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Researchers study how bucking bulls are really doing at Calgary Stampede

Researchers from the University of Calgary are filming bucking bulls each day of this year’s Stampede to find out how the animals are doing.

Dr. Ed Pajor, a professor of animal behaviour and welfare, has studied animals at the annual event before. But this year, cameras have been set up to track every move the massive beasts make.

“I guess my view is that no matter what we use animals for, whether it’s for an event like this, whether it’s for food, whether it’s for research, whether it’s for companionship, we have a responsibility to make sure that the animals are treated as humanely as possible. We need to have information about what that means,” he said.

Pajor and the other researchers will be looking at the animals from the time they’re loaded into their holding pens in the morning to when they are put in the bucking chutes in the afternoon. 

“For starters, do they have a buddy in the pens with them? What’s their temperament like? Are they calm? Are they resting and ruminating? Are they alert and following us?” said Zeanna Janmohamed, a second-year veterinary student. 

“How many times did they balk? Were they loading easily? Do they have scuffs?”

It’s Janmohamed’s first time at Stampede — she usually studies dairy cows — but she’s already feeling an affinity for the animals.

“I feel like I’m friends with a lot of them,” she said.

Researchers are studying each bull’s mood throughout the day. (Helen Pike/CBC)

The Stampede was the target of an animal rights protest on Saturday, but Pajor said the event is actually one of the few places in the world where welfare research this extensive is being done on rodeo animals. 

And, he said, it’s a misconception that handlers rile up the bulls before they go out.

“The last thing you want to be doing as a handler is getting a bull all upset and riled up as you’re trying to move it somewhere and that makes it a very dangerous situation,” Pajor said.

Janmohamed said she hopes the team’s research can be used by not just the Stampede, but other rodeos as well.

“There’s such polarized opinions about the Stampede and there’s a lot of lack of scientific data that has backing on either side,” Janmohamed said.

“This research, in particular, is really important because it can help with easier loading and it can help with easier movements. And that helps both with the performance of these animals and the welfare of them from start to finish.”

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