Animal rights protesters target Warkworth Rodeo for sixth year in a row

For the sixth year in a row, animal rights activists will protest outside the Warkworth Rodeo on New Year's Day.

Around 100 protestors are expected to gather outside the Warkworth Showgrounds, calling for an end to the controversial sport. 

"We want a total ban on rodeos across the country," Direct Animal Action spokesperson Apollo Taito told Newshub.

"At least a start would be for the Labour Government to meet its pre-election promises from 2017, at least a ban on the worst aspects of rodeo - the use of flank straps, the use of electric prodding, that inherently make rodeo a very cruel and abusive event."

The Government early last year chose not to push ahead with Labour's prior promises to ban flank straps, electric prodders and calf roping, even if it meant killing off the sport. Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor in February said the flip-flop came after discussions with the Rodeo Cowboys Association and the National Animal Welfare Advisory, which didn't think an outright ban was necessary.

Taito said that decision was made when Labour relied on a coalition to get legislation passed, which it no longer does after being delivered an outright majority in the recent election. Former partner New Zealand First was pro-rodeo, MP Ron Mark once riding a horse at an event in Wanaka and telling attendees they had the Government's support. 

"The country has actually made quite clear to the Government they trust [Labour] to lead the country on its own, and it's a really good opportunity for them to meet those pre-election promises around banning the worst aspects of rodeo, maybe just be a bit more proactive... 

"It may have been a bit more difficult for them to do that when they were in a partnership... now that they are governing pretty much by themselves, in partnership with the Greens, it's a great opportunity for them to... ban rodeo."

The Greens have long pushed for a total ban on rodeo

More than 5000 people last year signed a petition calling for the Rodney Local Board to not let the Warkworth Rodeo go ahead on council-owned land. The petition, presented to the board in October, came too late to stop the 2021 event being approved.

"We're very disappointed and frustrated," Taito said. "This is sort of a way that actually accepts the level of abuse that occurs every year there on council-owned land."

Direct Animal Action
Protesters at the 2019 event. Photo credit: Direct Animal Action

Newshub has contacted the Rodney Local Board for a response. Minutes from the October meeting show the petition was received, but little else was noted. Minutes from meetings in November and December show the subject hasn't been discussed at a board meeting since. Direct Animal Action says the board told them their "hands were tied". 

Deaths at rodeos and similar events have made headlines in recent years, which the Rodeo Cowboys Association has regularly dismissed either as one-off incidents and "regrettable" mistakes. 

"This is not really news as they protested last year, the year before etc and will no doubt protest again next year," president Lyal Cocks told Newshub.

Cocks said rodeo is "thriving" in New Zealand, "with the largest number of members for several years, especially juniors (under 15) and females".

"Spectator numbers have been at record highs at rodeos just completed such as Taupō, Te Anau and others.  The sport is scrutinised by MPI officers to ensure we are complying in all ways."

The protest begins at 11am. The Rodeo Cowboys Association is promising "fast, furious and finest family entertainment", with "genetically bred stock" dispatching riders "faster than they ever did", according to a post on its Facebook page.