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Ham Rodeo arrives in Bandera

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What once was the Wild Hog Explosion and then the Bacon Bash has taken a new name this year – the Bandera Ham Rodeo – and even though it’s still the target of intense criticism from the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, it is growing in size this year and hoping for big crowds to turn out again.

Nick Barron, president of the Bandera Wranglers organization that took over the wild hog chasing event last year, said his group has done everything that is required to see that the event does not violate the state’s wildlife handling regulations.

He also said that local residents have expressed more concerns about potential problems PETA protestors could cause at the event than they have about how well the wild hogs in the show are treated.

“I think it’s all fine,” said Barron. “The weather could slow things down, but we’re optimistic we’re going to have our best turnout possible.”

The event will be held on Friday and Saturday, March 13 and 14, at Mansfield Park, with the first day devoted to music by the likes of country music star Tracy Byrd, a barbecue cookoff backed by the Lone Star Barbecue Society and a new, Ms. Bacon Pageant that will fill up the time between bands.

The second day will be when the wild hog chases by teams of people separated by age groups are held.

Wild hogs at the event are released into a pen and try to stay out of reach of the competitors whose goal is to catch the hogs, put them in a bag and get the bag across a finish line as quickly as they can.

Supporters of the event consider it good, clean fun that does not injure animals and incorporates practices ranchers routinely use to corral hogs for medical attention or some other purpose.

PETA, on the other hand, and other critics see the annual fundraiser as abusive and inhumane, something that terrorizes and injures pigs for sport. Its representatives plan to be present at the rodeo on Saturday to mount a peaceful protest, one official said.

“Texans have a right to know that the Bandera Ham Rodeo leaves young pigs injured, bloodied and terrified,” said PETA President Ingrid Newkirk in a news release. “PETA will keep speaking up and urging kind people to stay away from these cruel spectacles until organizers agree to end them.”

The group has urged Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to end wild-hog chases like the Ham Rodeo. It put together a mobile billboard with an image of a screaming hog taken, PETA said, at a prior hog-chasing event in Bandera and calling the spectacles a “Texas disgrace.”

That billboard circled the Governor’s Mansion in Austin in December and last month.

Abbott has not responded to the group’s request.

Melanie Johnson, assistant manager of PETA’s animals in entertainment campaign, called the chases “an exercise in cruelty” that have nothing to do with accepted wildlife management practices. She said more than 87,000 people have signed petitions in less than a year urging the governor to end the hog chases.

PETA added to the furor over the event in a release last month warning the public of the possibility that a zoonotic disease, like brucellosis and influenze A, could be transferred to humans who take part in the rodeo.

Zoonotic diseases are infections that can jump from animals to humans. They include the deadly novel coronavirus that is being monitored worldwide, but PETA officials did not include coronavirus as one of the diseases that could surface at the Ham Rodeo.

Johnson said it’s not just rodeo contestants who face the risk of being exposed to zoonotic diseases at the event. Even spectators face risks if they come into contact with hog blood or other excrement from the animals, she said.

Barron said, however, that the rodeo will have hand washing stations available to help combat the transmission of any diseases and that other safeguards will be taken to keep everyone at the event safe.

The kind of abusive conduct PETA claims is commonplace at the event does not take place, Barron said. He also said the District Attorney’s office, other law enforcement and animal safety officials had been briefed on the rodeo, and no one raised any concerns.

PETA is “grasping at straws” to find some mechanism that will cause the rodeo to shut down, but “we’re not going anywhere, we not backing down,” said the Wrangler’s chief.

He hopes up to 3,000 people will turn out for the festivities each day this year, which would about double the turnout from last year.

Friday night’s music fest, which includes performances by Bret Mullins, George Dearborne and Branded and Rebel Roxie, will get started at 5 p.m. It costs $40 a person, but the admission also covers admission to the rodeo on Saturday.

On Saturday, the gates will open at 10 a.m., and opening ceremonies will be held an hour later at Mansfield Park, 2886 Highway 16 North. Admission that day is $10 for adults, $5 for those ages 5-12 and free for anyone under the age of 5.

Proceeds from the rodeo will be split between the Boys & Girls Clubs of Bandera County and the Wranglers, who take part in a variety of charitable activities during the year.