By Baz Macdonald for Re: News
Every summer there are reports of animal deaths and injuries at the dozens of rodeo events that happen around the country, and this year is no different.
But a Government review may make this the last rodeo season New Zealand ever sees.
Three animals died in three days of rodeo events this season, according to New Zealand animal welfare organisation SAFE.
It says a bull died after breaking its leg in the arena in Ōpōtiki on December 28, with two more animals dying in events held on December 30. A bull died after sustaining a spinal injury in Te Anau, while a horse died after throwing a rider off and having a seizure in the arena in Rerewhakaaitu.
SAFE CEO Debra Ashton says a horse also received a major injury on Saturday when its leg was degloved after getting stuck in the rails of the chute that leads into the arena.
New Zealand Rodeo Cowboys Association president Lyal Cocks confirmed these deaths and injuries took place, but couldn’t comment on the details while investigations are ongoing.
Sport or animal cruelty?
A rodeo is a collection of animal events, such as cowboys trying to stay on the back of bucking bulls and horses as long as possible, or wrestling and tying up bulls and calves.
Ashton said SAFE opposes rodeo because they see it as animal cruelty.
“You can't have a rodeo without the pain and suffering of animals,” Ashton said.
“[Cowboys] use spurs and flank straps on the sensitive bellies of horses and bulls to make them buck, which of course causes pain and suffering.
“Without pain, [the animals] wouldn't buck and there wouldn't be ‘entertainment’ without that.”
At best, Ashton said, these events traumatise and hurt animals. At worst, it causes major injuries and death.
However, Cocks said the sport encourages a closer relationship with animals and gives opportunities for spectators to appreciate animals, and competitors to learn to care for and work with them.
“There are occasionally accidents in all sports involving animals,” Cocks said.
“We are no different than any sport that competes with animals like show jumping, greyhounds, dog trials, and horse racing.”
Cocks said while accidents do happen, they have a range of measures to reduce and deal with these, including only allowing qualified people to compete, having MPI inspectors and vets at every event, and operating under a Government welfare code.
“In our 2021 season, animals competed over 13,500 times and we had a 0.05% injury rate.”
Do New Zealanders want rodeo?
In 2020, SAFE commissioned a survey through Horizons Research on what New Zealanders think about rodeo.
Sixty percent of people who went to a rodeo in the past year said they thought the use of animals in rodeo should be banned.
The same percentage thought rodeo caused animals pain and suffering that was unjustified as entertainment.
Ashton said these results show rodeo doesn’t reflect how people in New Zealand want animals to be treated.
“There are two standards here when people will go to a rodeo to see animals treated in this way, but if you saw your neighbour doing the same thing in their backyard you’d want them prosecuted,” Ashton said.
Cocks said he thinks wider New Zealand’s perception of rodeo is warped by having never been to the rodeo and their only knowledge of it coming from accounts of accidents.
He said the attendance at rodeo events has been much higher this year than in recent years, with over 4000 people attending the Wānaka rodeo.
The last rodeo season?
Last year SAFE and the Animal Law Association brought a case before the New Zealand High Court arguing that a 2018 rodeo animal welfare code released by the Government was in violation of the Animal Welfare Act.
They argued the Act said no animals should have unnecessary distress or pain inflicted on them, and that rodeo does exactly that.
While High Court Justice Churchman said they found errors and procedural defects in the Government’s process creating the code, they declined to make a ruling and instead referred the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee to conduct a review of rodeo’s legality.
That judgement will decide on the shape of rodeo in New Zealand going forward, Cocks said.
Ashton said SAFE and the Animal Law Association believe if the Government follows the Animal Welfare Act, the review will have to recommend a ban of animals in rodeo events.
“We are hopeful the Government will take on board all of the science, experts, and public submissions and ban rodeo,” Ashton said.
“We’d hope this is the very last rodeo season New Zealand ever has.”
A Ministry of Primary Industries spokesperson, which the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee is under, told Re: News that the committee has made a new draft of the rodeo welfare code.
The committee will consult with relevant organisations over the next couple of months before submitting the new code to the Government for public consultation in the middle of the year.