Animal activists dispute rodeo industry's 'strange' claims

The war of words between rodeo enthusiasts and animal welfare activists is showing no signs of winding down even as the rodeo season does.

Protests have dogged many rodeo events over the past few months, and the Government has announced a review of animal welfare standards in the sport - in particular calf-roping, electric prodders, flank straps, rope burning and tail twisting.

Michael Laws, spokesman for the Rodeo and Cowboys Association, told The AM Show on Friday the industry has been "unfairly maligned".

"Four of [the techniques] are illegal and we would frown on them anyhow. They are not best rodeo practise at all. The only thing we do is calf-roping."

But Save Animals From Exploitation (SAFE) told Newshub this isn't true.

"Flank straps are standard equipment at rodeo and they're used at every single bucking event - without them, the animal wouldn't buck," said campaigns director Mandy Carter.

"It's very strange they're trying to claim they're not in use. Without flank straps, bull-riding wouldn't happen - that's why they're bucking."

Rodeo calf-roping.
Rodeo calf-roping. Photo credit: SAFE

Mr Laws said he was specifically talking about flank straps being tied to animals' genitals.

"Straps are allowed if they cause no pain, are of a soft material and released straight after the event."

He said electric prods are only used for marshalling stock "as on farms", and "may not be used to provoke animals for rodeo purposes".

Ms Carter said activists had filmed electric prods being used inappropriately "many times and seen it with our own eyes".

As for tail-twisting and rope burning, Mr Laws said both are illegal and don't happen.

"Rope burning has never been reported by any independent vets or independent MPI officials at NZ rodeo events."

SAFE supplied video footage of ropes being used to irritate animals before they're released into the rodeo ring, which it said was shot at New Zealand rodeo events.

Ms Carter said MPI officials often fail to find evidence of mistreatment, and convictions against those who break the rules usually only come as a result of evidence supplied by activists.

SAFE wants rodeos banned, saying even allowed practises - like calf-roping - causes animals to suffer.

"In time, things we once through were acceptable we come to realise aren't - for example battery cages. A few years ago they were standard, and now they're going to be banned from 2020. Rodeo needs to be added to that too. It is unacceptable.

"There is no way to make rodeo humane."

The Government at this stage has no plans to ban rodeo.

"We're the most scrutinised sport in New Zealand," Mr Laws said on Friday.

"Every year we get scrutinised, and every year the same report comes back - that we're doing it properly, that the animal welfare legislation is fine."