SHARK Releases Video Revealing Operators of Major Cockfighting Complex in Coal County Illegally Shipping Fighting Birds Through U.S. Post Office in Coalgate
Oklahoma City — Calling Oklahoma “the cockfighting capital of the United States,” Animal Wellness Action and the Center for a Humane Economy released reports today detailing 1) rampant cockfighting (report available to journalists upon request) and 2) cockfighting and its role in spreading Avian Influenza and other infectious diseases (available here).
The two groups are also working with Showing Animals Respect and Kindness (SHARK), which has been conducting investigations in Oklahoma in recent days with an investigator with the Center for a Humane Economy. SHARK, working with the Humane Farming Association, has pioneered the use of drones to investigate cockfighting complexes and also documented a major cockfighting operator in Coal County illegally shipping fighting birds through the local U.S. Post Office. The groups released that footage today and will turn that video, along with supporting information, to the U.S. Attorney and federal investigators with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
The organizations released these reports and video just days after Rep. Justin Humphreys, R-Lane, introduced HB 2530 to decriminalize cockfighting in Oklahoma. His bill, a redux of a measure that failed to pass the legislature last year, seeks to gut the penalties in Oklahoma’s anti-cockfighting law and to decriminalize possessing and training birds to fight them.
Humphreys and more than a dozen other politicians are supported by a political action committee —the Oklahoma Gamefowl Commission—composed of people breaking the law in Oklahoma by staging fights and trafficking in fighting animals. Animal Wellness Action’s report documents how the leaders of this organization are deeply involved in the barbaric practice of cockfighting.
“If you commit felony crimes on a daily basis and disregard the rule of law, you cannot credibly petition your government,” said Wayne Pacelle, president of Animal Wellness Action and the Center for a Humane Economy. “Rep. Justin Humphrey should withdraw his pro-crime, pro-cruelty bill and stop conspiring with individuals knowingly violating the laws of Oklahoma and the United States.”
“Our field investigations are pulling back the curtain on these criminal operators in Oklahoma,” said Steve Hindi, president of SHARK. “I constantly ask myself what kind of person takes pleasure in watching animals hack each other to death with knives for the mere thrill of the bloodletting?
The Center for a Humane Economy also today released a comprehensive 63-page report on the links between cockfighting and avian influenza and virulent Newcastle Disease. “By allowing a massive cockfighting industry to flourish in Oklahoma, the state is putting the enormous number of commercial poultry operations in eastern Oklahoma and western Arkansas at risk,” said Dr. Jim Keen, director of veterinary sciences for the Center for a Humane Economy and the primary author of the report.
The HPAI (H5N1 strain) bird flu epidemic that began in February 2022 in Indiana has already killed nearly 60 million commercial and backyard poultry and unknown thousands, perhaps millions, of wild birds in 48 states over the past 12 months.
Virulent Newcastle disease can cause commercial and backyard poultry devastation similar to that of HPAI if not contained. There have been 15 introductions of vND into the United States since 1950, 10 of which occurred via the illegal smuggling of game cocks across our southern border from Mexico. (Virulent Newcastle disease is endemic in Mexico and all of Latin America.) Just three of those outbreaks cost the federal government more than $1 billion.
The report on illegal cockfighting shows operators throughout Oklahoma but concentrated in the eastern part of the state where commercial poultry farms are numerous. Animal Wellness Action had previously reported that two of Oklahoma’s biggest cockfighting operators—John Bottoms of LeFlore County and Bill McNatt of Haskel County—accounted for 40 percent of the 11,500 birds shipped by cockfighters to the small U.S. territory of Guam in the western Pacific.
Tom Pool, D.V.M., M.P.H., and the former territorial veterinarian with the Guam Department of Agriculture and now the senior veterinarian with the Center for a Humane Economy, attested that the adult rooster shipments to Guam were for the purpose of cockfighting. Dr. Pool, a graduate of the Oklahoma State University Veterinary School and the Colonel who ran the U.S. Army’s Veterinary Command, is a native of Lawton.
“Lawmakers swear and take an oath to defend the Constitution, not to defend cockfighting,” said Drew Edmondson, former four-term Attorney General of Oklahoma and co-chairman of the National Law Enforcement Council of Animal Wellness Action. “It is a federal felony to buy, sell, deliver or possess any bird with the intent to engage the bird in a cockfight, and that’s clearly what we’re seeing.”
Animal Wellness Action and the Center for a Humane Economy have formulated new federal legislation to strengthen the existing statute against animal fighting and enhance enforcement by:
- Banning simulcasting and gambling of an animal fight, no matter where it originates
- Halting the shipment of mature roosters (chickens only) shipped through the U.S. mail
- Creating a citizen suit provision to allow private right of action against illegal animal fighters and ease the resource burden on federal agencies
- Enhancing forfeiture provisions to include real property used in the commission of an animal fighting crime.