The animal rights group claiming credit for the cancellation of the Whangārei rodeo is a multi-million dollar activist network with thousands of volunteers that opposes meat eating.
The Save Animals From Exploitation group issued a press release announcing the cancellation of Whangārei's rodeo, claiming it as a victory for animal rights protesters.
It called the Mid Northern Rodeo Club "cash-strapped" and claimed fallout from footage captured during the 2017 rodeo - including that of a 72-year-old using a cattle prod on a calf - "prompted sponsors to withdraw their support".
The pensioner was given a warning by the Ministry of Primary Industries but is now facing a private prosecution taken by a animal legal rights group with links to SAFE.
Inquiries by the Advocate have found SAFE has pulled in $9m in donations in the last two years, compared with the $60,000 a year revenue the Whangārei rodeo organisers manage.
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And while the rodeo is organised by a small group of enthusiasts, data submitted by SAFE to Charities Services show the activist organisation has 3600 volunteers on which to call.
Mid Northern Rodeo Association secretary Barbara Woolhouse said the rodeo would return in the expanded form of a festival in 2021.
She said competition from other events and competition for sponsorship dollars - along with SAFE targeting financial supporters - were behind the cancellation of the regular rodeo event this summer.
She said sponsors had faced a targeted harassment campaign with some receiving 100 phone calls in a day from people opposed to their involvement with rodeo.
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The phone calls were so frequent, they would block phone lines - "that affects their business if (other) people can't get through".
"It's not fair on them. Most of our sponsors are small, local businesses. They're not big corporates that can take a big hit."
Woolhouse said she supported the right of anyone to protest. "They just need to do it in a way that's not so personal."
SAFE's accounts show it is based out of plush central Wellington offices in the city's botanical gardens, with offices in Auckland and Wellington. It has $7.5m invested or available in its bank accounts, and spent as much money on postal services as it takes for Whangārei to put on its rodeo.
The Advocate has found spending by Save Animals From Exploitation Incorporated has risen from $800,000 to $1.6m a year in the past decade.
Documents from the Register of Incorporated Societies show the rodeo's bank balance to be tiny by comparison. It has about $80,000 in the bank - about 1 per cent of the money SAFE has saved.
The accounts show sponsorship income as the revenue stream most affected in the few years since the rodeo became a focus of protest.
It fell last year from around $10,000 in 2017 to $6000 in 2018. Gate fees also dropped from $20,000 to $15,000, showing a drop in visitor numbers after spikes in recent year back to levels seen in 2013.
Entry fees for those competing brought in a similar amount of money in 2018 - about $26,000 - suggesting it had the same number of enthusiasts taking part in events.
SAFE's press release alleged the rodeo had "a history of illegal treatment of animals" - a claim rejected by Woolhouse.
The Ministry of Primary Industries has confirmed there have been no prosecutions relating to the rodeo in the past three years. There was one warning issued relating to a volunteer using an electric shock device on a calf, captured on video by activists present at the rodeo.
The 72-year-old man was a volunteer who was "remorseful" when he found his actions were improper, said MPI director of compliance Gary Orr.
Orr said recent years had seen increased dialogue with rodeo associations and a greater presence of animal welfare inspectors at events.
The pensioner's warning wasn't the end of the issue - the New Zealand Animal Law Association's Saar Cohen-Ronen said a private prosecution was underway in the Whangārei District Court. Cohen-Ronen is also a board member of SAFE.
"The defendant has pleaded not guilty and we are still waiting for a trial date."
SAFE's media manager Will Appelbe said the organisation was opposed to rodeos and wanted the practice banned.
He confirmed SAFE was involved in targeting sponsors, along with other organisations and members of the public.
"We see businesses that are sponsoring rodeo. We let people know those are the businesses who are sponsoring rodeo so they can make their views known."
SAFE also promotes a vegan lifestyle and a "companionship" relationship with animals generally seen as pets.