Animal group: Imports of fighting birds up 600% so far in 2021 - Guam Daily Post

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The "illegal shipment of fighting birds" from the states to Guam rose 600% during the first six months of 2021 compared to the prior year, according to animal welfare organizations that have been tracking the shipment of birds to the island using records from the Guam Department of Agriculture.

"Cockfighters have resumed their illegal trafficking of fighting animals destined for Guam," Wayne Pacelle, president of Animal Wellness Action, stated in a release.

"We don’t expect cockfighting enthusiasts and their political backers to like the unanimous set of federal court rulings upholding the federal law against animal fighting, but we do expect them to respect the law and the authority of the courts. The people sending and receiving these fighting animals are lawbreakers, participating in conduct that allows prosecutors to impose felony-level penalties upon perpetrators," he added.

Guam Department of Agriculture Director Chelsa Muna-Brecht had not commented on the release from AWA and Animal Wellness Foundation as of press time Monday. 

The organizations stated that exports of birds to Guam dropped substantially between 2017 and 2018, and then again in 2019. The next year saw an even steeper decline with the publicizing of a new federal ban on cockfighting and the COVID-19 pandemic.

But numbers have surged in 2021, and Guam is on a path to far exceed 2019 import numbers, according to the release.  

AWA and AWF stated that most of the shippers sending to birds to Guam come from Oklahoma or Hawaii, including two reportedly well-known Oklahoma cockfighting traffickers - Bill McNatt and John Bottoms - accounting for more than two-thirds of the birds shipped to Guam.

"There is one major California-based cockfighting trafficker, Domi Corpus (170), who ships fighting birds across the pacific rim, and also a major cockfighting trafficker, James Edwards (74), from North Carolina. Animal Wellness Action has extensive information on most traffickers on this year’s list of transports, except for a new name on the list - Hang Nhan (104) of Georgia," the groups stated.

Shippers typically mischaracterize the birds as "brood fowl" or "show fowl" to skirt federal law, according to AWA and AWF.

The groups said the Guam Department of Agriculture should not allow transports into Guam from McNatt, Bottoms and Corpus since they had published information demonstrating that these shippers are "steeped in the cockfighting business."

"There is no legitimate reason for their birds to come to Guam, since there is no commercial poultry industry or any other legitimate pretense for these shipments. This is a criminal conspiracy and federal law enforcement should act against these individuals," AWA and AWF stated.

The organizations have announced a $2,500 reward for anyone that provides information resulting in the successful federal prosecution of an individual or group who violate federal laws against animal fighting. The rewards program is on

The federal 2018 Farm Bill, enacted in December of that year, imposed a federal ban on cockfighting throughout the territories with a phase-in period of one year.

The ban drew serious criticism from some territorial residents and public officials, who argued there is cultural and historical significance to the practice. 

Local resident Sedfrey Linsangan attempted to challenge the ban at the District Court of Guam but his lawsuit was shot down by Chief Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood. 

Despite the ban, the fiscal year 2020 budget law set enforcement of the federal cockfighting ban as the lowest priority for the government of Guam, which in effect, meant it would not be enforced.

Similar language does not appear in the fiscal 2021 budget law, but recent amendments strengthening Guam's animal cruelty laws also officially recognized cockfighting as a cultural practice, and prevent the criminalization or punishment of cockfighting.

Pacelle called the local exemption "window dressing" as federal laws already ban cockfighting on Guam.

Sen. Jose Terlaje, who proffered the exemption, responded to the release from AWA and AWF. His office stated that Pacelle and the organizations were interfering with the culture of the people of Guam. 

"Guam law recognizes cockfighting as a cultural practice and the enforcement of the federal ban on cockfighting is the lowest priority of the Government of Guam. This is an issue of culture of democracy. We have a right to have voting representation in laws that affect us - it is a basic question of human rights more than it is of animal rights," Terlaje stated. Guam does not have voting representation on federal laws.

"Respect the CHamoru people. We will not ask anyone for permission to practice our own culture. It is our right under international law," Terlaje added.

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