IN THE NEWS: On FEB 5, 2018
The death of a bull at a Wairarapa rodeo on Friday night will add fuel to the fire in the debate on whether the sport should be banned.
The bull was put down after breaking its leg at the Parklee Bullride in Martinborough. An animal rights group says it lay in the ring bellowing for about 10 minutes before managing to drag itself off. It was euthanised on site.
Rodeo Cowboys Association president Lyal Cocks said the bull's death was the result of a "freak accident", which was regrettable but did not happen very often.
However, the incident will put a dent into a $25,000 campaign that rodeo supporters are running this summer to improve the sport's image, fronted by local government politician and former MP Michael Laws.
Laws says that the tens of thousands of people attending the 35 rodeos held around New Zealand each year far outnumber the "tiny protests" such as those recently at rodeos at Warkworth in North Auckland and Mandeville in Canterbury. He says opponents have been allowed to misrepresent and malign rodeos, which are conducted under strict animal welfare rules and safety regulations.
"The facts are very simple," Laws says. "The law protects animals involved in rodeos. The science suggests the animals suffer no long-term harm. And rodeo injury rates for participating animals are less than for many other animal events."
Laws has also said that claims of animal cruelty have no substance, and that some animals even "enjoy the process". He says that rodeo personnel and sponsors have been subjected to regular abuse, harassment and bullying by opponents, particularly on social media.
Laws might be right in saying that protesters are in a tiny minority at the events, but their opposition seems to be gaining wider support. In a 2016 Horizon opinion poll, 59 per cent of respondents supported a ban, and an anti-rodeo petition to Parliament attracted 63,000 signatures.
Green Party MP Gareth Hughes is now drafting a bill to have them outlawed.
The SPCA has repeatedly called for a ban, and points out that rodeos have been made unlawful in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and parts of Australia and the United States. Auckland Council has prohibited rodeos on its land.
Rodeos traditionally showed off the skills of American cowboys and include events such as calf roping, steer wrestling, and riders attempting to stay on a bucking animal's back.
Hughes maintains that rodeo-type activities would not be tolerated on a farm or when inflicted on a pet, but they are allowed "in the name of fun" for a cruel and outdated form of entertainment.
But rodeo supporters sometimes argue that the concerns about their sport might also be extended to others, such as horse racing or harness racing.
However, the racing industry has made concerted efforts to clean up its act over the last 30 years, to the point where the SPCA can judge it as not being cruel to the animals, even when fatal accidents occur.
The difference with rodeo is that the events pit humans against distressed animals in an arena with the expectation that the human will come out on top. Is this really how we want to have fun in a supposedly civilised country in the 21st century?