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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 it... fruits 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.