Animal rights groups launch legal bid to ban rodeo in New Zealand

Animal rights groups in New Zealand have launched a legal bid to ban rodeo in the country.

The New Zealand Animal Law Association (NZALA) and pet rights group SAFE say rodeo is an “unnecessary and unlawful” sport which breaches the Animal Welfare Act 1999.

A presiding judge will not have the power to ban the rodeo. But a legal victory will put pressure on the New Zealand government to do so.

NZALA and SAFE are working together to take the Minister of Agriculture and the National Welfare Advisory Committee to court over a rodeo-specific welfare code review.

“The [Animal Welfare] The law does not explicitly authorize or prohibit, with few exceptions, particular activities and it certainly does not authorize or prohibit rodeo,” Victoria Heine QC, a lawyer for SAFE, told the court.

Why is the Animal Welfare Act a key tool in this case?

Originating in the United States, rodeo was adopted by a small contingent of self-proclaimed New Zealand cowboys. The sport does not draw crowds in the same way as rugby, but has a rural following and has been present in the country since the 1960s.

Rodeo has its own animal welfare code, which was developed in 2014 and then updated in 2018. SAFE argues that due process was not followed in developing this code. As a result, it is in violation of animal welfare law.

The case hinges on a clause that specifically prohibits any “unnecessary distress or pain” inflicted on animals. SAFE states that in contrast, the rodeo’s animal welfare code normalizes animal abuse.

What are the risks to animals at a rodeo?

New Zealand holds around 35 rodeo events a year. These include demonstrations of bull riding, calf roping, bareback riding and cattle wrestling.

The animal cost of the nation’s rodeo scene has been widely documented in recent years. In 2020, The Independent posted images of cowboys hitting and kicking animals. In wrestling trials, cows have been shown to have broken backs, necks and legs. Electric prods and boot spurs are also frequently used.

In the same year, two bulls were reportedly euthanized after sustaining serious injuries. After initially denying the deaths, Mad Bull Rodeo President Garry Clark commented, “Well, yes, there were two bulls euthanized, yes.”

He added: “It’s definitely something we don’t want to happen. One of them [the injuries] could have happened on a normal farm day, and it’s unfortunate that these things happen, unfortunately.

SAFE responded at the time, calling the death of animals for sport “appalling” and a contradiction to animal welfare laws.

Will New Zealand ban rodeo?

In a demonstration of changing attitudes, the general population of New Zealand appears to support a ban on rodeo. A survey conducted by Horizon Research in 2020, on behalf of SAFE, found that 51 percent of respondents want the sport banned. When asked further questions, 66% agreed that animals suffering for entertainment were not worth paying for.

Rodeo has already been banned in parts of Europe, Australia and the United States.

If the judge presiding over the case decides that the rodeo welfare code has not been given due consideration, the New Zealand government may be forced to act. It will either have to revamp the code or join other countries in implementing a ban.

The case was heard earlier this week with a decision expected in mid-October.

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