AWF probe finds gamefowl trafficking between mainland, Guam
The non-profit organizations obtained live-animal shipping records showing more than 500 illegal shipments of fighting birds
Cockfighters from the U.S. mainland made more than 500 illegal transports of fighting birds to customers on Guam, according to an analysis by the Animal Wellness Foundation and Animal Wellness Action of 2500 pages of live-animal shipping records obtained from the territorial Department of Agriculture.
The records reveal the illegal trafficking of nearly 9,000 birds to Guam alone in 33-month period -- translating into an illegal shipment, on average, every other day.
Five exporters, including three from Oklahoma, accounted for more than 50 percent of the 8,800 birds sent to Guam.
As a follow up to that startling analysis of approved veterinary inspection records for live-bird imports, AWF and AWA today requested that Guam Agriculture Director Chelsa Muna-Brecht revamp the live-animal clearance process.
The AWF-AWA letter, sent earlier today, asks her to instruct her staff to deny certification for any additional shipments of gamefowl destined for Guam, except in cases where the shippers and receivers can affirmatively demonstrate that they are not involved in the cockfighting.
According to AWF-AWA, the shippers typically mischaracterized the shipped birds as “brood fowl” or “show fowl” rather than fighting birds “in order to try to skirt the federal animal fighting law to attempt to create doubt when the transports were pending before the territory’s veterinary authorities.”
AWF-AWA said their investigation, which included examination of industry sources, social media accounts, and satellite imagery of farms raising roosters for fighting, concluded that dozens of shippers knowingly violated federal law, as did the importers on Guam.
While the latest upgrade of the federal law forbidding cockfighting on Guam and in other U.S. territories took effect on Dec. 20, previously enacted provisions of the animal fighting statute starting back to 2002 (with felony provisions adopted in 2007) explicitly outlawed any shipment of fighting animals across state or territorial lines.
While the federal statute forbids the use of the U.S. Postal Service for shipping game fowls, AWF-AWA said their sources told them birds inspected by Guam came through transports conducted through the U.S. mail.
“Cockfighters falsely representing that they were trading in ‘brood fowl’ or ‘show birds’ is the equivalent of cocaine traffickers shipping a white substance in the mail and claiming they’re just shipping baking soda or baby powder,” said Wayne Pacelle, founder of Animal Wellness Action. “It doesn’t pass the smell test and anyone who knows anything about this business knows it’s a flat-out lie.”
AWF and AWA note that there is no commercial poultry industry to speak of, and there are not competitions for show birds of any consequence on the island. Guam has, on the other hand, maintained a robust cockfighting industry. AWF and AWA noted that illegal shipments of fighting birds were coming more frequently than every other day during this nearly three-year period, with the volume of shipments modestly declining from year to year.
“From our analysis of the shipping records, it is clear to us that there has been a brisk illegal trade in fighting birds destined for Guam,” said Drew Edmondson., a former four-term Attorney General of Oklahoma and now the co-chairman of the Animal Wellness National Law Enforcement Council. “This was an illegal business, and the exporters and importers knew exactly what was going on. That’s why they’d pay $1,500 for three male roosters coming from Oklahoma, North Carolina, or California.”
Under Section 26 of the Animal Welfare Act, 7 U.S.C. 2156, there are strict prohibitions on transporting animals across state or territorial lines, regardless of whether cockfighting is legal at the export destination. “It shall be unlawful for any person to knowingly sell, buy, possess, train, transport, deliver, or receive any animal for purposes of having the animal participate in an animal fighting venture,” reads the law.
And the law is specific about not using the mail service for this purpose: “It shall be unlawful for any person to knowingly use the mail service of the United States Postal Service or any instrumentality of interstate commerce for commercial speech for purposes of advertising an animal, or an instrument described in subsection (d), for use in an animal fighting venture, promoting or in any other manner furthering an animal fighting venture except as performed outside the limits of the States of the United States.”
Analyzing other aspects of the data also invalidates the argument that the birds are shipped for agricultural purposes. Some shippers are sending more than 100 cocks for every hen, and in every case, the ratios are extraordinarily lopsided to favor the males. In a standard agricultural operation receiving birds for production, the ratios would be inverted, with more females used for breeding and egg production.
A poll conducted by Market Research & Development on Guam determined that 62 percent of Guamanians favor the federal ban on cockfighting. In 2019, the Guam Cockfighting Licensing Board disbanded, meaning there is no regulation of the industry. A District Court Magistrate Judge on Guam recommended denying a motion for preliminary injunction filed by a local cockfighting enthusiast seeking to enjoin enforcement of the law, and two months ago a U.S. District Court Judge in Puerto Rico rejected similar legal maneuvers by cockfighting clubs in that U.S. territory.
“The Guam Department of Agriculture’s authority to certify shipments amounts to actual authority, and it is not a perfunctory exercise in checking the box,” added Pacelle. “We call upon the Department to deny authorization for these gamefowl shippers, and especially now because animal fighting is banned everywhere in the U.S., including on Guam.
AWA and AWF announced a rewards program to run for an indefinite time that provides a $2,500 reward for any individual who provides critical information that results in a successful federal prosecution of an individual or set of individuals who violate the federal law against animal fighting. The rewards program is mentioned on the new campaign website, www.endcockfighting.org, which serves as a comprehensive resource about the subject and an action center for citizens who want to help combat these animal cruelty crime