Rodeos: Animal cruelty or PC gone mad?

Last updated 10:44 17/02/2017

The SPCA have been calling for a ban on rodeo in NZ since at least the 1990s.

How is NZ's treatment of animals?

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There are approximately 36 rodeo events held in New Zealand each year. Although rodeo has some populatity in rural areas as a spectator sport, relatively few people participate in the events themselves.

Six months ago, after reading concerns about rodeo from various organisations in the media, I decided to look into the issue.

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Video footage from 2015-2017 rodeo seasons shows a variety distress and clear animal abuse at multiple different rodeo events up and down the country.

This includes, but is not limited to: Animals, including calves, enclosed and being shocked with cattle prods because they refused to move forward to be mounted, calves having their necks twisted back the wrong way, bulls having their tails twisted at the base, and so on.

Multiple animals have died in recent years as a direct result of injuries sustained during events at NZ rodeos.

Attending vets I have spoken to have told me about horrific injuries that they have witnessed, as have SPCA officers who attend and assess events and report back to the Minister for Primary Industries.

As a result, in part, of their experiences while attending rodeo events over the last two decades, the SPCA is calling for an outright ban on rodeos in New Zealand.

The New Zealand Veterinary Association released a position statement outlining concerns about rodeo events, and calling for a re-evaluation of the rodeo code of welfare.

Although the NZVA have previously supported National Animal Welfare Committee decisions on issues which SPCA have criticised, for example the use of farrowing crates on pig farms, they appear to agree with SPCA on a number of issues surrounding rodeo events.

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Huntly Rodeo has now been shut down, not long after clear breaches of animal welfare codes were uncovered following the publishing of video footage from the events.

Huntly Rodeo organisers Fraser and Craig Graham pulled the plug in 2014.

However in 2015 the organisers announced plans to reopen a modified event which would be 'equestrian- based'. The SPCA expressed disappointment at the action.

Next I decided to research the history of animal welfare organisations, as well as local body governments, with respect to rodeo.

Media resources show that the SPCA have been calling for a ban on rodeo in NZ since at least the 1990s. During this time Auckland SPCA ran a three-year campaign that lead to rodeos being banned at Auckland's Easter Show.

Their subsequent campaigning, along with support from animal welfare organisations and the public, resulted in Auckland City Council banning rodeos from council-owned land within the city in 2008.

However no such bylaw were passed in Christchurch. At a subsequent 2014 rodeo event an animal was severely injured and had to be euthanised.

High quality research on the topic of animal welfare at rodeos is scarce compared to many areas of scientific inquiry. The most recent scientific publications on this issue state that more research is necessary.

However there is good evidence from this research base to demonstrate that animals do suffer in at least some of the events included in NZ rodeo competitions.

Australian agricultural and veterinary scientists from the University of Queensland conducted a high quality study, which was published recently in the scientific journal 'Animal'. The study was commissioned by the Australian Rodeo Association, who were hoping this would show that the animals were not suffering, amid fears that animal welfare concerns might cause events to be shut down.

However the results demonstrated that all calves involved in rope and tie showed behavioral signs of stress (specifically eye rolling), and they also found that both naive and rodeo experienced animals had significantly elevated stress markers in blood samples following rodeo events.

There had been a study published prior to this, but which measured cortisol levels only, and which was less methodologically sound than the more recent publication.

So far the weight of peer-reviewed scientific evidence appears to point toward the conclusion that these animals do in fact suffer at rodeo events.

A full version of this article is available here

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