CEVLJANOVICI, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- The bulls used to be beaten to the point of fury before entering the ring, their horns given steel extensions to increase the ferocity. These days, though, the legendary bull-on-bull fights in the Balkans are a mellower affair – and everybody seems satisfied.
Some 70,000 people came to a small valley that serves as a natural amphitheater near the village of Cevljanovici, some 30 kilometers (20 miles) north of Sarajevo to attend a annual two-day country fair that ended with the traditional bullfight that has taken place here since 1947.
Every July people from villages throughout Bosnia converge on this village to barbecue, drink and dance to blaring folk music – and watch the fights.
The battles changed three years ago as part of a package of reforms aimed at burnishing Bosnia's credentials for European Union membership.
The fights never ended with death but with horns sharpened "like needles" and bulls beaten with shovels and sticks to enrage them, the beasts would be often be seriously injured and end up being slaughtered and sent to the butcher.
Authorities announced a ban on the Bosnian tradition that dates back two centuries, but fans and bull owners insisted that a compromise be found.
"Bulls fight in the wild by their own rules, they rarely injure each other and the battle ends with one of them pulling out," said Besim Gljiva, head of the Association of Fighting Bull Breeders.
Authorities said the fights could go on only under veterinary supervision and if they resemble a natural fight for dominance between male animals in the wild.
Now, before entering the arena, inspectors check the horns and even cut off the tips if they are too sharp. They check the animals' anti-doping test results and make sure the bulls clash heads only if they want to.
Around half of the scheduled battles end with one of the animals leaving the ring without even trying. If there is a fight, the clash sometimes lasts just a few minutes, with the two beasts clashing heads until one of them just turns around and leaves.
"There is no more blood in the arena and the fights are longer and nicer to watch," said Hidajet Kuckovic, the owner of 10-year-old Ringo, who calmly chewed while waiting to enter the makeshift arena. Out his 37 fights, Ringo has only lost three.
But this Sunday the star bull walked into the arena, judged his opponent for a few moments – and calmly walked out. The judge declared his rival to be the winner.
Ignoring thousands whistling and shouting "You brought a cow!" or "Turn him into a sausage!", Kuckovic just stroked his pet and whispered in its ear: "Next time, OK?".
A bull's price can double to about euro10,000 wins a bout – with or without fighting. The loser's price can slump to about euro3,000. There's no prize money – just the glory of being named champion at Cevljanovici.
"The way nature set the rules, that's how the law wrote them down," Djulovic summed it up.
Inside the arena, the winner – Prijezonja – just stood there as his owners, three brothers, ran inside to hug and kiss him and throw a red championship blanket over his back.