New Mexico bans cockfighting
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2007:
SANTA FE–New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson on March 12,
2007 signed into law a bill banning cockfighting, leaving Louisiana
as the last U.S. state that allows it.
“Today, New Mexico joins 48 other states in affirming that
deliberately killing animals for entertainment and profit is no
longer acceptable,” said State Senator Mary Jane Garcia (D-Dona Ana),
who pushed prohibiting cockfights for 18 years.
Thirteen New Mexico counties had already individually banned
Taking effect on June 15, “The bill makes participating in
cockfights a petty misdemeanor on first offense, a misdemeanor on
second offense, and a fourth-degree felony– punishable by up to 18
months in prison–for a third or subsequent offense. Spectators
could not be charged,” summarized Deborah Baker of Associated Press.
“The push for change was homegrown,” reported Los Angeles
Times staff writer Nicholas Riccardi. “When Garcia took office in
1989, a male colleague suggested she try to ban cockfighting. Her
bill was easily defeated” Riccardi recalled, “and Garcia soon
learned that the ban suggestion was a sort of hazing to which veteran
legislators subjected young female colleagues.”
Garcia did not appreciate that She objected as well to
claims by cockfighters that cockfighting is part of New Mexico’s
Latino heritage. “How dare they insult me this way, that it is my
culture?” Garcia asked. “Never, never, never.”
Garcia repeatedly reintroduced her bill, eventually winning
the endorsements of the New Mexico Conference of Catholic
Bishops–and Governor Bill Richardson.
Richardson as recently as January 2006 became a target of
SHARK video truck protests and an e-mail campaign for offering
incentives worth $750,000 to try to lure the Professional Rodeo
Cowboys Association headquarters from Colorado to New Mexico;
pledging $12 million in state funding for a top-level rodeo arena;
and pledging an additional $3 million in renovation funding for local
Cockfighters, claiming to contribute $70 million per year to
the New Mexico economy, asserted that “Richardson vowed not to
outlaw cockfighting when he ran for governor in 2002, and was
shifting because he didn’t want to take flak for it in the Democratic
presidential race,” recounted Riccardi.
“Garcia received death threats and got police protection,”
Riccardi continued. “A lobbyist for the bishops called authorities
after people drove SUVs by the house of his mother and sisters late
one night, honking and flashing their headlights.”
Actress Ali MacGraw, a New Mexico resident, rallied
celebrity opposition to cockfighting to help the bill move, and “was
beside Richardson as he signed the bill,” Riccardi said.
A Louisiana ban on cockfighting is believed to be imminent.
“I support banning cockfighting,” Louisiana Governor
Kathleen Blanco told Doug Simpson of Associated Press in a March 12,
2007 single-sentence e-mail.
Louisiana defenders of cockfighting appear to have shifted
from trying to prevent the passage of any ban to stalling for time.
“Probably the days are numbered for cockfighting in our
state,” Louisiana House of Delegates speaker Joe Salter (D-Florien)
acknowledged in a March 19 address to the Press Club of Baton Rouge.
Reported Simpson, “Salter said he would back a bill that
would impose a six-month jail term, $1,000 fines, or both on people
found guilty of organizing or taking part in cockfights. It would
take effect in 2010.
“In previous years,” noted Simpson, “cockfighting bans have
been killed in the House Agriculture Committee. Cockfighting
opponents have asked that such bills go instead to the Judiciary
Committee, which normally handles matters of crime and punishment.”
Salter said that the bill he favors would go to the
agriculture committee, but added “I’m going to do what I can to make
sure that it comes out of committee,” and goes to the full House for
A competing bill drafted but not yet introduced by Louisiana
state senator Art Lentini would provide the same penalties for
cockfighting, but would take effect immediately. Lentini “filed a
similar bill last year,” wrote Simpson, “It passed the Senate, but
stalled in the House agriculture committee.”
Commented Humane Society of the U.S. president Wayne Pacelle,
“Forty-nine states have banned cockfighting, and not one of them
included a phase-out period. Cockfighting should be put to death
quickly, not sustained with a slow bleed.”
Agreed Louisiana SPCA executive deirector Laura Maloney,
“Lawmakers should not prolong the inevitable.”
“A 2004 poll commissioned by HSUS revealed that 82% of
Louisianans want cockfighting banned,” wrote HSUS publicist Martin
After banning cockfighting in Louisiana, increasing the
penalties in states with weak bans will be among the HSUS legislative
Thirty-three states offer felony penalties for cockfighting,
but Ohio, for example, has no minimum fine for cockfighting, and
sets a 90-day maximum jail term.
“Virginia’s lax punishment for cockfighting makes it a magnet
for cockfighters from nearby states that punish it more severely,”
Associated Press political writer Bob Lewis summarized on January 29,
2007 after a legislative hearing on a bill to strengthen the Virginia
“Cockfighting in Virginia is illegal now only if admission is
charged to watch the fights, or if prizes are awarded for the
animals who survive,” Lewis continued. “A January 21 raid in
Mecklenburg County, on the North Carolina border, resulted in the
arrests of 122 people, about 75% of them from other states, mostly
North Carolina,” according to testimony from Mecklenburg County
deputy sheriff Danny Fox. “Twenty-two of those arrested were illegal
aliens whom the Department of Homeland Security is deporting, and
many of them were members of alien gangs such as the Mexican Mafia
and MS-13, Fox said,” according to Lewis.
Ten children and crack cocaine were found at the cockfight,
wrote Christina Nuckols of the Virginian-Pilot, but the present
maximum penalty for cockfighting in Virginia is only a fine of $500.
HSUS deputy manager of animal fighting issues John Goodwin
testified that 20,000 to 30,000 Americans participate in
cockfighting, compared with about 40,000 involved in dogfighting.
Passage of the New Mexico cockfighting ban and the likelihood
that cockfighting will be restricted in Louisiana improved the
chances of federal legislation being passed to introduce a felony
penalty for transporting animals interstate or internationally to
participate in animal fighting, and for engaging in interstate or
international commerce in cockfighting spurs, knives, and gaffs.
The pending federal bills are H.R. 137, which cleared the
U.S. House of Representatives on March 27, 2007, and S.B. 261 in
the U.S. Senate.
“An ongoing HSUS investigation has assembled convincing
evidence of a massive trade in fighting cocks between the United
States and the Philippines,” HSUS publicist Karen L. Allanach said
on March 19, 2007. “HSUS has requested that Philippine Airlines and
Korean Air Lines immediately halt any shipment of fighting birds, as
required by federal law,” which at present provides only misdemeanor
penalties for violation.”
Allanach wrote only three days after a federal court jury
awarded $97,150 to Arkansas gamecock breeders John and Anna Slavin,
for the loss of 63 adult birds and about 1,000 eggs allegedly caused
by contaminated feed. “The Slavins operate a 320-acre farm near Hon
in Scott County, where they typically raise between 500 to 800
gamecocks,” reported the Fort Smith Times Record.
“The Slavins sell their gamecocks mostly to customers from
Mexico and the Philippines,” according to their attorney, Bill
Walters of Greenwood, Arkansas.
The birds were poisoned after medicated feed, meant for
cattle, was mistakenly bagged with a batch of Land O’Lakes Purina
However, the HSUS information appeared to come from a
“Early in 2005,” Allanach recounted, “HSUS received
information from a confidential informant that Continental Airlines
was the only airline that would transport adult roosters to Guam,
and that the airline was used by cockfighters to send fighting birds
there. In July 2005, HSUS received records from Guam documenting
which U.S. breeders were exporting adult roosters to Guam and the
numbers shipped. HSUS recognized almost all of the exporters as
HSUS in December 2005 documented to Continental that it had
“unknowingly shipped more than 3,000 fighting birds to Guam for the
purpose of cockfighting,” Allanach wrote. “In October 2006,
Continental decided to stop shipping adult roosters to Guam.”
In November 2006, HSUS presented similar findings to
Philippine Airlines. “More than 4,000 birds are shipped to the
Philippines every year,” said Allanach.
In February 2007, HSUS documented to Korean Airlines that it
too “is responsible for shipping thousands of fighting cocks to the
Philippines,” Allanach finished.
H5N1 adds urgency
Efforts to ban cockfighting both in the U.S. and worldwide
gained momentum after 2003. Early in the year, outbreaks of exotic
Newcastle disease spread from gamecocks to factory farmed laying hens
in California, Arizona, and New Mexico. That fall, cockfighting
also proved instrumental in spreading the H5N1 avian influenza
throughout Southeast Asia.
Agribusiness previously tended to oppose cockfighting bans,
mostly to avoid creating legislative precedents for extending humane
laws to cover poultry.
After 2003, recognition spread that cockfighting is a bigger
short-term economic threat to the commercial poultry business than
animal advocacy ever has been. H5N1 in particular has caused the
deaths of several hundred million commercially raised birds, some
from the disease itself, and even more from containment efforts.
Through mid-March 2007, H5N1 had infected at least 275
people in 12 nations, killing at least 167 of the human victims–and
cockfighting continues to be among the major vectors for outbreaks.
Thai Department of Disease Control director general Thawat
Suntrajarn, M.D., acknowledged on March 20 that the most recent
Thai outbreak of the H5N1 avian flu was probably caused by gamecocks
smuggled from Laos. Reported Arthis Khankhom of The Nation, from
Mukdahan province, bordering Laos, “A source who asked not to be
named said that cockfighting game dens were ordered shut down right
after Laos confirmed the bird flu epidemic, yet many local gamblers
still sneaked out with their fighting cocks for a session in Laos.
“A frequent gambler was the livestock officer. A number of
his fighting cocks died, and he himself was being watched for bird
flu infection, said the source.”
The most recent previous H5N1 outbreak in Thailand, in July
2006, was also traced to cockfighting. Cockfighter Yongyuth
Daenmisi, 17, fell ill a week after burying 10 dead gamefowl with his
“The victim failed to report the death of his fighting cocks
because he was afraid that authorities would slaughter his birds,”
Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra told Anusak Konglang of Agence
The Thai agriculture ministry “imposed a complete ban on
cockfighting in both Pichit and Phitsanulok provinces,” hoping to
isolate the region where the outbreak occurred, agriculture minister
Sudarat Keyuraphan announced.
The Thai poultry export trade is now the world’s fourth
largest, but was first largest before H5N1 hit.