By Saima Asad, July 18 2016 —
A University of Calgary professor’s recent co-study is one of the first to shed light on the welfare of rodeo animals.
The two-year study, co-authored by U of C veterinary medicine professor Ed Pajor, veterinary medicine PhD students Christy Goldhawk and Guilherme Borges Bond, and Colorado State University animal sciences professor Temple Grandin, found that bucking bulls do not exhibit signs of stress or anxiety before performances.
The researchers examined bulls’ behaviour at the Calgary Stampede to see if they exhibited particular stress indicators, such as a back and forth movement in the chute, defecation, urination, tail swishing, clawing at the ground and kicking.
“[We] found that those animals with more experience are less likely to show fear-related behaviours than animals without that experience,” Pajor said. “That suggests animals can learn from the experience, habituate from that experience and get used to being in that environment.”
Six years ago, the Calgary Stampede asked Pajor to join their new animal care advisory council. Upon taking on the role, Pajor said he quickly realized there was little academic research done on rodeo animals despite an ongoing debate about their well-being.
That debate is what spurred Pajor and his team to conduct the study.
“There was a claim made by the Calgary Stampede that the animals like to buck, that they’re born to buck. On the other hand. I was hearing for a number of years about how terrified these animals are, how mistreated these animals are, and how poorly handled these animals are,” he said.
Pajor admits a behaviour-based study has limitations. He said the study only speaks to stress levels before a bucking performance, leaving researchers to wonder how quickly the bulls recover after the event.
“Our study is really limited to the behaviour of the animals and the handling of the animals from the back pens while they’re being loaded — once they get into the bucking chutes and up until they perform,” Pajor said. “Our study says nothing about what the animals experience during the bucking event, or even after the event.”
Pajor said the study is not meant to comment on the ethics of rodeos, but simply provide factual evidence to supplement that debate.
“We have to remember that science doesn’t tell us what we ought to do. It only describes the world in terms of facts,” he said. “Whether we should do those things or not are social questions rather than science questions.”