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The Yucatán Custom of Filling Piñatas With Live Endangered Animals

Every year, the people of Citilcum meet up to beat a ton of animals to death.

by Hugo Borges, Words by Tomás Martín
19 May 2015, 6:00am

This article originally appeared on VICE Mexico

Every year, without fail, the locals of Yucatán city, Citilcum, celebrate a tradition known as Kots Kaal Pato (Kots Kaal Duck). Basically, it's a day when the whole town puts on their best clothes, gathers around a huge city centre scaffolding and then proceed to kill a whole bunch of innocent animals, mostly for the lols.

Kots Kaal Pato isn't actually that different to the Mexican tradition of piñatas, only instead of filling colourful paper mache animals full of candy, people fill them them with live animals – or vermin, as they're called – that the town's children have rustled up. For the most part that means iguanas, but the game's most sought-after stuffing is an endangered marsupial called an opossum.

Then, just like with a regular piñata, people take turns at beating the holy crap out of the toy with sticks. Unfortunately, the animals that survive the initial shovel whacking don't tend to last much longer. If they somehow miraculously escape the festive deathtrap, the crowd will catch them and trample them to pieces.

After they've exhausted their opossum supply, the people of Citilcum bring out ducks. These are essentially the day's guest of honour, given that they've named the celebration after them.

The bird is tied up and hung to a makeshift wooden structure so that the contestants can clamber over each other in an attempt to try and grab it. Whoever manages to catch it wins.

Obviously, the duck dies instantly when its neck is broken but it can take quite a while for the champion to tear the bird's head off. Which is naturally what people are encouraged to do. The audience gets completely splattered in blood as they cheer on this rather morbid spectacle. They're not bothered, though. Shockingly, they seem to love it.

Given that it's such a big event for the town, it's a little strange that no one present was capable of explaining the origins of the tradition to me. Not even the village elders.

"We don't know where this tradition comes from. I was taught by my parents, and my parents from their parents and so on. It used to be done in a large kapok tree nearby, but in 2002 – when Hurricane Isidore hit Yucatan – the tree fell," recounts Mr. Idelfonso Tec, an elderly gentleman who was born and raised in Citilcum.

Since then, the celebration has taken place in a park right beside the city's municipal buildings.

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Freddy Poot Sosa, a known Mayan culture researcher, seemed equally confused by the event. "I had no clue that such a celebration existed, I guess it must be a very local and exclusive tradition," he told me.

Nobody may know where this all started, but one thing is for sure — Kots Kaal Pato is something still happening in 2015.