Rodeo boss denies knowing about bulls' deaths, before admitting he does

By Jordan Bond of RNZ

Two bulls have been killed in sporting events this summer, after suffering injuries bad enough that they had to be euthanised.

The Mad Bull Rodeo Club confirmed both were put down after being hurt before or during rodeo events. The club said putting them down was the most humane option after the injuries.

One of the bulls had its back strained while bucking in a competition, and the other's leg was injured in a fence before competing. A vet and a Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) staff member were there.

When RNZ asked Mad Bull Rodeo president Garry Clark about the deaths, he initially said: "I don't really know what you're talking about."

RNZ supplied him with the details and he admitted he did know what RNZ was talking about.

"Well yeah there was two bulls euthanised, yeah," Clark said.

"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."

He said these are the only two injuries of the 80 bulls that have taken part in their two competitions in Otokia, south of Dunedin. One bull died at each of the events on November 30 and December 7. There is a further competition in April, in the club's first season of operation.

The spokesperson for animal welfare group SAFE, Will Appelbe, said it's appalling animals can die for sport, which highlights a contradiction in our laws.

"If you did this sort of thing to animals on a farm, you could very well be charged with animal cruelty," Appelbe said.

"Even when the animals aren't killed, they're still subjected to very distressing treatment. To be treated the way they are in rodeos makes them feel like they're being attacked by a predator.

"Most New Zealanders agree that this is animal cruelty for so-called entertainment."

Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor said in a statement MPI told him there was "nothing to suggest there was a breach of rodeo minimum standards in either incident".

"[The first bull] showed signs of lameness after its event and was isolated immediately for veterinary assessment of a suspected trauma to the lower back. The bull was euthanised by a veterinarian after its condition worsened," O'Connor said.

"In the second incident, a bull apparently kicked out at the railings in its pen and became lame, prior to taking part in an event. A veterinarian examined the bull and determined that euthanasia on humane grounds was the most appropriate treatment for the animal."

The Government has backed down on a pre-election promise to ban certain parts of rodeo, including flank straps, electric prodders and calf roping.

Earlier this month O'Connor said in a confusing statement that the Government "hasn't scrapped plans" to ban some parts of rodeo, but there are no current plans to do so.

"Minister O'Connor has met with the Rodeo Cowboys Association and was reassured that the association is continuing to improve all animal welfare procedures at New Zealand rodeo events to further minimise the risk of pain, injury or distress to animals," Friday's statement said.

Appelbe criticised the Government's opacity on its rodeo policy.

"It's really disappointing. The reality is, for the Labour Party specifically, it's becoming increasingly unclear what their position on rodeo actually is," Appelbe said.

"There is a distinct lack of transparency around the types of things that happen to rodeo animals. These recent deaths occurred out the back of the rodeo essentially, it wasn't in the view of the public, so it's only really through the grapevine that we've heard these things.

"There's no justifiable reason to treat animals with such cruelty simply for the sake of entertainment."

Rodeo Cowboys Association President Lyal Cocks said it's unfortunate and this is the last thing they want.

"We don't like accidents like this happening, but regrettably accidents do.

"We're not hurting the majority of the animals. We have over the rodeo season about 7000 animal runs or competitions. We're talking 0.05 percent of the animals competing that this has happened to, or even less than that," Cocks said.

He said the animals' injuries could have happened anywhere.

"It was bucking, it was competing... animals can get back strains doing other activities, other things that bulls do. In this case it was after a rodeo event.

"You don't stop doing everything to stop accidents. To stop road accidents would you take all the cars off the road? I don't think so. We don't stop sports - would you stop the whole racing industry, the show jumping industry, because they have accidents? I don't think so."

He said there have been no other deaths or serious injuries of animals this summer, but some minor ones.

MPI representatives have been at each rodeo event this summer.