U.S. animal breeders supply illegal cockfighting trade in Guam

Two roosters fight with plastic spurs during a tournament at the "Club Gallistico Caracas" cockfighting club, in Caracas, on January 25, 2020. - Cockfights are one of the oldest cultural traditions in Venezuela, where people with different ideologies and economic power converge. Bets are placed either in dollars, beers, or shots of rum.
Two roosters fight with plastic spurs during a tournament at the "Club Gallistico Caracas" cockfighting club, in Caracas, on January 25, 2020. - Cockfights are one of the oldest cultural traditions in Venezuela, where people with different ideologies and economic power converge. Bets are placed either in dollars, beers, or shots of rum.

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Thousands of roosters smuggled out of the country annually for up to $2,000 per bird, reports say

A national network of underground animal breeders annually smuggles thousands of live roosters to Guam, where the birds are worth a fortune in the Pacific island’s bustling but illegal cockfighting trade, according to reports.

The lucrative black-market enterprise reportedly fetches up to $2,000 per bird, according to Animal Wellness Action and Animal Wellness Foundation, who called on U.S. Attorney Robert Higdon to investigate breeders across North Carolina, where shipping records recently indicated at least a thousand bird shipments to the region.

Federal prosecutors in the state’s western and middle districts were also urged to look into animal cruelty, The News & Observer reported, citing animal rights advocates.

The animal rights groups called the problem especially pronounced in North Carolina, where a known cockfighting farm sits in Robeson County and other illegal breeders allegedly operating in Trap Hill and Ronda, the Observer reported.

“North Carolina has been the Eastern hotbed of cockfighting,” Pacelle said. “We take no pride. We don’t relish the idea of people going to prison for these activities. We want them to stop.”

Shipping records show 9,000 fighting roosters were mailed to Guam from 12 U.S. states between September 2000 and November 2017, the Observer reported, citing a Zoom news conference with AWA President Wayne Pacelle.

Perpetrators of the shipments have never been publicly identified, and no one been arrested or charged in the apparent thriving trade. Plus it’s not clear what penalties they would face as cockfighting remains a low priority for law enforcement.

North Carolina cracked down on the cockfighting trade more than a decade ago but the state still outpaced nearly all other states with more than 1,000 birds shipped during that time.

Guam, a U.S. territory, placed a federal ban on cockfighting in late 2019 and a U.S. District Court judge struck down a challenge to the law this past October, the Observer reported, citing Pacific Daily News. However, the illegal industry continues to thrive there.

The roosters are forced to travel 8,000 miles from the U.S. to Guam in crates without food or water, the Observer reports. After arriving, miniature knives are attached to their feet to ensure a fight to the death.

The small island imports eggs and poultry but it has no significant industry related to roosters, which informed Pacelle that the thousands of shipments could only be for fighting.

“Most of us have recognized that cockfighting is cruelty to animals,” said Drew Edmondson, a former Oklahoma attorney general who participated in Thursday’s Zoom call. U.S. attorneys “have it now. They know about cockfighting in their jurisdictions.”

Oklahoma’s cockfighting activity is “worse,” Edmondson said.

Investigating agencies, he added, have what they consider more pressing matters to investigate.

“I think (cockfighters) felt they were above the law,” Pacelle said. “I think they felt the lack of enforcement was an open invitation.”

In 2005, North Carolina made cockfighting a lower-level felony; beforehand the animal fights were considered a misdemeanor offense.

A conviction today would bring a prison sentence of only 3 to 12 months, the Observer reports.

Investigators with the Rowan County Sheriff’s Department arrested four men on the felony charges at a live cockfight in 2017, The Charlotte Observer reported at the time. Another 20 men scattered into the woods to escape.

Chickens were found tied to cars behind fences covered with a tarp. Blood, feathers and numerous dead birds littered the scene.

Information provided by Tribune News Service was used to compile this report.

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