Sharpened spurs attached to the rooster’s legs can be two inches in length
Yet, this is no illicit back-alley betting ring; cockfighting is a popular sport in Peru, and unlike in many other countries, it is entirely legal. The bouts are held in permanent arenas called “coliseo” and are well-attended by people from all levels of society, who come to enjoy the spectacle of gamecocks (as fighting birds are known) tearing each other apart – while hopefully making a bit of cash on the side.
The fighting is brutal
The whole event is carefully organized and regulated. Once weighed, the gamecocks are put in their respective categories, much like human prizefighters. The procedure is also overseen by judge with an official set of rules. Fighting chickens are serious business, especially since money is involved.
The gamecocks attack each other with beaks and spikes
After the weighing in, the combatants are outfitted with their weapons, the cockspurs. These lethal spikes come in two varieties: plastic, or the more expensive fishbone. Both are curved and sharpened to form a vicious point designed to inflict maximum damage on the opponent.
It’s easy to see how matches often end in death for the loser
These artificial spurs – which can cost the equivalent of up to $145 each – are glued and taped to the back of the gamecock’s legs, over the cut-off stump of their natural spurs. The spikes may measure up to two inches in length, and in the coliseo might be seen as the rooster equivalent to gladiators’ weapons.
Gamecock owners invest a lot of time and money in their charges
Finally, the first round is about to begin. The owners, or “careadores”, introduce their “gallos” (Spanish for roosters) by waving them at each other, just out of reach, goading them so as to get them into a fighting mood.
Preparations before the fight
When they’re ready, the cocks are released and immediately rush towards each other, with deadly intent. The feathers fly as they lash out at each other with beaks and feet. Instinct, breeding and training come together to bring out their aggression toward their opposition.
Only owners and the judge are allowed onto the floor of the arena
The crowd shouts out encouragements to their chosen champions. They cheer as the gamecocks flail at each other and a strike from the razor-sharp spurs draws blood. Gouged eyes are common. And in some tournaments incentives are offered for gallos that can kill or disable their opponent within the first minute of the match.
The gamecocks act partly out of instinct, partly due to their training
Sometimes, the gallos tire themselves out before they can slay their opponent. In this case, the winner will be chosen by the judge, and the gamecocks can consider themselves very lucky birds indeed. At least until their next match.
Many months of investment may be down the drain in an instant if the gamecock loses
The gamecocks that participate in the matches are not merely roosters from the backyard that are thrown into the arena. They are bred, raised and trained to be fighters. Puerto Rican cockfight organizer Jose Feijoo describes it as being like training a boxer.
“You have to train the cock until he can do 20 minutes of work, running,” says Feijoo. “He needs the stamina to win the fight.”
The audience waits expectantly
In addition to the training, the gallos are fed special strength-building foods, likened to steroids, and are also given vitamins. The whole process of preparing a gamecock for the arena is an expensive one, especially as the investment may only last a few seconds in the coliseo.
The birds are separated just before the fight
We don’t know who the first person was to watch two chickens fight and to place a bet on the outcome, but we do know that it was a very long time ago. The remains of gamecocks have been found at Iron Age sites in Israel, as have other artistic depictions of the ferocious birds.
The gamecocks clash
In Asia, the history of the bloodsport goes back as far as 2000 BCE, where it was practiced by the Indus Valley Civilization of what is now Pakistan. From here it spread to Persia and then on to Ancient Greece.
The match ends when a rooster is dead or incapacitated, or both competitors are too exhausted to continue
The Ancient Greeks are said to have been particularly fond of cockfights, using the spectacle of fighting roosters to get their warriors worked up before a battle, according to some sources. For the gamecocks, the price of losing these tournaments was to be spiced, charcoaled and offered up to the gods.
Breeding and training gamecocks can be handed down through families for generations
Although now banned, cockfighting was also once extremely popular in Europe, England and the United States. During the 17th century in England, the training and breeding of gamecocks was an important industry. However, the British parliament eventually banned it in 1849. It took the last of the United States to prohibit it, Louisiana, until 2008 to do likewise.
This rooster is not ready to be let loose yet
Peru and many other Latin American regions have a long tradition of cockfighting stemming back to their Spanish colonizers. These days it is a mainstream pastime, with a coliseo in almost every town and sponsorship from major companies. Breeding and training gamecocks can be a family occupation dating back decades.
Preparing for battle
Today, cockfighting is controversial in many countries, including Peru. Many people reject the sport owing to its animal cruelty as well as the gambling with which it is associated. There is no arguing with the fact that the fights are extremely harmful to the participants, leading to all types of trauma up to and including death.
The fence around the arena
The arguments both for and against cockfights are similar to those used when it comes to Peru’s other legal bloodsport, bullfighting. It’s cruelty and animal exploitation versus history and tradition, with both sides convinced of their righteousness. No doubt the moneymaking aspect also influences those eager to keep the sport alive.
Just checking out the competition
Cockfight organizer Jose Feijoo is, naturally, a supporter of the sport. His response to those who decry the cruelty? “The cock is going to fight regardless. Some people say that it can be construed as cruelty. It’s not like a dog, which wasn’t born to fight, but people go and abuse it with electric shocks or something like that. They were born to fight; it’s their nature.”
The arena or coliseo
While Feijoo’s words may contain truth, it’s still hard not to be offended – disgusted, even – by the thought of animals dying for our entertainment. Perhaps, like England and the United States, Peru will one day give up its love of cockfights.
However, as the activity still continues illegally in many countries where it is banned, there will probably always be an audience for roosters killing and maiming each other with vicious spikes. We just don’t think we’ll be part of one.