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A new paper, published in the leading international journal for animal welfare this week, has confirmed that calf roping is a terrifying and distressing event for the animals involved throughout all stages of this cruel rodeo event.

The study, published in Animals, examined video footage of calves subjected to calf roping – a common event at rodeos across Australia – to identify whether well-known signs of fear and distress were present. 

The study found that calves showed signs of distress across all of the phases of calf roping, from the animal being chased, lassoed and caught, right through to (and including) when they were released – in other words, clearly demonstrating that every part of this event was frightening and distressing for the young animals.

RSPCA Australia Senior Scientific Officer and co-author of the study, Dr Di Evans, said the study provides further evidence that calf roping was a frightening and cruel event that was arguably the worst animal welfare issue with rodeos today.

“We know that calf roping causes unnecessary and unjustifiable suffering to the animals involved,” said Dr Evans. “This includes injury risks such as damage to the windpipe from the lasso, bruising and broken ribs from being violently yanked off their feet and being forced to the ground, and choking from the tightened rope around their neck and being dragged along the ground.

“But it’s also clear that on top of the physical injuries, calf roping is distressing and frightening for the calves. They are confronted with strange sights, loud noises, and are separated from other calves and literally run for their life as they’re chased by a rider on a horse. An animal’s behavioural and emotional state is a crucial part of good animal welfare, and so it’s vital to consider this as well as their physical state.

“This study found that throughout the entire ordeal – chasing, lassoing, catching and restraint, leg tying and release – the calves in the video footage were showing what animal welfare science tells us are clear and well-recognised signs of fear and distress. The footage showed that the calves consistently tried to escape the violent and callous treatment inherent in calf roping, where competitors race against the clock.

This study follows another paper published in May last year, that found that rodeo calves need greater protection under animal welfare legislation because of the harm that calf roping inflicts on them. “This is just further proof that calf roping cannot be justified in 21st century Australia, and that subjecting animals to such cruelty is completely out of step with community expectations – it’s no wonder that the majority of Australians are concerned about the welfare of animals in rodeos,” said Dr Evans.

“The RSPCA calls on all state and territory governments to put a stop to this cruel event, as has already been done in some jurisdictions. Businesses can also take a stand by refusing to support rodeos, especially rodeos where calf roping takes place.”

Background: Calf roping is legal in Queensland, NSW, NT, Tasmania and WA. It is effectively banned in SA and Victoria because of a minimum body weight of 200kg for cattle. Rodeo events are banned in the ACT.

67% of Australians said they were concerned or very concerned about the welfare of animals in rodeos, according to research conducted by McCrindle in 2022. This compares to 63% in 2018 and 52% in 2015.

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