But live-shipping records for 2022 shows Department reneged on pledge to abide by federal law and block shipments of fighting birds
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, Animal Wellness Action (AWA) applauded an emergency action by the Guam Department of Agriculture (GDOA) to halt live poultry imports to Guam because of the spread of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza, with the current outbreak infecting birds from Maryland to South Dakota. Federal and state authorities have already killed two million birds in the states to contain its spread.
One effect of the new GDOA policy is to temporarily halt illegal shipments of fighting birds from the 48 continental states to Guam. Federal authorities expect the outbreak to persist for months, and it is likely to spread beyond its existing viral footprint.
While applauding this prudent course to prevent the onset of avian influenza on Guam, the GDOA has not fulfilled its public pledge from January to set up strict protocols to halt shipments of fighting birds to the island.
Two cockfighting traffickers — John (and Brenda) Bottoms and Bill McNatt, both of Oklahoma – are the only two individuals to ship birds onto Guam in 2022, according to live-animal shipping records obtained by AWA. From December 30th through February 17th, McNatt shipped 158 birds onto Guam and Bottoms 143.
“Bottoms and McNatt shipped fighting birds to Guam to make more money for themselves, violating federal law in the process,” said Wayne Pacelle, president of Animal Wellness Action. “Months ago, Animal Wellness Action submitted extensive dossiers on their cockfighting activities. They should be on a ‘no fly’ list and the Department of Agriculture has no business allowing them to move fighting birds onto Guam.”
Bottoms has shipped 2,276 animals to Guam over the last five years and McNatt 2,059. They are by far the top two shippers to Guam with their shipments constituting 38 percent of the 11,516 animals sent to Guam during that period.
“Officials from the Guam Department of Agriculture take an oath to uphold the laws of the United States, and that’s not happening when they allow cockfighting traffickers to ship birds by the hundreds or the thousands to feed the illegal fighting pits operating on the island,” added Pacelle.
In January, AWA released two videos of an illegal cockfighting derby on Guam, and at the center of the pit is a law enforcement agent with the GDOA. Dozens of people at the arena were masked, signaling that the video was taken during the pandemic and therefore after the federal ban on cockfighting went into effect in 2019. No action has yet been taken against the employee even though he’s apparently not contested, he’s the individual at the center of a cockfighting pit in the videos.
AWA has called on the Department of Agriculture to place a moratorium on the approval of any adult roosters shipped to the island and then adopt formal, durable standards to ensure that exporters and importers of live animals are not involved in animal fighting activities.
The vast majority of birds shipped to Guam are males and they are breeds typically used for fighting. AWA notes there is no commercial poultry industry on Guam, and there are no competitions for show birds of any consequence on the island.
Under Section 26 of the Animal Welfare Act, 7 U.S.C. 2156, it is a crime to:
- Knowingly sponsor or exhibit in an animal fighting venture;
- Knowingly attend an animal fighting venture, or knowingly causing an individual who has not attained the age of 16 to attend an animal fighting venture;
- Knowingly buy, sell, possess, train, transport, deliver, or receive any animal for purposes of having the animal participate in an animal fighting venture;
- Knowingly use the mail service of the U.S. Postal Service, or any “written, wire, radio televisions or other form of communications in, or using a facility of, interstate commerce,” to advertise an animal for use in an animal fighting venture, or to advertise a knife, gaff, or other sharp instrument designed to be attached to the leg of a bird for us in an animal fighting venture, or to promote or in any other manner further an animal fighting venture except as performed outside the U.S.;
- Knowingly sell, buy, transport, or deliver in interstate or foreign commerce “a knife, a gaff, or any other sharp instrument” designed or intended to be attached to the leg of a bird for us in an animal fighting venture.
Penalties for each violation of any one of these provisions allows for a maximum of 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for perpetrators, except for an adult attending an animal fighting venture. Penalties for adult attendance are 1 year in prison and a $5,000 fine. The ban on transporting fighting birds to Guam has been in place since 2002, and a felony since 2007.
Animal Wellness Action seeks additional tips on illegal cockfighting at firstname.lastname@example.org.