Oklahoma City — Former Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson is asking U.S. Attorney Brian J. Kuester to investigate allegations of ongoing trafficking of birds to Guam for cockfighting, for illegally possessing fighting animals, and perhaps engaging in other conduct at odds with state and federal law. Mr. Kuester, based in Muskogee, has jurisdiction for the Eastern District of Oklahoma.
The request follows an investigation by Animal Wellness Action and Animal Wellness Foundation that revealed that three of the top five shippers of birds to Guam, covering a three-year period, reside in eastern Oklahoma. AWA and AWF allege, based on their investigation, that Oklahoma “may be the cockfighting capital of the United States.” Attorney General Edmondson asked District Attorneys for Cherokee, Haskell, and LeFlore counties to investigate the allegations as well and to bring charges as appropriate.
Those individuals are John and Brenda Bottoms of Gunner Gamefowl Farm in Heavener; Bill McNatt of Cherokee Game Farm in Stigler; and Darrell Trammel of Moody Farm in Tahlequah.
“The Eastern District is fraught with individuals who have been involved in the global trafficking and fighting of birds,” Edmondson said. “It is a felony under state and federal law to buy, sell, deliver or own any bird with the intent that such bird shall engage in a cockfight, and that’s clearly what we’re seeing. The three individuals identified in this investigation brazenly defy law enforcement officers. This deserves the attention of law enforcement officers and prosecutors, and that’s what we’re asking for.”
Through public records requests to the Guam Department of Agriculture, AWF and AWA obtained nearly 2,500 pages of avian shipping records dated November 2016 to September 2019. These records detail approximately 750 shipments of birds from more than a dozen states to Guam.
In these documents, shippers described over 8,800 of the shipped animals as “brood fowl.” There is no legitimate explanation for this volume of shipments. First, Guam does not have a significant animal agriculture industry or a show-bird circuit. Second, the ratio of roosters to hens in these shipments of brood fowl was nearly 10 to 1 with some shipments being over 100 to 1. It’s difficult to think of any animal agriculture industry that requires more males than females. Since it’s the males that cockfighters conscript for fights, and with standard breeding protocols calling for those ratios to be inverted, any reasonable person would conclude that the purpose of these shipments was primarily for promoting the cockfighting industry, which is robust on the island.
“Oklahomans voted in overwhelming numbers to ban cockfighting 18 years ago,” said Louisa McCune, executive director of the Kirkpatrick Foundation, which supports a number of animal welfare causes. “The record of these illegal shipments indicates that we have a sizable cockfighting industry operating in Oklahoma. It’s our hope that law enforcement takes very seriously any and all crimes involving the abuse of animals, including the breeding, selling, and shipping of roosters used for an unconscionable blood sport.”
There have been a number of prosecutions of cockfighters in the state, including the most recent action in January 2020, when county authorities arrested two people after investigators stumbled across a cockfighting ring east of Harrah.
“Cockfighters are still at it in Oklahoma, and we hope our investigation prompts local, state, and federal law enforcement authorities to pull this illegal business up from its roots,” said Wayne Pacelle, founder of Animal Wellness Action. “The practice is cruel and barbaric, and long-distance movements of the birds threaten to spread avian influenza and jeopardize animal and human health.”
AWA and AWF announced a rewards program to run for an indefinite time that provides a $2,500 reward for any individual who provides critical information that results in a successful federal prosecution of an individual or set of individuals who violate the federal law against animal fighting.
Edmondson is co-chair of the National Law Enforcement Council for AWA and AWF. During his time as Oklahoma Attorney General, he defended the law from constitutional challenges brought by cockfighters. In Edmondson v. Pearce, the Oklahoma Supreme Court determined in a unanimous ruling that the anti-cockfighting law represents a proper exercise of authority and that cockfighting and related activities are forbidden in the state. Numerous federal courts have upheld the federal anti-animal fighting law as constitutional.