Rodeo fans push and shove animal activists at Northland event

Animal rights activists are considering asking police to lay charges against rodeo fans who pushed and threatened them at an event on Saturday.

Six protesters bought tickets to the Mid-Northern Rodeo in Maungatapere, near Whangarei, planning to document what they say is cruel abuse rodeo participants dish out to animals.

"Our intention was to go in and be a pair of eyes for the public, since the rodeo organisers don't allow cameras on the inside," Christian Huriwai of Anti-Rodeo Action NZ told RadioLIVE on Monday.

"We were allowed to film on our cellphones... [but when] they saw us pull our cellphones out, and they then changed their mind and said 'no sorry, no cellphones for this event as well' and I think that just shows how cruel this event can be. They want to cover it up as much as they can."

Footage supplied to Newshub and RNZ showed at least one member of the group had a camcorder however. Angry rodeo fans repeatedly tried to rip it out of her hands, and other activists were pushed and shoved around.

Warning: the video below contains offensive language.

"My kids are telling me to punch you in the f**king face," one man said.

"I'll shove this up your arse," said another.

When one activist told an angry rodeo fan not to touch him, the fan responded: "It'll be over if I do."

Rodeo fans in cowboy hats confront an activist.
Rodeo fans in cowboy hats confront an activist. Photo credit: Anti-Rodeo Action NZ

President of the Rodeo Cowboys Association Lyal Cocks told RadioLIVE if protesters don't like rodeo, they should stay away.

"All events have rules, okay? The rodeo club set some rules. You've got to question why people who don't like rodeo want to pay to go in and watch it. What is their intention? If they don't abide by the rules, they're asked to leave."

He said the fans' hostility towards the activists came from "sheer frustration".

"But lowering yourself to the level of the protesters by reacting and engaging them, as happened at Mid-Northern, I don't believe is the answer. It's not acceptable.

"I've put a message out to members to always behave in a professional and responsible manner. Respect everyone, even if they have different views."

The annual summer battle over rodeo has stepped up this year, following the deaths of two animals at an event in Gisborne late last year. Only one was reported at the time, with the other sparking claims of a cover-up.

The end of rodeo?

Mr Huriwai said he grew up in rural Kaikohe, and attended rodeos as a youngster.

"To be honest, I enjoyed them. There's not much to do in a rural environment. But I'm an animal lover."

He reckons rural communities should find something else to do that doesn't involve animal cruelty.

"People attend [rodeos] because there's just not a whole lot of other things to do... We could just run some sports tournaments, you know. Concerts, some music, different types of workshops. There's so many things we could do."

A rodeo fan tries to grab an activist's camcorder.
A rodeo fan tries to grab an activist's camcorder. Photo credit: Anti-Rodeo Action NZ

But Mr Cocks says rodeo is getting more and more popular, even as animal safety regulations have been tightened.

"You've got to understand all rodeo people are animal owners, animal lovers. [Without] good, healthy animals... we don't have a sport."

He dismissed the protesters' concerns, saying they won't stop rodeos from happening.

"They'll always protest... some of these people don't want animals used for anything, whether it be farming, horse racing, even people having pets."

Mr Huriwai doesn't think rodeo is as popular as Mr Cocks believes.

"Rodeo has only been around in New Zealand... for about 60 years. I don't think it's really considered a part of society. It's just a small minority of people within New Zealand who appreciate the sport.

"Many of the participants of the rodeo itself would have mixed opinions."

Green Party MP Gareth Hughes on Monday called for rodeo to be banned, calling it "animal cruelty dressed up as entertainment".

"Imagine being chased out of a cage by a rider on a horse, lassoed around the neck and jerked violently off your feet, then wrestled to the ground and tied up. This is the reality for calves as young as three months old at New Zealand rodeos," he wrote in a piece for The Spinoff.

"Do this to a companion animal like a cat and a dog and you would be jailed. Do this on a farm and you could be investigated and prosecuted. Do it in front of a crowd at a rodeo and it is called entertainment."