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PETA urges military ban on troops eating live animals during survival training

U.S., Thai, and Republic of Korea eat the different fruits and vegetables found in Thailand during jungle survival training led by the Royal Thai Reconnaissance Marines during Cobra Gold 16, Sattahip, Thailand, Feb. 8, 2016. (Photo by GySgt Ismael Pena/Released)
April 28, 2020

A month after animal rights organization People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) urged the U.S. Marine Corps to stop eating animals during survival training, the organization has now taken their complaint to U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper.

On Monday, PETA issued a letter directly to Esper restating their previous concerns about the Cobra Gold survival training, which involves troops eating spiders and scorpions and drinking the blood of cobra snakes, among other tasks. This time PETA pointed to the coronavirus pandemic and health concerns such as troops contracting zoonotic diseases after consuming wild animals.

“Marines and survival training instructors in Thailand are seen on disturbing video killing chickens with their bare hands, skinning and eating live geckos, consuming live scorpions and tarantulas, and decapitating cobras and drinking their blood,” the PETA letter states. “These irresponsible actions put troops at risk of contracting zoonotic diseases that can endanger them and the wider public.”

The survival training was part of a training exercise in March between the U.S. Marine Corps and the Royal Thai Marines. During the training, Marines were taught a number of survival techniques, including catching and preparing animals for consumption. Marines were also taught how to make fires, find plants fit for consumption, and obtain alternative sources of hydration when water cannot easily be found.

The original letter PETA sent to Marine Corps commandant Gen. David H. Berger assessed that the training exercise was cruel to animals and could be replaced with more technologically informed survival training, such as “interactive video games with food procurement components, virtual reality methods that survival experts use to train Air Force pilots and instructional books and videos.”

In their new statement, PETA placed their criticism of the animal consumption portion of the survival course in the context of the coronavirus pandemic, which medical experts have widely claimed began at an animal wet food market in Wuhan. There has been a growing call for countries with such wet food markets to discontinue the practice, including calls from U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

“Scientists overwhelmingly agree that the COVID-19 pandemic can be traced back to human interactions with wildlife at a Chinese live animal meat market where wild and farmed animals are sold live or dead to be eaten. Similarly, handling and consumption of wildlife has facilitated a “spill over” into humans of deadly novel diseases such as SARS, Ebola, monkeypox and Lassa fever— whereby, during the slaughter, disease carrying fluids from the animals like blood, saliva, and excrement can splash or splatter and be consumed or inhaled.”

PETA concluded its letter stating, “For the sake of our troops, public health, and animals, we urge you to immediately ban the use of live animals in Cobra Gold and instead use more effective and ethical non-animal training methods.”