A British animal welfare campaigner , Mr Svendsen, intends to take a Spanish village to court for subjecting a donkey to horrific abuse at an annual festival. Philip Cottrell who lives in Spain, who runs the 400-acre Donkey Sanctuary inMarbella, Malaga, was said to have to have sanctioned the way the animal was pushed, pulled and kicked around by a drunken mob last week while being ridden by the village's heaviest man.
Mr Svendsen plans to use new laws introduced in Spain last year that give individuals the right to take a private action against anybody causing physical or mental cruelty to animals. The action will be taken against the mayor of Villanueva de la Vera in Extremadura, a village of about 2,000 people about 100 miles west of Madrid.
"I have been monitoring this festival for 18 years," Mr Svendsen said. "Last year, when new animal welfare laws were introduced there was some improvement but this year it was as bad as ever. I am consulting lawyers with a view to
suing the village under the new laws."
The Pero Palo festival is meant to commemorate the capture of a rapist in Villanueva de la Vera many years ago, when he was paraded through the streets on a donkey before being executed.
During the festival, however, the donkey is subjected to a grotesque ritual that can leave it badly injured, lame or crushed to death. Alcohol is sometimes poured down its throat to enhance its performance.
The festival achieved notoriety in Britain in 1986 when a public outcry and media campaign led to the rescue of Blackie, the donkey that was to be used in the ritual that year. "Blackie was saved and taken to our sanctuary in Devon,
but nothing has really changed," said Mr Svendsen. "On Tuesday the donkey was pushed around for over an hour, and was slipping and sliding in the rain. It was clearly distressed but the crowd seemed to take pleasure in its suffering. They thought it was a huge joke. "The man riding it was drunk and laughing like a madman. When the donkey
collapsed through sheer exhaustion they would not let it stay down but dragged it back on to its feet."
At one point, the donkey keeled over on to its side, and the rider responded by biting the animal on its ear. The donkey's ordeal lasted for an hour before it was bundled into a trailer and driven away to an unknown fate. "It is difficult to describe just how sickened and disappointed we all are," said Mr Svendsen.
His team of campaigners was concerned that its vet was refused permission to examine the animal. Mr Svendsen - who is in Spain setting up the country's first donkey sanctuary, near Malaga - had hoped that tougher animal welfare laws would bring an end to such cruelty.
His legal action, to be heard in a regional civil court, will be one of the first brought under the new laws. If successful, the village could be fined. The penalty for a first offence could be as low as 200 (134) but increases each time it is repeated and could eventually rise to 50,000 (33,500).
A Spanish lawyer based in Barcelona said last night: "The laws are in place and if the evidence is there then there is no reason why Mr Svendsen's action should not be successful."
Jose Rodriguez Gil, 36, who works at the new 15-acre donkey sanctuary, El Refugio del Burrito, which opens in April, said: "The donkey suffered real stress. I saw it fall to the floor a number of times and even on to its side. There were about 30 people around it, pushing it all over the place. It's incredible that this kind of thing still goes on. "When I tried to film the donkey I was repeatedly threatened. They knew very well that what they were doing was cruel."
The Marquis of Tamaron, Spain's ambassador to London, declined to comment on the alleged abuse but said: "I am totally opposed to all kinds of animal cruelty in Spain or anywhere else in the world."
Mr Svendsen, 46, said that the abuse his team witnessed in Villanueva was all the more surprising because he felt that Spanish people "are starting to recognise animals as sentient beings".
He said that the opening of his donkey sanctuary at Fuente de Piedra, 45 minutes north of Malaga - an enterprise inconceivable even a few years ago - was a sign that attitudes were changing. "I have seen some appalling things here," he said, "but also signs of change in attitudes towards animals. We are starting to see some young Spaniards
wanting to improve animal welfare and make donations which, as a charity, we need."
Mr Svendsen first heard of the Villanueva festival in 1986 when the Blackie case hit the headlines. Blackie eventually died of natural causes at the Sidmouth sanctuary in 1993. Since 1986, Mr Svendsen has been punched, kicked and spat on by the crowd during his attempts to protect the Villanueva donkeys. A spokesman for the region's tourism department said: "We will not bow to pressure from animal welfare activists. This is our tradition and that will continue."