Today's Paper

Breeder to clone bull-fighting stud

Giles Tremlett

MADRID: The steam rising from the flanks of the 450 kg. bull known as Alcalde is a sign that one of bullfighting’s best-known studs is still healthy, despite his advanced age.

At 16 years old, however, the sire of some of the most famous fighting bulls of recent times may be living through his last winter, leaving his owner, Victoriano del Rio, facing up to the loss of his most valuable stud animal.

But Del Rio has come up with a simple solution for continuing the long-running success of Alcalde’s sons, many of whom have died in the bullfighting rings of Spain over the past decade: he will clone him.

The cells needed have already been harvested and are being kept at 170 degrees below zero at a laboratory in the United States. When the European Union gives permission for them to shipped over from Texas to Spain, Alcalde will become the first fighting bull stud to have a clone. Del Rio hopes the new animal will be born by the end of next year.

The clone will, like the original Alcalde, start being used as a stud when he reaches the age of two. His sons should start entering Spain’s bullfighting arenas in 2016.

“No animal is exactly the same as another, but the specialists tell me that the basic physical phenotype of a fine, well-built, long-necked bull can be guaranteed,” Del Rio told Spain’s ABC newspaper. A stud bull can father some 40 fighting bulls every year.

A good bull is as essential to a good fight as a talented torero. On at least 20 occasions the matadors who killed Alcalde’s offspring have been awarded the ultimate accolade of being carried out of a bull-ring’s main door on the shoulders of fans. That is the sort of success Del Rio hopes for from the offspring of Alcalde’s clone.

Not all is genetics, however, in the world of bullfighting. Nurture helps define a bull’s character as much as nature, so Del Rio says cloning will never achieve a production line of identical bulls for matadors to fight and kill.

“The genetic information is the same, but the degree of bravura — of courage —varies,” he said. “Let no one think that, with this clone, the torero can know exactly what awaits him.”

Del Rio has likened his prize bull to a work of art, saying Alcalde is bullfighting’s equivalent of a painting by Rubens or Velazquez. The job of cloning Alcalde has been given to the Texas-based ViaGen company. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2008

Recommended for you