Victory! No Animals to Be Killed in Cobra Gold 2023 Military Drill

Update (March 2, 2023): A top Thai military official has confirmed to PETA that no animals will be killed during the 2023 Cobra Gold drill, a massive joint multinational military exercise that takes place in Thailand and is attended by the U.S. military. Our statement is below:

A top Thai official directly confirmed to PETA that for the third year running, no animals will be killed during Cobra Gold exercises, which are occurring right now in Thailand. It’s a welcome sign that this “frat party gone wrong” spectacle is now receiving the dishonorable discharge it deserves.

This development follows PETA’s release of shocking video footage and our exposé showing that U.S. Marines were previously forced to kill chickens with their bare hands, skin and eat live geckos, consume live scorpions and tarantulas, and decapitate cobras and drink their blood.

PETA is now calling out the U.S. Army for its shameful policy that explicitly permits formerly banned laboratory experiments involving the wounding of dogs, cats, marine animals, and primates with weapons and attempts to conceal this unethical practice as “classified” information.

If the U.S. military can do right by animals in Thailand, it should also do right by them at home.

We hope the days of this outrageous spectacle are behind us, and we’ll keep a watchful eye on the exercise to ensure that the cruelty doesn’t resume.

Update (February 10, 2022):

PETA has confirmed that no animals will be killed this year in Cobra Gold 2022, a joint multinational survival training exercise held in Thailand and attended by the U.S. military. Our statement is below:

The barbaric animal killing during the Cobra Gold military exercises in Thailand has been nixed for the second year in a row, a top official has confirmed to PETA. Forcing military troops to kill chickens with their bare hands, skin and eat live geckos, consume live scorpions and tarantulas, and decapitate cobras and drink their blood was cruel, dangerous, and likely illegal.

These atrocities were halted in 2021 after PETA’s release of shocking video footage and our exposé—which included formal complaints to top Marine Corps and Department of Defense officials, a rulemaking petition, a complaint to the Office of the Naval Inspector General, and protests outside the Pentagonthe Royal Thai Embassy, and the home of Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III. PETA thanks the military officials who saw fit to protect their uniform and honor from dangerous Jackass Forever–style antics.

We hope this good news signals that Cobra Gold training drills will remain cruelty-free. We’ll be monitoring the situation closely to ensure that they do.

Update: August 16, 2021

Wonderful news! Not a single animal was killed in survival training drills during Cobra Gold 2021, a massive joint multinational military exercise held in Thailand.

This victory comes after an intense campaign in which PETA and thousands of supporters urged the secretary of defense and the Marine Corps commandant to end the freakish behavior of Marines participating in the annual exercise, which included beheading snakes, killing chickens with their bare hands, eating live scorpions, and gutting live geckos. (More details are below.)

This should be the end of this frat-party-gone-wrong spectacle. PETA will be watching to ensure that that’s the case.

During a survival training exercise in Thailand, the few, the proud, the Marines turned into the freakish, the ridiculous, the embarrassing.

Shocking cell phone videos show these U.S. troops proudly drinking blood from beheaded cobras and chomping on the live bodies of tarantulas and scorpions while others feverishly cheered them on in what was more reminiscent of a frat party gone wrong than a military training drill.

The gruesome scenes—which included frenzied Marines killing chickens with their bare hands and gutting live geckos—were part of Cobra Gold 2020, a massive joint multinational military exercise held in Thailand. Thousands of U.S. troops participated in the 39th annual event, ostensibly to learn how to survive when trapped in a jungle.

PETA has filed a complaint with the U.S. Navy’s Office of the Naval Inspector General urging it to end the use of animals during Cobra Gold and to sanction any officer in the U.S. Marine Corps—which is administered by the Navy—who orders Marines to participate in this bloodlust killing of animals. In the complaint, we allege that the mutilation and killing of live animals cause extreme and unjustified suffering that would violate U.S. cruelty-to-animals laws. Therefore, these acts “bring discredit upon the armed forces,” and commissioned officers who order troops to engage in them have participated in “conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman”—all in violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Animal-free survival training in the jungle is something that Boy or Girl Scouts could figure out without reducing themselves to being participants in a cruel, carnival-like, toxic-masculinity sideshow. Jungle-survival experts agree that there’s no need to use animals in survival training:

“Plants don’t run away and plants don’t bite. The last thing you want to do is to put yourself in any kind of danger. So hunting snakes would be a really, really silly idea. I’ve been (in Thailand) for 28 years and I go into jungles all the time. 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.”
—Dave Williams, who teaches jungle survival courses in Thailand, as quoted in The Straits Times

If the “most prestigious branch of the armed forces,” according to Gallup polls, isn’t embarrassed enough for buying into a cruel and “silly idea,” then the Marines should at least be ashamed for putting public health at risk by continuing to eat live animals and drink beheaded snakes’ blood.

“All kinds of raw blood and meat are risky. You never know what contagions they have .… So what’s in the snake blood?”
—Nattaphol Suangam, a Thai snake catcher and former soldier who relocates snakes found in neighborhoods to jungle habitats, as quoted in The Straits Times

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a stark warning: “Approximately 75 percent of recently emerging infectious diseases affecting people began as diseases in animals.” This is a problem that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought into tragic focus. Considering the danger that zoonotic diseases pose to the troops—and indeed to all humanity—it is imperative that military leaders end the use of live animals in Cobra Gold and instead use more effective, ethical, non-animal training methods that will better protect the health of troops and the public.

PETA fired off a letter to Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David H. Berger and a petition for rulemaking to Secretary of Defense Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, urging them to stop sullying Marines’ honor and endangering public health with these gruesome bloodlust drills. It’s time to end the use of live animals during Cobra Gold training, just as individual U.S. military installations have previously done in separate survival skills exercises.

PETA has sent a similar letter signed by 19 military veterans to Austin. In it, the Army, Air Force, Marine, and Navy veterans wrote the following:

Troops deserve the best training to survive in the outdoors, but Cobra Gold’s use of live animals resembles a vulgar hazing ritual and doesn’t deliver any practical survival skills. Rather, as the U.S. Marine Corps has admitted, the main objective of the activity has been to build camaraderie …. This goal could easily be achieved through other means that don’t harm or kill animals. We urge you to end Cobra Gold’s deadly, dishonorable, and dangerous use of live animals.

Ending the use of live animals during a military survival skills exercise has strong precedent.

In 2011, the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center in California suspended its use of live animals in its survival training courses following discussions with PETA. Before that, the U.S. Army’s Dugway Proving Ground in Utah canceled a survival skills training course using animals after PETA appealed to then–Defense Secretary Les Aspin to intervene.

There’s an abundance of survival training options that don’t harm any animals. Jungles have no lack of … wait for itfruits and edible plants. In fact, a tweet posted by a Marine expeditionary unit stated that fruits and vegetables are “commonly found throughout the jungle” during the Cobra Gold training, which means that there is no need to kill animals and drink their blood in survival exercises. Read more:

  • In the book Primitive Wilderness Skills, Applied & Advanced, the authors—both U.S. Army Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape (SERE) instructors—explain how to obtain food in nature.
  • Gretchen Cordy, a former Air Force survival instructor who appeared on the CBS show Survivor, hosts an instructional wilderness survival video series titled Prepared to Survive.
  • SERE specialists are already using virtual reality to prepare Air Force pilots for worst-case scenarios.
  • Interactive video simulations that have food-procurement components abound.
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