It’s been over 11 years since an illegal cockfight in Lemitar was broken up by deputies from the sheriff’s department and officers from the New Mexico State Police, but a recent study shows the blood sport is still prevalent in parts of the state.
The 21-page investigative report, released by the Animal Wellness Action and the Animal Wellness Foundation last week, showed that New Mexico continues to be a major hub for cockfighting, with a network of cockfighters staging fights at pits and trafficking animals for fights across state and national lines.
The report discloses that several individuals in New Mexico have had commercial dealings with breeders of fighting roosters and gamefarms in Alabama, who are under federal investigation by law enforcement agents and prosecutors from the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Agriculture for alleged illegal animal fighting activities.
The report also identifies other gamefarms in New Mexico where roosters are raised and trained for fighting pits. The offspring of roosters who win major derbies are the ones coveted by other cockfighters, who can win cash prizes and trophies if their birds prevail, such as the World Slasher Cup in the Philippines or one of the numerous major competitions in Mexico. Offspring of birds who win derbies can sell for $2,000 per bird, with some major fighting operations selling thousands of birds a year. These earnings go unreported to the Internal Revenue Service, given that these transactions constitute contraband.
The last legal cockfights in Socorro County were held at an arena on Farm-Market Road in Luis Lopez. At least, that is, up until May 2003, when the Gentlemen’s Arena Game Club was burned to the ground by a suspected arsonist. The perpetrator was never discovered.
That same year the New Mexico legislature was to decide on a bill banning cockfighting and imposing an 18-month prison sentence on those self-described “poultry fanciers” convicted of the crime and sentiments on both sides of the issue ran high.
That law was shelved and it wasn’t until 2007 that a rewritten law signed by Governor Bill Richardson making it a misdemeanor led to the shuttering of many fighting arenas in the state. When New Mexico became the 49th state in the nation to ban cockfighting, it reverberated in a state with dozens of fighting arenas, mostly in the southern portion of the state.
In earlier times, legal cockfighting pits could be found in Magdalena, San Antonio, and Lemitar, as well as Luis Lopez.
In May 2010, Socorro County sheriff’s deputies and state police stopped a clandestine cockfighting event in Lemitar. According to a witness, there were “people running out of the building in all directions. Flying out like a bunch of birds.” No arrests were made stemming from that incident.
Sheriff William Armijo told the Chieftain that as far as he could recollect, that 2010 incident was the last one tipped off to his department.
“I haven’t had anybody coming in with a complaint, and that doesn’t mean it’s not,” Armijo said. “It may still be happening. I wouldn’t be surprised if it is, but we haven’t had anybody report it to us and haven’t seen any signs of it happening.”
Elsewhere, a major cockfighting operation in Chaparral was broken up in 2009, resulting in the recovery of about 1,000 fighting roosters.
And in March 2020, a large cockfighting event south of the Roswell Airpost was raided by Chaves County deputies.
Since 2002, it has been illegal under federal law to transport birds from any state to any other jurisdiction in the U.S. or abroad.
On the federal level, it is a crime to:
- Knowingly sponsoring or exhibiting in an animal fighting venture;
- Knowingly attending an animal fighting venture, or knowingly causing an individual who has not attained the age of 16 to attend an animal fighting venture;
- Knowingly buying, selling, possessing, training, transporting, delivering, or receiving any animal for the purposes of having the animal participate in an animal fighting venture;
- Knowingly using the mail service of the U.S. Postal Service, or any “written, wire, radio televisions or another form of communications in, or using a facility of, interstate commerce,” to advertise an animal for use in an animal fighting venture, or to advertise a knife, gaff, or other sharp instrument designed to be attached to the leg of a bird for use in an animal fighting venture, or to promote or in any other manner further an animal fighting venture except as performed outside the U.S.;
- Knowingly selling, buying, transporting, or delivering in interstate or foreign commerce “a knife, a gaff, or any other sharp instrument” designed or intended to be attached to the leg of a bird for use in an animal fighting venture.
Penalties for each violation of any one of these provisions allow for a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for perpetrators, except for an adult attending an animal fighting venture. Penalties for adult attendance are one year in prison and a $5,000 fine.