Our ancestors domesticated the wild jungle fowl, the ancestor of the modern chicken, sometime before 2,000 B.C. By 450 B.C. cockfighting was a major sport in ancient Rome. In Alabama, cockfighting remains a major sport even though it was outlawed here as early as 1896.
On Thursday, Animal Wellness Action and the Animal Wellness Foundation held a press conference to announce that they have asked U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town to investigate possible illegal cockfighting after their recent investigation produced evidence that the illegal activity is not only still practiced in Alabama, but that Alabama gamebird breeds are trafficking game birds to Guam, a U.S. Territory.
The investigation by AWA and AWF that revealed that several Alabamians are among the top shippers of fighting birds to Guam.
The AWA and AWF named: Jerry Adkins of Slick Lizard Farms; Royce Flores, and the late Jason Campbell, all of Nauvoo as being top breeders of gamebirds and of shipping gamecocks to Guam. They allege that Adkins and Flores breed and train birds and then ship them around the world for the purpose of cockfighting.
The animal welfare groups told reporters that these individuals, according to shipping records, packed birds in boxes and sent them through the U.S. Postal Service to Guam for later use, allegedly, in fights. AWA and AWF claim to have detailed information on a host of other major cockfighting operations in Alabama, with thousands of birds raised for fighting and shipped to Mexico, the Philippines, and other far-flung jurisdictions. Many of the cockfighting enthusiasts, whose operations dot many parts of the state, appear to be affiliated with the Alabama Gamefowl Breeders Association.
The AWA says that Alabama is “the cockfighting capital of the Southeast.” Filipino TV recently visited a number of Alabama farms where they interviewed breeders and showed how the animals are raised. Cockfighting is both very legal and very popular in the Philippines. Many of the birds were allegedly bred in Alabama.
Possessing and shipping birds for cockfighting have been banned under federal law. since 2002 and has been a felony since 2007, when President George W. Bush (R) signed the enhanced penalty provisions into law and also criminalized the sale of cockfighting implements.
“It is a federal felony to buy, sell, deliver or possess any bird with the intent to engage the bird in a cockfight, and that’s clearly what we’re seeing,” said Marty Irby, executive director of Animal Wellness Action and a native of Mobile. “Alabama has become a launching point for global trafficking of fighting animals, and it’s time for authorities to crack down on this criminal conduct.”
Through public records requests to the Guam Department of Agriculture, AWF and AWA obtained nearly 2,500 pages of avian shipping records dated November 2016 to September 2019. These records detail approximately 750 shipments of birds by 71 individuals from more than a dozen states to Guam.
Alabama cockfighters had the fifth highest total number of shipments to Guam. Mr. Flores was the top shipper to Guam from Alabama and the sixth biggest shipper in the U.S., selling more than 400 birds to Guam during the three years.
The shipping records show that the nearly 8,800 birds were sold and shipped as “brood fowl.” The AWA and AWF however claim that Guam does not have a significant animal agriculture industry or a show-bird circuit. Additionally, the ratio of roosters to hens in these shipments was nearly 10 to 1 with some shipments being over 100 to 1. Cockfighters fight the roosters. Hens, which are more social and less violent than their brothers, aren’t used for fighting. Chickens also are not monogamous so one rooster can service two dozen hens easily; thus a normal chicken breeder is going to normally prefer hens 20:1 and someone raising chickens for eggs may purchase only pullets (juvenile hens).
“It’s nonsensical to think of any animal agriculture enterprise requiring more males than females,” Irby said. “Standard breeding protocols would have the ratio of male to female birds to be inverted, but male birds are used in cockfighting. Any reasonable person would conclude that these shipments was primarily for the cockfighting industry, which is robust on the island.”
The AWA and AWF claims that their investigation shows the Alabama operators to be running their illegal operations in full view of law enforcement and the public.
Adkins claimed in videos produced by the Philippines-based cockfighting broadcaster BNTV in April 2020 that he ships 6,000 birds a year from his Nauvoo farm to destinations for fighting purposes, including 700 birds to a single buyer in Mexico.
“Selling 6,000 birds for the fighting trade would likely yield $1 million to $3 million in gross sales,” Irby claimed.
Federal authorities have busted major dogfighting operations in the state, but the state law against cockfighting is so weak it’s unusable. In 2016, the FBI broke up a fighting operation in Mobile County, but very modest penalties were imposed in the case at the recommendation of the Department of Justice, which was led at the time by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. When he served as a U.S. Senator, Sessions opposed efforts to make it a crime to attend a dogfight or cockfight or to bring a child to such a spectacle (Roll Call Vote # 154).
Jonathan Buttram, president of the Alabama Contract Poultry Growers’ Association has previously expressed concerns about cockfighters spreading avian influenza.
“Cockfighters ship birds very long distances, and engage in very intimate contact with the birds, sometimes sucking fluids from the air passages of the birds in order to keep an injured bird fighting,” noted Buttram. “The shipments and the fighting birds would allow an avian disease to spread far and wide very fast and potentially to spread to humans. This kind of twisted entertainment does not warrant the disease risks.”
The chicken breeds used in cockfighting are highly specialized. The chicken bloodlines used in modern commercial laying chickens (normally White Leghorns) and broiler chickens (normally a line combining genetics from White Rocks with Broadbreasted Cornishs) are useless in cockfighting.
Wayne Pacelle, president of AWA, called on Alabama state legislators to upgrade the state law against cockfighting, in order to better align that law with the state’s tough anti-dogfighting law and the strong federal anti-animal fighting statute.
“While dogfighting is a felony, cockfighting warrants less in the way of penalties than a parking ticket,” Pacelle noted. “The law imposes no jail time for perpetrators, a minimum fine of $20, and a maximum fine of $50. The law has not been upgraded since it was enacted in 1896.”
“They’re everywhere now,” Buttram said of the Alabama cockfighting farms, “When they have these derbys there’s drugs, prostitution, and betting going on. Its unbelievable all that’s going on.”
Buttram said that our food biosecurity is at risk here due to the threat of avian influenza and puts Alabama’s multi $billion poultry industry potentially at stake.
“If AI gets in here it would be devastating,” Buttram said. “In my area here it is chicken house after chicken house there would be millions of dead birds and if it mutates into humans there could be millions of dead humans also.”
The groups want a federal animal fighting unit created to investigate cockfighting and dog fighting fulltime.
Buttram warned that cockfighting is, “A very good way for AI to come into the United States,”
Animal Wellness Action (Action) is a Washington, D.C.-based 501(c)(4) organization with a mission of helping animals by promoting legal standards forbidding cruelty.
The Animal Wellness Foundation (Foundation) is a Los Angeles-based private charitable organization with a mission of helping animals by making veterinary care available to everyone with a pet, regardless of economic ability.