Spain's San Fermin Running of the Bulls festival got under way on Wednesday, held for the first time in three years after COVID-related disruption.
The event in Pamplona began with the traditional “chupinazo” firework blast at noon.
It comes after dozens of animal rights activists dressed as dinosaurs and were chased by fellow activists through the streets of the city on Tuesday. Carrying signs reading "Bullfighting is Prehistoric", the protests were an attempt to highlight what they see as the animal cruelty involved in the event.
"Bullfighting is the long ritualized execution of bulls and many tourists who come and do the bull-running don't actually realize that the same bulls they're running down a couple of streets with are later killed in the bull ring that day," said Chelsea Monroe, PETA senior digital campaign officer.
But the demonstrations do little to dampen enthusiasm for San Fermín, which normally sees Pamplona's population of some 200,000 swell to around one million during peak days of the nine-day festival.
Aída Gascón, director of AnimaNaturalis said the debate over the future of bullfighting in Spain has never been so alive.
"The majority of society rejects bullfighting because they consider it cruel, but there are still many political supporters", said Gascón.
Bullfighting is still immensely popular in Spain although the movement against it has gained much momentum in recent years.
Bullfighting is banned only in the Canary Islands although it is not practised much, or at all, in some other regions such as Catalonia and the Balearic Islands, which include Mallorca, Menorca and Ibiza.
The animal rights groups cite culture ministry figures, saying 90% of Spaniards did not attend any festival event involving bulls in 2014-2015, the last year the issue was surveyed.