AWA urges Muna-Brecht to reconsider her refusal to enforce ban on shipment of cockfighting birds

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In this Oct. 19, 2003 file photo, man bets during a cockfight in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The U.S. territory of Puerto Rico will defy the U.S. government and approve a law to keep cockfighting alive in a bid to protect a 400-year-old tradition practiced across the island despite a federal ban that goes into effect this week, officials confirmed late Tuesday. (AP Photo/Walter Astrada, File)

Animal Wellness Action president Wayne Pacelle is urging Guam Department of Agriculture director Chelsa Muna-Brecht to reconsider her decision not to enforce the federal ban on the shipment of cockfighting birds to Guam.

In a release to the media, Pacelle said he has been “unsatisfied with the response by the Director of Agriculture regarding the approval it offers for fighting birds.”

He said he does not understand how the department “can continue to sign off on shipments of contraband.”

In a letter to Muna-Brecht, Pacelle cites recent media reports “indicating that you have not yet committed to institute new protocols to prevent illegal shipments of fighting birds onto Guam.”

He calls on Muna-Brecht to reconsider “so that you’ll meet all the duties of your office and protect it from civil or criminal actions brought by the federal government.”

READ  Pacelle’s letter to Muna-Brecht in FULL below:

January 26, 2020
Director Chelsa Muna-Brecht
Guam Department of Agriculture
163 Dairy Rd.
Mangilao, GU 96913

Director Muna-Brecht:

Recently, I wrote you about a careful screening of more than 750 avian shipping records approved between November 2016 and September 2019. Your office provided these records to Animal Wellness Action (AWA) and the Animal Wellness Foundation (AWF) upon receiving our request for them.

While I’ve not received a formal response from your office, I took note of press reports indicating that you have not yet committed to institute new protocols to prevent illegal shipments of fighting birds onto Guam. I ask you to reconsider your decision so that you’ll meet all the duties of your office and protect it from civil or criminal actions brought by the federal government.

While the latest upgrade of the federal law against dogfighting and cockfighting took effect on December 20th – banning any form of animal fighting throughout the United States, including in the territories – the United States has prohibited any shipments of fighting birds to the territories from the states or from foreign nations since 2002. It’s been a felony since 2007.

Our examination of the records, as we originally disclosed, revealed more than 500 shipments described as “brood fowl,” and we believe these transports must have been made for fighting purposes. There is no other logical explanation for this volume of shipments since there is no significant animal agriculture industry and no show-bird circuit of any consequence on Guam.

Cockfighting birds are expensive, and it’s likely that importers paid hundreds of dollars per bird.

The ratio of brood fowl to hens in these shipments was 10 to 1. Since it’s the males that the cockfighters conscript for fights, it’s logical to assume, given that standard breeding protocols call for those ratios to be inverted, that the purpose of these shipments was primarily for that purpose.

I’d also like to ask you to consider three additional points in re-evaluating your initial decision.

  • These individuals, by and large, who shipped or received game fowl appeared to have been steeped in the enterprise of cockfighting. Especially for the U.S.-based operators, we found their images on cockfighting magazines, we saw satellite images of their cockfighting yards, and amassed other evidence pointing to their immersion in the sport.

We found no exculpatory evidence showing their involvement in some legitimate agricultural business. We are prepared to provide this supplementary information to you to support our conclusions should you desire it.

  • Those involved in the trafficking of the “brood fowl” have not, to our knowledge, disputed our conclusions. No one has substantially contested our conclusion that the shipments of male brood fowl were made for cockfighting. In fact, one of the individuals receiving among the largest series of shipments of brood fowl, the Mayor of Santa Rita, admitted to media outlets that he is a cock-fighter and noted that he would cease his involvement in this illegal enterprise.
  • Guam has been accepting birds from a state where Virulent Newcastle Disease (VND) has been coursing through large portions of the state for two years. Guam is courting the transmission of a deadly avian disease by allowing avian shipments from California. Cockfighters in California, collectively, trailed only Oklahoma cockfighters in the number of birds shipped to Guam, and the Golden State has had an outbreak of VND since May 2018 (overlapping substantially with the records request we made). The federal government and the state have spent more than $100 million to contain the spread of the disease, and neither Guam nor the United States should have to bear the cost of a containment exercise on your island.

We know the identities of the major exporters and importers, and you can readily deny their birds’ entry based on the body of evidence we are providing. A small number of shippers and importers account for a large share of the transactions. In fact, the top five individual shippers
accounted for 52 percent of the shipments to Guam during the period for which we obtained documents. It’s clear that cockfighters deal with cockfighters, and the recipients of the birds should also be barred from receiving future shipments.

Your office examines shipments, not as an academic or perfunctory exercise, but partly to halt the spread of zoonotic diseases and to assure that the shipments are proper. The people shipping fighting birds to Guam are trafficking in illegal contraband, and those shipments should be denied on that basis alone.

If Guam knowingly sanctions imports of fighting birds, it may be engaged in a civil or criminal conspiracy to subvert federal law. A methodical approach in examining the shipments, based on evidence available to the Department, will protect the agency from legal jeopardy.

Taking a precautionary approach will also protect the exporters and importers from federal enforcement action. And by limiting illegal imports, your office will reduce the prevalence of cockfighting on Guam and reduce pressure on territorial and federal law enforcement.

Sincerely yours,
Wayne Pacelle, President

cc. Anthony Babauta
Shawn N. Anderson
Leevin Taitano Camacho