In this 2005 file photo, sheep in yards wait for sale at Stortford Lodge in Hastings, New Zealand. - AP Photo

WELLINGTON: An animal welfare group urged Rugby World Cup organisers Monday to ditch plans to stage “the running of the sheep” in New Zealand's largest city Auckland during the tournament.

Under the plan, about 1,000 sheep will be herded down Auckland's main road Queen Street, accompanied by sheep dogs and bikini-clad models riding quad bikes.

The Royal New Zealand Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) said it had received “a barrage” of complaints about the event, designed as a light-hearted take on the running of the bulls festival in Spain's Pamplona.

SPCA chief executive Robyn Kippenberger said the plan, part of the Real New Zealand Festival organised to coincide with the World Cup, risked breaching the Animal Welfare Act and causing the sheep unnecessary distress.

“Should sheep be harmed in this activity the owner would face possible charges under the Act, not a good look in a World Cup environment with the eyes of the world on New Zealand,” she said.

Kippenberger said the SPCA objected to the inhumane use of animals for an entertainment “side show” and organisers should abandon the idea.

“The risk they take in not providing a draw card for their festival is small in comparison to the distress of the animals and the likelihood of world approbation if even one sheep is harmed,” she said.

Festival organisers could not immediately be reached for comment.

A similar event hit problems in 2009, when 1,500 sheep were released in the North Island town of Te Kuiti but leapt over fencing on the main street and bowled a woman over in their eagerness to escape, knocking her unconscious.

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