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The truth about ‘sabong’

12:04 AM January 31, 2017

With people celebrating the entry of the Year of the Rooster, I’m reminded of a recent conversation with a friend who told me about his first experience with cockfighting, or sabong.

He described the air in the arena as heavy with the pungent odors of cigarette smoke, beer, and charred meat, as though forewarning the roosters who would soon be forced to do battle. Slowly, the stands filled up with a steady stream of people. He said he looked around, shocked. He couldn’t believe his eyes: Along with the men and women, children were taking their seats to await the fight!

When all bets had been placed, the first roosters were sent out to fight. One bird circled the other, each holding the other’s gaze unblinkingly. (My friend said neither bird had wanted to fight, so their owners aggressively threw them toward each other.)

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The round was over in an instant. First there was a squawk, followed by a flurry of feathers. One rooster mounted the other, cutting into its opponent’s back with a blade attached to its leg and pecking the back of the other’s head. The “referee” intervened, picking up both birds and putting them back on the ground. One strutted proudly around, while the other fell limply. Its last few moments of life were spent flailing on the ground in a pool of its own blood. Then its legs stopped kicking.

Just like that, it was over. At that point, my friend said, he left the arena; there was no way he could have made it through the 20 cockfights scheduled for that afternoon.

What my friend had witnessed was the equivalent of a first-round knockout in a boxing match—except that in this blood sport, the roosters don’t get handsome purses. Humans attach blades to their legs and force them to fight. And what does it say about humankind when a stadium full of men, women and children burst into applause at the violent and completely unnecessary death of an animal?

The fates of both the “winner” and “loser” are bleak: Losers are often dumped into the nearest trash can. Those who survive are usually forced to fight again, and sometimes they end up in the trash, too, if the injuries that they sustain during the fight are severe. Although roosters at cockfights are presented as handsome warriors, being forced to fight to the death can hardly be considered a fair deal.

While birds used for fighting have a longer life span than those raised for meat—as most won’t do battle until they’re two years old—they don’t spend that time in Shangri-la. Most are kept tied up and isolated, given little room to move around, fed drugs to make them grow faster and stronger, and tormented during training.

Most people don’t know that chickens are inquisitive animals that are as intelligent as the cats and dogs we share our homes with. They are very social creatures and like to spend their days together with their kind, scratching for food, taking dust baths, roosting in trees, and basking in the sun. Females start their maternal duties earlier than most other moms by talking to their chicks while they’re still inside the shell.

Chickens’ cognitive abilities are impressive, too: They can comprehend cause-and-effect relationships and understand that objects still exist even after they are hidden from view. Despite this, these misunderstood birds are abused more than any other species on the planet, with hundreds of millions of them killed every year in the Philippines alone.

In this Year of the Rooster, let’s show roosters the compassion and respect they deserve. A first step is not patronizing cockfights.

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Jana Sevilla is the senior cruelty case officer for Peta (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) Asia. For details on Peta’s work in the Philippines, visit PETAAsia.com or call 8175292.

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TAGS: animal welfare, Chicken, Chinese new year, Commentary, opinion, peta, Rooster, sabong
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