At least 22 Hawaii chicken breeders may also be sellers, fueling illicit cockfighting rings in Guam, an animal welfare group has alleged in a new report.
Representatives with Animal Wellness Action as well as former Hawaii Attorney General Margery Bronster are calling on U.S. attorneys to use the new report as a starting point for an investigation into cockfighting in the state.
They also want the U.S. Department of Justice to shutter the farms.
“These people are not just knee deep, but neck deep in the world of cockfighting,” Wayne Pacelle, an animal rights activist, said of the Hawaii chicken farmers.
The group used three years worth of Guam shipping records to identify the breeders. To link them to the fights in Guam, the group used the breeders’ own social media posts along with interviews a Philippines broadcast station did with the breeders to promote cockfighting.
Fighting chickens is illegal in Hawaii, as well as at the federal level. But animal wellness advocates say prosecuting anyone beyond those in the fighting pits may prove difficult because of Hawaii’s relatively weak animal fighting laws.
For chicken fights, getting caught would only result in a misdmeanor.
Pacelle, a former CEO of the Humane Society and founder of Animal Wellness Action, called on lawmakers to toughen up those laws. He was joined by Bronster, as well as former Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson.
“Our lawmakers need to take this seriously,” Bronster said in a news conference Tuesday. “But if they do or don’t, it’s still illegal under federal law. This is an opportunity for federal law enforcement to pursue an investigation and prosecute and stop this.”
The group wrote a letter to U.S. Attorney Kenji Price asking for an investigation.
“We appreciate the information provided to our office today concerning potential violations of federal law, and will refer the information to an appropriate investigative entity,” Price said in a statement.
Pacelle said that the impetus for launching the investigation was passage of the 2018 Farm Act, which expanded prohibitions against animal fighting to cover U.S. territories.
In 2018, Guam’s governor expressed dismay over those provisions, and advocated for cockfights.
Nearly 9,000 birds from 71 exporters were brought into Guam from the states, according to the welfare group’s review, and Hawaii accounted for the greatest number of those breeders. Other states include Oklahoma, California, Alabama and North Carolina.
One problem is that it’s not illegal to ship livestock, including chickens, through the U.S. Postal Service. Pacelle alleges that the chickens were misrepresented by the breeders in the Guam shipping records as “brood fowl,” or chickens used for breeding.
Asked how the group knows those shipments are being misrepresented, Pacelle cited the sales price, as well as multiple social media posts and interviews made by the breeders.
“No one pays $3,000 for (laying) hens, and the same’s true for meat birds,” Pacelle said. “The economics for this make it plain.”
The split between male and female chickens also tipped the activists off.
When breeding chickens, Edmondson said, you might have 90 females and two roosters. But they would see 90 roosters to only two hens.
“Any farmer would tell you that’s a crazy ratio,” Edmondson said. “If they’re only sending five hens, it’s probably not to make love.”
Animal Wellness Action provided their report to Price on Monday. Along with details of their investigation into shipping, the report also includes profiles of the breeders as well as their contact information and street addresses.
At the top of the list of breeders was Erwin and Sam Kagimoto, who sold 340 birds to buyers in Guam, according to the group’s review of shipping records.
The Kagimotos’ farm was previously destroyed by a neighbor’s dog, leading to a lawsuit that has since been settled, according to Ted Hong, Kagimotos’ attorney in the case.
Hong said the Kagimotos have sold fighting chickens to Guam in the past. The family’s lawsuit from 2017 also lays that out. But, Hong said, at the time cockfighting was legal in Guam.
Hong said Erwin Kagimoto took good care of his chickens, and devoted much time to research and developing feed. He would travel to Guam to meet the buyers and check on the chickens.
“There was no indication that he mistreated his animals,” Hong said. “And when you look at the prices and demand, he did a really good job. We know what they’re used for, but it’s not like he ran a mill.”
Forty-two states make cockfighting a felony, and Hawaii is not one of them, Pacelle said.
Efforts to make laws more stringent have failed, according to Inga Gibson, who lobbies for animal rights at the Legislature with Pono Advocacy.
Enforcement has been difficult, Gibson said. Even when police go to a cockfighting match, they can only make arrests for those in the fighting pits that are near the birds.
“This is something we’ve long hoped our legislators would take seriously because it’s so much more than animal cruelty,” she said. “No one would cockfight if not for the money.”
Sign up for our FREE morning newsletter and face each day more informed.
Not a subscription
Civil Beat is a small nonprofit newsroom, and we’re committed to a paywall-free website and subscription-free content because we believe in journalism as a public service.
That’s why donations from readers like you are essential to our continued existence.
Help keep our journalism free for all readers by becoming a monthly member of Civil Beat today.
Blaze Lovell is a reporter for Civil Beat and a graduate of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He was born and raised on Oahu. You can reach him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @blaze_lovell