By Sydney Rader
The Pentagon calls it a “jungle survival training exercise,” hosted annually in Thailand and run by Thai military officials.
But videos taken by U.S. Marines themselves — and released by PETA — show that the exercise known as Cobra Gold is just a frenzied collective bloodlust, during which live animals are literally torn apart in a hellish atmosphere for military “training.”
As a former U.S. Marine sergeant, I stand with PETA. It’s time to stop using and abusing live animals during Cobra Gold.
More than 106,000 supporters have joined PETA in recently ratcheting up the pressure on the Pentagon and the Marines’ top brass by formally calling for a simple rule change that would stop troops from using animals during Cobra Gold. PETA’s international affiliates are also calling on armed forces around the world to pressure the organizers to end the barbarism, garnering global headlines. The pressure is mounting.
For its part, the Pentagon has claimed that it is powerless to act because the exercise is run by the Thai military. That’s transparently disingenuous. The rule change that PETA is asking for could wipe out the Marines’ participation in this deadly animal spectacle with a single stroke of a pen. The Canadian Department of National Defence confirmed this, stating, “The Royal Thai Armed Forces and the United States Pacific Command are equal partners in Exercise COBRA GOLD and decisions about this exercise are made in agreement between those two partners.”
PETA isn’t the only organization questioning the usefulness of Cobra Gold. Thai officials, according to an October 29, 2020, Congressional Research Service report for members of Congress, have “questioned the utility of the [Cobra Gold] exercises in recent years.”
Cobra Gold also poses myriad health concerns. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed that nearly three-quarters of recently emerging infectious diseases affecting humans started as diseases in other animals. Drinking the blood of beheaded snakes is, at best, tempting fate, and at worst, it could engender the next pandemic.
In a recent article in The Straits Times, a Thai snake catcher and former soldier warned of the health risks of drinking snake blood during Cobra Gold, stating, “All kinds of raw blood and meat are risky.” The article also quoted a Thai-based jungle survival training instructor who criticized the animal killings in Cobra Gold as dangerous and unrealistic, stating, “Plants don’t run away and plants don’t bite. … So hunting snakes would be a really, really silly idea. … I’ve seen maybe two or three cobras in 28 years. So when they are doing their Cobra Gold thing, they are bringing the animals to sacrifice.”
There are other ways to learn survival skills without tearing the heads off animals or risking the spread of infectious diseases. U.S. Army Survival Evasion Resistance Escape (SERE) instructors John and Geri McPherson wrote a book on it, Primitive Wilderness Skills, Applied & Advanced. SERE specialists use advanced virtual reality to prepare Air Force pilots for worst-case scenarios. And Air Force survival instructor Gretchen Cordy hosts a wilderness survival video series called Prepared to Survive.
If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it should be that handling animal body parts and secretions, such as occurs in the Cobra Gold animal blood fest, is a monumentally bad idea that risks public health. Moreover, it dishonors the uniform and promotes cruelty to animals. Pentagon leaders need to step up, shoulder their responsibility and demand an end to animal use during Cobra Gold.