DO SON, Vietnam (AP) — Vietnam's annual water buffalo fighting festival resumed Thursday despite calls for an end to the traditional event because of its violence.
The tournament was halted temporarily three months ago after a buffalo killed its owner on the fighting field. It was the first human fatality, although buffaloes have died in fights before.
More safety measures, including re-enforced fences and tests of buffaloes for stimulants, have been put in place since then.
On Thursday, about 20,000 people crowded the stadium in the resort town of Do Son in Hai Phong to watch the finals, in which 16 buffaloes were pit against each other.
"I'm really happy and proud," said Luu Dinh Toi, whose buffalo was the winner.
Toi's buffaloes have participated in many festivals, but this was the first time one was the winner.
"I was the one who cut grass to feed my buffalo and stay with him overnight over the past year," he said. "Today, my buffalo rewarded me for my care."
In accordance with tradition, all losing buffaloes were slaughtered right after the end of the tournament. The winning buffalo will be killed the next day as a tribute to God.
"I'm very sad that my buffalo will be slaughtered for God tomorrow," Toi said. "I feel like I'm losing something, but that's the tradition left behind by our ancestors and I have no choice."
The death in early July sparked a heated debate over whether to continue the festival.
Nguyen Tam Thanh of the animal welfare group Animals Asia in Vietnam said his group is opposed to events where animals are maltreated or used to entertain people.
"This year's festival is very disappointing," he said. "Our group had hoped that the deadly incident would serve as a warning ... but regrettably, the festival still went ahead and the community's ideas were not respected."
Buffalo fighting was halted during the Vietnam War and resumed in the late 1980s.