Animal welfare leaders argue that the government of Guam should not act as a “pass-through enterprise” or a “go-between” for cockfighters breaking the law
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Shipping records obtained from the territorial Department of Agriculture revealed that there were 137 individuals who imported nearly 9,000 fighting birds onto Guam over the last three years. It is probable that these “importers” are cockfighters or “cockfighting brokers” who sold birds to others involved in the sport. The analysis excludes individuals who shipped birds for other purposes.
The top 10 importers of fighting animals on Guam received about 60 percent of the nearly 9,000 fighting birds. The top importer brought in 1,608 birds for fighting or closely related purposes. In all, there were 57 individuals who imported more than 25 birds.
This data is the second tranche of incriminating evidence revealed by the Animal Wellness Foundation (AWF) and Animal Wellness Action (AWA) after it conducted a rigorous analysis of 2,431 pages of live-animal shipping records obtained from the territorial government that revealed more than 500 illegal shipments of fighting roosters to Guam alone.
Last week, AWF and AWA reported that 71 “exporters” sent birds from U.S. states to Guam for illegal animal fighting on Guam. The top five exporters — working from Oklahoma, California, Hawaii, North Carolina, and Alabama — accounted for 52 percent of all cockfighting roosters sent to Guam.
“A small number of Guamanians are dominating this illegal trade,” said Wayne Pacelle, founder of Animal Wellness Action. “Our evidence indicates that the people who shipped fighting animals to Guam were enmeshed in the cockfighting industry, and it logically follows that the people they sold to were knee-deep in the same enterprise.”
AWF and AWA renewed their request that the government of Guam revamp the live-animal clearance process, instructing 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.
“The exporters and importers went to great expense to conduct complicated, long-distance transports of fighting animals,” added Drew Edmondson, a former four-term Oklahoma Attorney General and co-chairman of the Animal Wellness National Law Enforcement Council. “The government of Guam has a responsibility not to allow itself to be used as a go-between or a pass-through enterprise for private citizens engaged in illegal trafficking of fighting animals.
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. 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.
While the latest upgrade of the federal law forbidding cockfighting on Guam and in other U.S. territories took effect on December 20th, 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. The federal statute forbids the use of the U.S. Postal Service for these purposes, yet the birds inspected by Guam, according to sources, came through transports conducted through the U.S. mail.
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.
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. In a standard agricultural operation receiving birds for production, the ratios would be inverted, with more females used for breeding and egg production. This skewed ratio favoring the males is another tell-tale sign that the trade was conducted for cockfighting.
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.
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 on 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 crimes.