PETA presses Pentagon to stop troops from drinking cobra blood, killing animals in survival training

Greg Nash

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is pushing the Pentagon to end the use of live animals during an annual survival training in Thailand that has involved U.S. troops drinking cobra blood.

In a letter Monday to Defense Secretary Mark Esper, the animal rights group argued that the use of live animals at what’s known as the Cobra Gold exercise puts troops at risk of contracting zoonotic diseases like the coronavirus.

“Considering the danger zoonotic diseases pose to the troops — and indeed to all humanity — it is imperative that you end the use of live animals in Cobra Gold and instead use more effective and ethical non-animal training methods,” wrote Shalin Gala, PETA’s vice president of international laboratory methods.

The Pentagon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Cobra Gold is a multinational military exercise and the largest in the Indo-Pacific region. It has several stages, including live fire training, landmine destruction and an amphibious assault demonstration.

The event includes jungle survival training led by Thai instructors, and photos released by the U.S. military of this year’s exercises in late February and early March show Marines drinking cobra blood and eating live scorpions.

PETA, which cited a video from the South China Morning Post that also showed Marines killing chickens with their bare hands and skinning and eating live geckos, previously took issue with the survival training in a March letter to Marines Commandant Gen. David Berger.

In the letter to Esper on Monday, PETA focused on the risk of transmitting diseases from animals to humans, which is how the current coronavirus pandemic is believed to have started. The organization cited a 2015 estimate from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that said about 75 percent of emerging infectious diseases affecting people originated in animals.

PETA also highlighted the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center’s 2011 decision to suspend the use of live animals in survival training, as well as the U.S. Army’s Dugway Proving Ground 1993 decision to cancel a survival skills course that used live animals.

“Clearly, there are precedents for troops to learn food procurement survival skills without having to use live animals in abhorrent training drills that risk the spread of pathogens and disease,” Gala wrote. “For the sake of our troops, public health, and animals, we urge you to immediately ban the use of live animals in Cobra Gold and instead use more effective and ethical non-animal training methods.”

Tags Coronavirus Mark Esper military exercises Pandemic PETA Thailand

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