In the heart of Lagos, a unique spectacle unfolds as enthusiasts gather in a stadium for a ram fighting tournament. Unlike mainstream sports events, this underground activity involves rams engaging in combat, with owners viewing the sparring as a sport open to gambling. Much like the world of boxing, the rams, carefully categorized by weight, lock horns to display dominance, harking back to their wild instincts. This peculiar pastime has its roots in the streets of Lagos during the 1980s and 1990s when it was common for young boys to walk with rams during the annual Muslim festival of Eid-el-Kabir.
What started as playful headbutting among the rams has evolved into a competitive sport, attracting enthusiasts like Olalekan Ogunlaja, a 39-year-old ram farmer with over two decades of experience in the field. Despite its unregulated nature and lack of official oversight, ram fighting has found a niche audience of spectators, many of whom are owners themselves or invited guests. The absence of any governing body raises questions about the welfare of the animals involved, as care standards vary among individual owners.
Owners argue that no ram dies from the tournament.
Notably, in this particular tournament, around 100 spectators have entered 70 rams into the competition. Contrary to accusations of animal cruelty, the owners argue that ram fighting is not a blood sport, emphasizing that the bouts rarely result in serious injuries or fatalities. Olalekan Ogunlaja defends the practice, drawing parallels with the care provided to racehorses and the regulations surrounding human boxing. “We do have our own rules. If there’s any blood dropped or any bloodshed, we do stop the competition. People don’t complain about that in boxing,” asserts Olalekan, emphasizing the self-imposed regulations within the community.
The rams involved in these tournaments are typically between five to six feet in length and weigh between 262lbs (118.84kg) and 280lbs (127kg). Just like racehorses, these animals are given names that reflect their characteristics, such as ‘Smallie’ (small but mighty), ‘Desperado’ (Desperate ram), and ‘Little Taskforce’. Specific rules govern the matches, with a limit of 30 ‘blows’ in a regular match and 70 or more ‘blows’ permitted in betting tournaments. Enthusiasts like Adeniyi Adekunle-Michael and Ilias Ajuwon see ram fighting as a source of entertainment and pleasure, offering a unique alternative to mainstream sports. Adekunle-Michael notes, “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. This is the opportunity just to catch some fun at your leisure hour.”
Animal rights activist calls for government intervention.
However, the unregulated nature of ram fighting has drawn criticism from animal rights activists who argue that it poses a risk of brain damage to the animals involved. Concerns include the extended periods without food or shade during tournaments, potentially impacting the well-being of the rams. Kizito Nwogu, a passionate campaigner for animal rights, strongly advocates for a complete ban on ram fighting. He contends that subjecting rams to practices that “torture the brain” can make them dangerous and, over time, lead to exhaustion and death.
Nwogu emphasizes the need for government intervention, urging authorities to ban not only the fights but also the malpractice surrounding the treatment of the animals. “I want the government to ban fighting alongside the malpractice that surround it because people that handle these rams 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,” states Nwogu, underscoring the urgent need for regulatory measures to safeguard the welfare of the animals involved.
Calls for regulation in Nigeria grows louder.
As the debate over the ethical implications of ram fighting continues, the uncharted territory of this unique sport raises questions about the balance between cultural traditions, personal enjoyment, and the ethical treatment of animals. The call for regulation and oversight is growing louder, highlighting the need for a comprehensive approach to address the concerns of both enthusiasts and animal rights advocates. Despite being classified as a blood sport and condemned for its perceived cruelty to animals, ram fights seldom lead to the death of the vanquished ram, as the defeated animal is typically permitted to run from the arena.