFIED and bleeding, these exhausted oxen are thrashed into galloping faster during a barbaric chariot race.

Desperate for water, the weary animals have nail-studded spears driven into their backs in a cruel bid to spur them on.

Every year hundreds of the beasts are tortured in this way for entertainment in sick medieval festivals across Southern Italy which leave the roads awash with blood.

Matilda Mench, campaign director of Fight Against Animal Cruelty in Europe (FAACE) which took these undercover pictures of the barbaric races, said: "It was unbearable to watch these meek and gentle animals, bleeding and crying out.

"The beasts' tongues were hanging out and grinning riders were spiking their backs with spears."

Oxen, some old and blind, drag heavy carts over a 4.5km course in the village of Chieuti, Foggia.

Melissa said: "They are made to run at full speed in blasting heat - something cattle are not designed to do. It's so cruel for them to endure such strain in soaring temperatures."

Some collapse from exhaustion but their jeering handlers beat and kick them to make them carry on. Nose rings are yanked to pull them up, making their nostrils pour with blood.

Men on horseback also prod the oxen forwards with spears. Many horses are speared by accident and last year one was put down after breaking its leg.

Incredibly the centuries-old event gets approval from priests who bless the carts and the winner even gets to carry an effigy of St George in a religious procession.

Italian authorities say there is not enough proof of cruelty to take action.

But FAACE will hand its video evidence to the European Union. Matilda said: "We hope People readers will help us make the Italian government see sense by boycotting Southern Italy as a holiday destination."

CAPTION(S):

TORTURE: Gloating revellers prod oxen with spears to make them gallop faster; EXHAUSTED: Ox collapses in the street
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:May 16, 2004
Words:322
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