Washington, D.C. — Animal Wellness Action (AWA) and the Animal Wellness Foundation (AWF) today asked U.S. Attorney Kenji M. Price, representing the District of Hawaii, to investigate allegations that a substantial number of residents in the state are knee-deep in the business of illegal trafficking of fighting animals and perhaps making millions of dollars from the trade.
“Hawaii is at the center of the cockfighting trade in the Pacific Rim, with the state acting as a hub-and-spoke model for animal fighting activities in Asia, in the Pacific islands, and in the United States,” said Wayne Pacelle, president of Animal Wellness Action. “Hawaii cockfighters are breeding fighting animals to be hacked up in fighting pits within the state and throughout the world.”
Through public records requests to the Guam Department of Agriculture, AWF and AWA obtained nearly 2,500 pages of avian shipping records dated November 2017 to September 2019. These records detail approximately 750 shipments of birds by 71 individuals from more than a dozen states to Guam, where more than 130 individuals purchased the birds for fights in the U.S. territory. These shipping records revealed that Hawaii had more shippers of fighting birds to Guam than any other state and sold, after Oklahoma and California, the third largest volume of birds to this long-time hotbed of cockfighting.
According to sources on Guam, AWA and AWF learned that the shippers use the U.S. Postal Service to transport the birds, packing the live animals into boxes and sending them in the cargo holds without food or water. Shipments to Guam are just indicators of a far more brisk trade in U.S.-produced fighting birds to other foreign jurisdictions, including the Philippines, Vietnam, and other nations where the activity is not uncommon.
A detailed report covering the findings of the investigation points to apparent illegal animal fighting activities by a range of individuals immersed in the animal trafficking.
- Richard Torres, of Triple T Gamefarm, uses the U.S. Postal Service to ship birds for fighting purposes in apparent violation of federal law. “If your chickens don’t win [at fighting derbies],” he notes, “nobody going to buy em.” Asked what he likes about roosters, he said the following: “Just the beauty, their courage, the way they, you know, no matter what they’ll continue fighting even if they’re chopped up, you know, chopped up to pieces and they just keep coming, you know, determination.” He adds, “The thing that gives me the most pride is when my customers call and they tell me that they won a derby.”
- Sid Etrata shares pictures on his Facebook page of his participation in cockfighting in the Philippines and in Guam. Of his fight in the Philippines he said, “I’m very fortunate to say that I’m with Gerry Ramos fighting under ‘Hawaiian Sid’.”
- John Cambra is long-time participant in the Slasher World Cup in the Philippines, including as recently as January 2020. He has had previous federal indictments for illegal cockfighting.
- Bryson Au, of Red Raiders Gamefarm, said in a 2018 broadcast interview with the Philippines-based BNTV that he “spars every day” and was in “five derbies this year so far.” When asked if he has a job he says, “Not right now…because I’m winning.”
- Gino Joseph, on Oahu, says in his BNTV interview that, “There’s a lot of people here that are really good rooster men. What holds us down is the fact that we not supposed to be doing it here.”
- Vernon Lowry, in his BNTV interview describes his birds as, “high flying good cutting roosters” and “very good for long knife.”
“Possessing and shipping birds for cockfighting have been banned under federal law since 2002 and felony offenses since 2007,” noted Drew Edmondson, the four-time Oklahoma Attorney General and co-chair of the National Law Enforcement Council for Animal Wellness Action and the Animal Wellness Foundation. “Possessing and transporting birds for fighting are serious federal felonies, and the people involved are taking enormous risks to participate in this kind of cruelty to animals.” General Edmondson has been leading the fight against cockfighting in Oklahoma, where he defended the state’s 2002 ballot initiative outlawing cockfighting and making it a felony offense.
“Hawaii has one of the nation’s weakest anti-cockfighting laws, and the presence of that anemic law has given false comfort to the people involved in the industry,” noted Margery Bronster, a former Hawaii Attorney General. “The federal law, however, is as strong as it can be, and it’s my hope that the U.S. Attorney for the District of Hawaii takes a serious look into the evidence that’s been amassed in this investigation.”
Under current federal law, it is a crime to:
- Knowingly sponsor or exhibit an animal in a fighting venture;
- Knowingly attend an animal fighting venture, or knowingly cause 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 an adult in attendance are 1 year in prison and a $5,000 fine.