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Nigeria: Ram fighting continues without regulation despite animal rights concerns

Two rams collide as people look on, during the ram fighting competition at the National Stadium in Lagos Nigeria, Sunday, Dec. 3, 2023.   -  
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Sunday Alamba/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved


**In a stadium in Lagos people are preparing for a ram fighting tournament. The spectators here either own the animals or they are here by invitation. **The ram owners view the sparring between the animals as a sport on which they can gamble. Most of the owners are fully employed elsewhere and do this as a hobby.

Like boxing, the rams are categorised according to weight. Rams fight by locking horns in the wild in order to secure sexual dominance over a herd - here they’re encouraged to show dominance as part of the competition.

There is no official regulation of the sport, so the level of care given to the animals depends on the owners who are not members of any sporting body.

At this tournament there are about 100 spectators who’ve entered 70 rams into the competition. They argue it’s not a blood sport because the rams don’t fight to the death and are rarely injured. Olalekan Ogunlaja, a 39-year-old ram farmer, has more than 10 of the animals. He’s been entering his rams in fights for over 20 years.

It stems from a practice between young boys during the 1980s and 1990s. It was common to walk through the streets of the city of Lagos with rams during the annual Muslim festival of Eid-el-Kabir.

The youngsters would assemble at various locations and watch rams butt heads playfully. Olalekan denies this pastime has become a cruel sport. He says his rams are well cared for in the same way as racehorse owners care for their animals, and it is run in the same way as boxing between humans.

“A lot of people complain that ram fighting is animal cruelty, but to us we do have our own rules, if we are doing our competition and there's any blood dropped or any bloodshed, we do stop the competition… people don't complain about that boxing own,” says Olalekan.

Owners say the rams are typically 5 to 6 feet (1.5 to 1.8 meters) from head to tail and weigh between 262 and 280 lbs. They’re named in the same way race horses are. Examples include 'Smallie' (small but mighty), 'Desperado' (Desperate ram), and 'Little Taskforce'.

There are specific rules to follow. At the beginning of a tournament, rams are permitted to deliver 30 'blows' in a regular match.

In a tournament where there is betting, the rams are allowed 70 or more 'blows' before the referee declares a tie. Over the years, many animal activists have advocated for the prohibition of ram fighting in Nigeria.However, enthusiasts argue it is a combative sport.

Spectator Adeniyi Adekunle-Michael says: “This is just something that we take as fun. A lot of people don’t have the time to go and play football or anything, a lot of people don’t even like watching football or basketball or whatever. But this is something that you can watch in live. This is the opportunity just to catch some fun at your leisure hour.”

Foreign exchange trader Ilias Ajuwon is also a fan of ram fighting. He says: “It's something we derive pleasure from. So, we can't do without it. It's something that is part of us. Every Sunday we have to go to different places to watch our rams fight.”

But animal rights activists argue the sport can lead to brain damage in the animals. They say the animals at tournaments are left for hours on end without food or shade from the sun.

Campaigner Kizito Nwogu says: “When you subject a ram to several things that torture the brain, that turns the brain upside down, towards a fellow ram and other human beings, the ram becomes so dangerous, and then as time goes on, when you use ram to perform those practices, they become exhausted to death. So, you see the ram as food and also a means of making money without bothering about the welfare of the animal you are using.”

Nwogu argues the government should introduce a complete ban on ram fighting. He says: “I want government to ban fighting alongside the malpractices that surrounds it, because people that handle this ram, uses this ram, don't care about the welfare of the ram. The only thing they care about is what enters their pockets and how to increase the value of the ram. The ram after all, is seen as a thing, not as the fellow animal that it should be.”

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