This article originally appeared on VICE New Zealand
Tension is growing on New Zealand's summer rodeo circuit after animal rights activists were shoved around and threatened by rodeo fans at an event on Saturday. Six protestors attended the Mid-Northern Rodeo in Maungatapere, near Whangarei, to be a “pair of eyes for the public” and document any alleged animal cruelty.
Christian Huriwai of Anti-Rodeo Action NZ told RadioLIVE that they were allowed to film on their cell phones, but when they pulled them out, organisers seemed to change their minds. “They 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," he said.
The heated altercation between protestors and fans that followed was captured on camera. Fans can be seen repeatedly trying to rip the filming devices from the hands of the protesters, pushing and verbally abusing the group. The activists are now deciding whether they will press charges.
President of the Rodeo Cowboys Association Lyal Cocks told RadioLIVE the fans’ aggressive behaviour was out of “sheer frustration”, but he did not condone it. "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,” he said. "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."
Controversy for the sport spiked after four animals reportedly died last year, one of which was covered up, activists say. The horse died at an event in Gisborne in December, shortly after a bull was euthanised after its leg was broken, but only the bull’s death was reported at the time.
Cocks has previously told NewstalkZB he believes there is nothing wrong with the sport. "The animals aren't distressed. It's a very short activity for them, and the rest of the time they are living very good, well looked at lives."
Green Party MP Gareth Hughes called for a ban on rodeo and criticised the sport as "animal cruelty dressed up as entertainment" in an article on The Spinoff. "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.
"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."