MONTEREY, Calif. (CN) - California's largest rodeo concealed dozens of animal injuries in the past two years, in defiance of law, an animal rights group claims in court.
Showing Animals Respect and Kindness (SHARK) sued California Rodeo Salinas and its veterinarian Tim Eastman on Dec. 17 in Monterey County Court. It seeks an injunction ordering the defendants to file accurate and timely reports.
California Rodeo Salinas claims "animal extremist groups" exaggerate their allegations in an effort to end the sport.
SHARK claims that state law requires rodeos to report all injuries to the California Veterinary Medical Board.
"Defendants violate these provisions by consistently and significantly underreporting the number of injured animals at California Rodeo Salinas," the lawsuit states. "In the last two years, plaintiff has documented at least 41 injuries at the California Rodeo Salinas, yet the attending veterinarian has reported just four injuries."
The annual Salinas rodeo has taken place for 104 years and is frequently featured on national television. According to its website, it draws more than 700 cowboys and cowgirls, who compete for nearly $400,000 in prize money, and attracts more than 50,000 fans yearly.
Events include bronc riding, bull riding, calf roping, steer wrestling and barrel racing.
While the rodeo's site boasts about measures taken to ensure animal safety, SHARK claims it has purposely failed to disclose many injuries.
"Defendants' illegal conduct ... makes it more difficult for SHARK to pursue its goal of educating the public about animal suffering in rodeos because it deprives SHARK of accurate disclosures that it could use in its advocacy and outreach," according to the complaint.
SHARK claims most of the injuries occur during roping events, in which running steer are roped and pulled to the ground by competitors on horseback. It claims that one steer suffered a broken neck when a horse ran over it.
"SHARK has been an opponent of defendants' rodeo events because their treatment of animals frustrates SHARK's organizational mission of treating animals with respect and kindness," the lawsuit states.
SHARK's attorney Y. Vivian Lei referred a call from Courthouse News Service to co-counsel Matthew Liebman, with the Animal Legal Defense Fund.
Liebman said SHARK learned of the injuries by attending and video recording events. Those videos were then compared to Eastman's reports.
"The true number of animal injuries and deaths are the most closely held secret in rodeo," Liebman wrote in an email to CNS. "Those rodeos that are pressured to disclose injuries and deaths lie about it, as SHARK has demonstrated at rodeos such as California Rodeo Salinas since 2013, and the Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo since 2007. These are two of the bigger rodeos in the industry, and they are very indicative of the industry as a whole."
Salinas Rodeo spokeswoman Amanda Gianolini responded to the lawsuit with a statement: "The care and handling of livestock at our rodeo is the highest priority and we have extensive programs in place to provide for the livestock that participate in our event."
According to the rodeo's website, it has 60 rules to ensure the proper care and treatment of rodeo animals. Among those, a veterinarian must be on site, spurs must be dull, steers used in team roping must have protective covering around the horns, and those who mistreat livestock are subject to disqualification and fines.
Over the years, the site states, results of safety surveys "have continued to show a rate of injury that is very, very, very low, averaging .0005."
SHARK campaigns against rodeos, bullfighting, pigeon and turkey shoots, canned hunts, circuses, zoos and marine parks, and conducts animals rescue and education projects.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.