Cockfighting remains implicated in spread of H5N1 avian flu

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2008:
SAN JUAN, Bhubaneswar –Avian influenza may bring the demise
of cockfighting faster than animal advocacy in cockfighting
strongholds from Puerto Rico to rural Orissa state, India–but only
if governments hold cockfighters to the same restrictions as other
poultry farmers.
More than 100 New Year’s Day 2008 cockfights were cancelled
in Puerto Rico after bird imports were suspended due to an outbreak
of the avian flu H5N2 in the Dominican Republic. H5N2 is a milder
cousin of H5N1, which has killed more than 225 people worldwide
since 2003.

The rapid spread of H5N1 through Southeast Asia, especially
Thailand, was linked to the traffic in gamecocks, which remains a
major suspected H5N1 vector, along with traffic in falcons, but
commerce in live poultry for human consumption became the most often
implicated source of H5N1 after the disease hit commercial poultry
Puerto Rican agriculture minister Gabriel Figueroa halted
bird imports from all nations, not just the Dominican Republic,
because of the possibility that the Dominican outbreak originated
“The matches were already organized, and people had already
requested their visas and made hotel reservations,” Puerto Rican
government cockfighting director Carlos Quinones complained to Laura
N. Perez Sanchez of Associated Press.
Puerto Rican cockfighting involves about 50,000 human
participants, 100,000 cockfights, and attendance of 1.25 million
spectators per year, according to Quinones’ office, which puts the
economic value of cockfighting to Puerto Rico at $400 million per
The numbers are questionable, projecting average expenditure
of $320 per person per cockfight seen. Cockfighting is nonetheless
so politically entrenched that the Puerto Rican legislature responded
to the U.S. abolition of legal cockfighting by passing a bill
defining the opportunity to participate in cockfights as a “cultural
In Orissa, meanwhile, and other Indian enclaves of
cockfighting, participants elude prosecution by staging fights in
temples under the pretext of sacrifice. Political cover tends to
come from local district committees of the Hindu nationalist
Bharatiya Janata Party–which is ironically also the party of People
for Animals founder Maneka Gandhi.
Mrs. Gandhi served five years as the first Indian minister
for animal welfare when the BJP controlled the Indian parliament
early in the current decade, but eventually lost her ministry due to
pressure from a coalition of biomedical researchers and practitioners
of animal sacrifice.
A January 2008 outbreak of H5N1 in West Bengal near the
Orissa border was declared contained in early February, after about
3.4 million chickens and domestic ducks were culled, but the cull
was subverted by villagers who bootlegged so many birds to market
before they could be killed that the price of poultry fell by half.
Another 2.1 million chickens were believed to be at risk in
Orissa, Assam, Bihar, and Jharkhand states, but Orissa balked at
ordering a cull, after Veterinary Officers Training Institute
officer-in-charge Ramakanta Mohapatra reported that the 900,000
chickens said to be at risk in Orissa included 10,000 to 12,000
Orissa minister for fisheries and animal resource development
Golak Bihari Naik told The Hindu that the gamecocks are the “life and
pride” of rural tribal families.

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