Animal rights groups in New Zealand have launched a legal bid to ban rodeo within the country.
The New Zealand Animal Law Association (NZALA) and domestic animal rights group SAFE say that rodeo is an “unnecessary and unlawful” sport that contravenes the 1999 Animal Welfare Act.
A presiding judge will not have the authority to ban rodeo. But a legal victory will put pressure on the New Zealand government to do so.
NZALA and SAFE are working together to bring the Agriculture Minister and National Welfare Advisory Committee to court for a review of the welfare code connected specifically to rodeo.
“The [Animal Welfare] Act does not explicitly, with a few limited exceptions, allow or prohibit particular activities and it certainly doesn’t allow or prohibit rodeo,” Victoria Heine QC, a lawyer for SAFE, said in court.
Why is the Animal Welfare Act a key tool in the case?
Originating in the US, rodeo has been adopted by a small contingent of self-proclaimed New Zealand cowboys. The sport doesn’t draw crowds in the same way as rugby, but does have a rural following and has been present in the country since the 1960s.
Rodeo has its own animal welfare code, which was drawn up in 2014 and then updated in 2018. SAFE argues that due process was not followed when drawing up this code. As a result, it is in violation of the Animal Welfare Act.
The case hinges on a clause that specifically prohibits any “unnecessary distress or pain” from being inflicted on animals. SAFE states that, in contrast, the rodeo animal welfare code normalizes animal mistreatment.
How are animals at risk during a rodeo?
New Zealand holds approximately 35 rodeo events a year. These include displays of bull riding, calf roping, bareback riding, and cattle wrestling.
The animal cost of the country’s rodeo scene has been widely documented in recent years. In 2020, The Independent published footage of cowboys punching and kicking animals. During wrestling events, cows are shown to have suffered broken backs, necks, and legs. Electric shock 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 yeah there was two bulls euthanized, yeah.”
He added: “It’s definitely something we don’t want to happen. Either of them [the injuries] could have happened in a normal farming 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 of animal welfare laws.
Will New Zealand ban rodeo?
In a demonstration of changing mindsets, the general population of New Zealand appears to support a rodeo ban. A survey conducted by Horizon Research in 2020, on behalf of SAFE, revealed that 51 percent of respondents want to see the sport outlawed. When asked further questions, 66 percent agreed that animals suffering for entertainment is not a price worth paying.
Rodeo has already been banned in parts of Europe, Australia, and the US.
If the judge presiding over the case rules that the rodeo welfare code was not duly considered, the New Zealand government may be forced to act. It will need to either redraft the code or join other countries by implementing a ban.
The case was heard earlier this week with a ruling expected in mid-October.