Cockfighting is reportedly thriving in Alabama even as bird flu threatens the state’s commercial poultry operations

Cockfights, which are common in Alabama

Alabama’s weak law has helped cockfighting flourish. Proponents say it needs to be tougher.

A criminal network based on animal cruelty and gambling should no longer be tolerated by state authorities

It is clear that this weak law is an invitation for enthusiasts to flock to Alabama and set up large scale cockfighting operations, especially as other states have instituted felony-level penalties.”

— Wayne Pacelle, President, Animal Wellness Actionss

MONTGOMERY, ALABAMA, UNITED STATES, Jan. 30, 2023 / — Animal Wellness Action and the Center for a Humane Economy — two nonprofit animal welfare groups that take a science-based approach to combating cruelty to animals — released two reports today on 1) rampant cockfighting in Alabama (report available to journalists upon request); and 2) cockfighting and its role in spreading bird flu and other infectious diseases (available here).

The organizations wrote to Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey today, alerting her to the dangerous overlap between widespread illegal cockfighting operations and the state’s massive commercial poultry operations, and urging her to launch a priority legislative effort at this session to address the anemic Improve the state’s anti-cockfighting law, which has remained unchanged since 1896. This law is the weakest of its kind in the nation and provides that “any person found holding a cockpit or fighting tails in a public place shall be fined not less than $20 but not more than $20 if convicted.” Dollars will be $50,” the letter reads.

“While dogfighting is a crime, cockfighting warrants fewer penalties than a speeding ticket,” said Wayne Pacelle, president of the Center for a Humane Economy. “It is clear that this weak law is an invitation for enthusiasts to flock to Alabama and set up large scale cockfighting operations, especially since other states have instituted felony-level penalties for these crimes.”

According to the Alabama Poultry and Egg Association and the USDA, the state produces about 1.17 billion broilers and 10.7 million layers annually, valued at $3.1 billion. Commercial poultry operations generate $15 billion in combined economic impact in Alabama and employ 86,000 workers in farms, processing plants and related industries. Broiler and layer farmers generate 65% of Alabama’s farm revenue and account for one-eighth of the state economy.

“There is no question that the illegal cockfighting industry is putting our country’s multibillion-dollar legitimate poultry industry at risk of serious avian infectious diseases, particularly potentially zoonotic highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) and virulent Newcastle disease (vND),” said Dr. Jim Keen, Director of Veterinary Sciences for the Center for a Humane Economy and lead author of a comprehensive 63-page report on the links between cockfighting and avian influenza and virulent Newcastle disease. “By allowing a huge cockfighting industry to thrive in Alabama, the state is endangering its enormous agricultural industry.”

The HPAI (H5N1 strain) avian influenza epidemic that began in Indiana in February 2022 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. As of January 2023, 309 commercial poultry flocks (primarily laying flocks and beef turkeys) and 427 backyard flocks in 47 states have been infected and euthanized. It is not known if infected backyard flocks are wildfowl as the USDA does not report this data. This epidemic is the largest and will be the costliest animal disease outbreak in our country’s history.

Virulent Newcastle disease, if left unchecked, can cause similar devastation to commercial and backyard poultry as HPAI. Since 1950, there have been 15 introductions of vND into the United States, 10 of which occurred through the illegal smuggling of feather cocks across our southern border from Mexico. (The virulent Newcastle disease is endemic to Mexico and throughout Latin America). Just three of those outbreaks have cost the federal government more than $1 billion.

Coinciding with the infectious disease report, Animal Wellness Action and the Center for a Humane Economy also released a report revealing some of the top cockfighters in the state.

In the absence of government action, the federal authorities apply the provisions of the Federal Animal Control Act. In December, Brent Easterling, the most prominent member of a Verbena family involved in the cockfighting business, was sentenced by federal district judge Myron H. Thompson to 24 months in federal prison for a range of illegal animal fighting activities, including maintaining two fighting pits on properties the family. The court also sentenced Billy Easterling to 22 months and Tyler Easterling to 20 months. Other family members are on probation or under house arrest. See the press release on the verdict here.

Animal Wellness Action provided vital information on the Easterlings’ criminal activities in 2020, and the next year the federal government pressed charges against the Easterlings.

Over the past few weeks, we have had credible information to suggest that Hanceville’s Crystal and Claude Vaughn have left the industry. Our report reveals previous operations that indicate they were major players in the cockfighting industry. “If the Vaughns have left the industry, it’s a significant development and it’s a smart move on their part to exit while they have their freedom,” added Pacelle

Animal Wellness Action’s updated report suggests other key players in cockfighting in Alabama, including Nauvoo’s Jerry Adkins and Royce Flores, are still involved. The report also identified new players, including Cyndel and Anthony Robinson of Courtland, Alabama. This report contains various resources that indicate significant involvement in animal fighting companies.

Animal Wellness had previously reported that Adkins and Flores had sent birds to Guam via the US Postal Service for later use in fights. Tom Pool, DVM, former Territorial Veterinarian for the Guam Department of Agriculture and now Senior Veterinarian for the Center for a Humane Economy, confirmed that all shipments of adult roosters to Guam were for cockfighting purposes. Adkins claimed in videos produced by Philippine cockfighting broadcaster BNTV in April 2020 that he ships 6,000 birds a year from his Nauvoo farm to destinations for fighting, including 700 birds to a single buyer in Mexico.

Many of the cockfighting enthusiasts whose operations are scattered throughout many parts of the state appear to be affiliated with the Alabama Gamefowl Breeders Association, and operations are so numerous and extensive that AWA has dubbed Alabama “the cockfighting capital of the Southeast.”

“It’s a federal felony to buy, sell, supply or possess a bird with the intention of engaging the bird in a cockfight, and that’s clearly what we’re seeing,” said Marty Irby, Executive Director of Animal wellness action and a local from Mobil. “Alabama has become a hub for the world’s fighting animal trade, and it’s time for the state to enact new legislation and for state and federal agencies to tackle cockfighting at its roots.”

At the moment, Animal Wellness Action and the Center for a Humane Economy have drafted new federal legislation to strengthen the existing animal fighting law and improve enforcement by:

• Prohibition of simulcasting and gambling in animal fights, regardless of where it originates;
• Discontinued shipping of adult roosters (chickens only) shipped through US mail;
• Create a citizen lawsuit provision to allow private lawsuits against illegal animal fighters and reduce the resource burden on federal agencies; and
• Improved forfeiture provisions to include real estate used in the commission of an animal fight crime.

Cockfighting corporations are not just hotspots of cruelty, they are a multibillion-dollar corporation, above and below ground, intertwined with illegal drug possession, illegal gambling, prostitution, violence, gang activity, illegal weapons and money laundering.

The Center for a Humane Economy is a Washington, DC-based 501(c)(3) whose mission is to benefit animals by helping create a more humane economic order. A first organization of its kind in the animal welfare movement, the center encourages companies to live up to their social responsibilities in a culture where consumers, investors and other key stakeholders abhor cruelty and environmental degradation and embrace innovation as a means to eliminate both. The center believes that helping animals helps us all.

Animal Wellness Action is a Washington, DC-based 501(c)(4) whose mission is to help animals by promoting federal, state and local laws and regulations that prohibit cruelty. The group champions causes that alleviate the suffering of domestic, livestock and wildlife and opposes dog and cockfighting and other forms of malicious cruelty. She also confronts factory farming and other systemic forms of animal exploitation. To prevent cruelty, Animal Wellness Action promotes the implementation of good public policies and monitors their enforcement. In order to make good laws, the group believes citizens must elect good lawmakers, and it helps educate voters on which candidates care about animal issues and which are hostile to them. Animal Wellness Action believes that helping animals helps us all.

Martin Irby
Animal welfare campaign
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