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Cockfighting is one of the world’s oldest sports after boxing. However, unlike in boxing where two humans are the ones who enter the ring to exchange blows, cockfighting involves two or more specially-bred birds placed in an enclosed pit to fight while the humans spectate and bet from the sidelines.
In this article, we’ll be discussing the beginnings of cockfighting, how it works, and how cockfights are perceived across the globe.
History of Cockfight/Cockfighting
A form of blood sport, cockfighting, also known as rooster fighting, has been around for hundreds of years. While there is no known definitive origin of rooster fighting, one of the earliest cockfights recorded dates back to around 517 BC under the Chou Dynasty in China.
Archaeologists also unearthed tombs that date back to 510 BC near Jerusalem which had depictions of cock fighting. Greek and Roman communities also adopted cockfighting around 480 BC.
However, the first known use of the term ‘cockfight’ came around 1521, during Magellan’s voyage of discovery of the Philippines. Antonio Pigafetta, an Italian who had been Magellan’s chronicler, witnessed and documented the first modern cockfight for Westerners.
In his account, Pigafetta observed that the birds in Palawan were very large and tame, and noted that the natives did not consume the cocks due to a “certain veneration that they have for them.”
He further mentioned, “Sometimes they make them fight with one another, and each one puts up a certain amount on his cock, and the prize goes to him whose cock is the victor.”
The birds in a cockfight are referred to as gamecocks. George Wilson used the term “cock of the game” in the book The Commendation of Cocks and Cock Fighting, published in 1607 and known as one of the first books centered on the bloodsport.
The word ‘gamecock’ denotes the use of the cock as a form of a ‘game,’ which is a sport, pastime, or entertainment. The first known use of the word ‘gamecock’ was recorded in 1634.
How Does a Cockfight Work?
A cockfight is an organized fight between two roosters placed in a ring called a cockpit. In general, a cock fight lasts from a few minutes to about half an hour.
Gamecocks used in this bloodsport are usually roosters that are particularly bred and conditioned to have increased strength and stamina. Aside from roosters, male saffron finches and canaries have also been used in matches on occasion.
Conditioning the Roosters
Individuals who are involved in cockfights, whether as a handler, breeder or spectator, are referred to as cockers. The majority, if not all, cockers often inject the birds with steroids and adrenaline-boosting drugs for two to three weeks prior to a fight.
The drugs boost the metabolism of the birds, making them stronger and more difficult to kill. The roosters are also kept in a small dark box, isolating them from other animals and depriving them of stimuli and natural behaviors.
In the fighting pit, the roosters duel until one of them dies or is critically injured. The birds are often equipped with metal spurs called gaffs or knives, tied to their leg in the area where their natural spur has been partially removed.
The size of the knives ranges from half an inch to three inches long and are sharpened enough to deliver killing blows to other roosters. There have also been cases where the bird handlers have been killed by the gaffs attached to their roosters.
Cockfighting Weight Divisions
Just like other sporting events, there are some rules to adhere to in cockfights. Each cock must weigh within two ounces of its opponent. On the other hand, cocks that weigh over 6 pounds are called “shakes” and are not matched for weight.
During a cockfight, there are two handlers, the referee, and two cocks in the pit. The referee tells the handlers when to release the cocks, when to pull them apart, times the rest periods, and makes sure that the handlers abide by the rules.
The cocks duel until one of the gaffs strikes or gets entangled in the body of the opponent. This is where the referee comes in to let the handlers disentangle the cocks and give both fighters a 20-second rest period. The cocks are pitted again at the end of the rest period. This process continues until there is a winner.
It’s worth noting that cock fighting has no specific scoring mechanics. Essentially, the winner is decided on the basis of “survival of the fittest.” A match may be won in three ways: if one of the cockerels dies during the fight, if one of the cockers concedes the bout, and through the “count” which allows a cockerel that isn’t dead yet to lose if he ceases to attack the opponent.
In recent years, a new variation of the cockfighting sport has been gaining popularity. Called “coxing,” the participating cocks are made to wear pads during the match and are scored electronically. Coxing is more similar to the sport of boxing and is a lot less lethal than traditional cockfighting.
What Happens to the Roosters After a Cockfight?
Not all fights in the pit end in death, though. Some birds live only to endure significant physical trauma which may later result in death. What happens to the defeated cockerel can vary between countries due to culture or religion.
For example, in Bali, Indonesia where cockfight events are practiced as a part of an ancient religious purification ritual, the dead birds are either used as offerings at the temple. Sometimes, the lifeless cockerels are also sold at a premium price for consumption.
For cockers who have no cultural or religious ties to cock fighting, the dead birds are either discarded in a barrel near the game pit, incinerated, or some take them home to be served as dinner.
On the spectator side of things during a cockfight, cockers place wagers on the outcome of the match. There is no organized betting for the opposing teams, crowd, and pit owners. The betting is typically done privately between interested parties so as to not delay the matches.
Regional Variations of Cockfighting
A cockfight is a common spectacle throughout South Asia and Southeast Asia. Fights between animals such as junglefowl and roosters are said to have been popular in ancient India as a form of entertainment.
Cock fighting in India has been illegal since 1960, although, despite the ban in the country, the bloodsport is still popular In present times, specifically in Andhra Pradesh where most of the fights take place. Cockfighting in India is done without gaffs or taping, with the birds engaging in combat using their natural spurs.
In Southeast Asia, cock-fights are an old tradition. In Bali, Indonesia, it is practiced as an ancient religious purification ritual to expel evil spirits. Moreover, a cockfight is a religious obligation at every Balinese temple festival or religious ceremony. Fights without a religious purpose are considered gambling, although it is still practiced in many parts of the country.
Another country in Southeast Asia where cockfighting is viewed as a popular pastime is the Philippines. The bloodsport was already thriving in pre-colonial times, as observed and recorded by Antonio Pigafetta, the chronicler aboard Ferdinand Magellan’s expedition.
Colloquially known as ‘sabong,’ cockfight has a unique status in the Philippines as both illegal and legal events occur. Authorized cockfights are held in cockpits every week while illegal ones are held in secluded cockpits where law enforcement cannot raid them. The Philippines has hosted several cockfight derbies where the world’s leading cockers gather.
Legality of Cockfighting
In the United States, cockfighting is illegal in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Louisiana was the last state to implement a state law banning cockfights.
Additionally, cockfight events are also often touted as a breeding ground for criminal activities such as illegal gambling, drug trafficking, gang activity, and illegal weapon sales. These illegal activities, combined with laws against animal cruelty, further spurred the ban on cockfighting.
Aside from the US, some other countries where cockfighting is banned include Australia, Belgium, Costa Rica, Malaysia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. On the other hand, some territories where cockfighting enjoys a legal status include Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti, and the Philippines.
Cockfighting is a bloodsport that dates back to ancient times, however, at present, it is often frowned on across the globe. Despite that, there are still parts of the world where cockfighting is popular and widely accepted, whether for entertainment, cultural, or religious purposes.
Frequently Asked Questions
What local law enforcement agency oversees cockfighting?
In the United States prosecuting cockfight events involves many local agencies such as Animal Care, Code Enforcement, the Sherriff’s Office, the District Attorney, local police officers, and more. There are also organizations involved in helping crack down illegal cockfights.
One such organization is the Humane Society which aims to fight for all animals. The Humane Society works hand-in-hand with local law enforcement to go after cockers.
Is cockfighting a federal crime?
Cockfighting is a felony in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The possession of birds for fights is prohibited in 39 states and the District of Columbia, possessing cockfight implements is prohibited in 15 states, and being a spectator in cockfight events is prohibited in 43 states and the District of Columbia.
Although, in some states, cockfighting is only considered a misdemeanor offense.
Moreover, former US President Obama signed the 2014 farm bill into law. The bill contained a provision that makes attending an animal fighting event a federal offense, as well as bringing a child under the age of 16 to an animal fighting event.
Does cockfighting promote animal suffering and animal cruelty?
There are varied answers to this question as some groups do not view cockfighting as a form of abuse of animals while there are some who deem otherwise.