Illegal animal fighting receding on Guam but it has not yet been eliminated
Washington, D.C. — The illegal movement of fighting animals from U.S. states to Guam has dramatically declined during the last year, according to shipping records from the Guam Department of Agriculture (GDOA) and recently obtained and reviewed by Animal Wellness Action (AWA) and the Animal Wellness Foundation (AWF). During the last year, GDOA records reveal shipments of 310 animals transported for fighting purposes, down nearly 80 percent from the prior year and more than 90 percent from three years ago.
“Our campaign to end illegal cockfighting on Guam is choking off the flow of unlawful transports of cockfighting roosters from off-island sources,” said Wayne Pacelle, president of Animal Wellness Action. “Selling birds across state or territorial lines, receiving them on the island, or fighting them on Guam are felony offenses.
In January 2020, AWA and AWF revealed that there were 137 individuals on Guam who imported nearly 9,000 fighting birds between November 2016 and October 2019 in more than 500 illegal shipments by U.S. mail. AWA and AWF allege that these individuals are cockfighters or “cockfighting brokers” who sold birds to others involved in the sport. The top 10 importers of fighting animals on Guam received about 60 percent of the nearly 9,000 fighting birds, with the top importer receiving 1,608 birds for fighting or closely related purposes.
It has been illegal since 2002, and a felony since 2007, to transport or sell roosters for fighting across state or territorial lines. On December 20, 2019, a United States law took effect banning animal fighting everywhere in the United States, including on Guam.
Here are the Department of Agriculture data for four successive 12-month periods on exports of fighting birds from U.S. states to Guam:
3661 roosters, November 2016 — October 2017
2745 roosters, November 2017 — October 2018
2426 roosters, November 2018 — October 2019
310 roosters, November 2019 — October 2020
The reduction in imports of fighting animals from other parts of the United States is the latest evidence of the decline of cockfighting on Guam. Since AWA and AWF launched their “End Cockfighting” campaign a year ago on Guam, the territory’s major fighting arena (“The Dome”) has been shuttered for business, and the Governor did not grant approval for cockfighting activities at 17 village festivals. In 2019, the Guam Cockfighting Licensing Board disbanded, meaning there is no regulation of the industry. A poll authorized by AWA and AWF and conducted by a respected Guam-based polling firm revealed that more than 60 percent of Guamanians support the federal law to ban cockfighting, while only 21 percent oppose it, with the remainder undecided. Still though, politicians there continue to send confusing signals to the cockfighters about their commitment to adherence to the federal law.
On October 1, 2020, U.S. District Court for the District of Guam and the Northern Marianas Islands rejected a legal challenge from a Guamanian who alleged the most recently enacted provisions of the federal anti-animal fighting law cannot be legally applied to Guam. An amendment to the 2018 Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 took effect one year after enactment, on December 20, 2019 and applied all pre-existing prohibitions against animal fighting to the U.S. territories, including Guam and Puerto Rico where cockfighting has been openly conducted for decades.
In rejecting the argument of the plaintiff, Judge Frances M. Tydingco-Gatewood — after considering the pleadings in the case, including an amicus brief filed by AWA and AWF — relied heavily on a ruling last year made in a similar case brought by cockfighting enthusiasts in Puerto Rico against the United States. In late October last year, Judge Gustavo A. Gelpí of the U.S. District Court of Puerto Rico rejected claims by Club Gallístico and other cockfighting clubs, declaring that “[n]either the Commonwealth’s political statutes, nor the Territorial Clause, impede the United States Government from enacting laws that apply to all citizens of this Nation alike, whether as a state or territory.”
After obtaining thousands of pages of shipping records from the GDOA, AWA and AWF investigated the major shippers to Guam and determined that these individuals have been knee-deep in the cockfighting industry. Oklahoma cockfighters shipped more fighting animals to Guam than any other state, with California, Hawaii, Alabama, and North Carolina traffickers next in line by volume. Most of these individuals are shipping birds across the world. One shipper, Jerry Adkins of Slick Lizard Farms in Nauvoo, Ala., recently told a Filipino television broadcaster that he sells 6,000 birds a year to Mexico alone. With some birds selling for as much as $2,000 each, that could generate millions in gross sales for Mr. Adkins and the other members of his family involved in trafficking animals.
The top exporters to Guam during the last year were Bill McNatt of Oklahoma (84 roosters) and #3 exporter over the four-year period analyzed; Domi Corpus (61 roosters) of California, the #6 exporter; John Bottoms (48 roosters), also of Oklahoma, and the #1 exporter; and Erwin Kagimoto (45 roosters) of Hawaii and the #7 shipper. No fighting roosters, according to GDOA records, have been shipped since June.
The shippers typically mischaracterized the shipped birds as “brood fowl” or “show fowl” rather than fighting birds in a subterfuge to try to skirt the federal animal fighting law. Our investigation — which included examination of industry sources, online research, and satellite imagery of farms raising roosters for fighting — makes it clear that dozens of shippers knowingly violated federal law, as did the importers on Guam.
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. AWF and AWA noted that illegal shipments of fighting birds were coming more frequently than every other day for the first three years of the assessment, but then with a steep drop-off of shipments since November 2019.
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.”
“Nearly all of the birds shipped as “brood fowl” were males,” noted Drew Edmondson, co-chairman of the Animal Wellness National Law Enforcement Council and also the former Attorney General of Oklahoma. “This skewed ratio favoring the males is another tell-tale sign that the trade was conducted for cockfighting.” In a standard agricultural operation receiving birds for production, the ratios would be inverted, with more females used for breeding and egg production.
“The Congress overwhelmingly passed a law to ban animal fighting everywhere in the United States, two U.S. District Courts in the territories have affirmed the constitutionality of that law, and the people of Guam have made their views known they want cockfighting banned,” added Mr. Pacelle. “While we celebrate the decline in illegal activity, there are still too many people defying the law and hurting animals for the thrill of the experience. Time to get with the program.”
AWA and AWF have announced 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 here which serves as a comprehensive resource about the subject and an action center for citizens who want to help combat these animal cruelty crimes.