RALEIGH, N.C. >> North Carolina breeders have illegally shipped hundreds of live roosters to Guam, charging as much as $2,000 per bird as they supply the Pacific island’s lingering cockfighting trade, animal rights advocates said today.
A pair of nonprofit rescue groups, Animal Wellness Action and Animal Wellness Foundation, sent letters to U.S. Attorney Robert Higdon in Raleigh asking his office to immediately investigate animal cruelty across North Carolina. U.S. attorneys in the state’s western and middle districts were also alerted.
In a Zoom call with reporters, AWA President Wayne Pacelle said his group analyzed shipping records in Guam between November 2017 and September 2000, in which time they found 9,000 fighting roosters mailed from 12 states.
North Carolina ranked near the top with more than 1,000, which Pacelle described being shipped more than 8,000 miles without food or water so they can fight to the death with knives attached to their feet.
In their letter to Higdon, the groups identify a top cockfighting farm in Robeson County, the only one from the eastern district, though other U.S. attorneys were notified about breeders in Trap Hill and Ronda. The N&O does not identify alleged criminals who have not been charged.
“North Carolina has been the Eastern hotbed of cockfighting,” Pacelle said. “We take no pride. We don’t relish the idea of people going to prison for these activities. We want them to stop.”
In 2005, North Carolina made cockfighting a class I felony, which upgraded the charge from a misdemeanor but still kept it in the least serious category among the upper-level crimes. The penalty for such felonies ranges from 3 to 12 months in prison.
In 2017, Rowan County sheriff’s investigators arrested four men on felony cockfighting charges after finding the birds being forced to fight in a pit, The Charlotte Observer reported at the time. Another 20 men scattered into the woods.
Deputies there found chickens tied to cars behind fences covered with a tarp. Blood, feathers and numerous dead birds littered the scene.
The connection to Guam, a U.S. territory, stems from its more recent crackdown.
A federal ban on cockfighting took effect there in late 2019, and in October, a U.S. District Court judge struck down a challenge to that ban, according to Pacific Daily News. The island imports eggs and poultry and has no significant industry related to roosters, Pacelle said, so the shipments can only be for fighting.
“Most of us have recognized that cockfighting is cruelty to animals,” said Drew Edmondson, a former Oklahoma attorney general who participated in today’s Zoom call. U.S. attorneys “have it now. They know about cockfighting in their jurisdictions.”
Oklahoma’s cockfighting activity is “worse,” Edmondson said, offering some consolation to North Carolina. Enforcing cockfighting bans has long ranked as a low priority for law enforcement agencies, he added, who have what they consider more pressing matters to investigate.
“I think (cockfighters) felt they were above the law,” Pacelle said. “I think they felt the lack of enforcement was an open invitation.”
Pacelle noted many have sought to continue cockfighting as a cultural tradition, particularly Cajun and Mexican-Americans.
“It certainly is not a mainstream part of American culture or any other culture,” Pacelle said.
Higdon’s office did not immediately responded to questions about the animal rights groups’ letter.
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