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PETA protesting outside Pentagon demanding Marines stop eating bugs, snake blood in survival training

Royal Thai Marine eats an insect during exercise Cobra Gold 2020. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Jordan E. Gilbert)
April 08, 2021

The organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) called on supporters to protest outside the Pentagon on Thursday and hold large photos of U.S. Marines drinking snakes’ blood during survival training in an effort to pressure U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to discontinue the practice.

“Slurping snake blood and eating live animals during Cobra Gold is cruel and poses the risk of the transmission of a dangerous zoonotic disease potentially akin to COVID-19,” PETA Vice President Shalin Gala said in a Wednesday email obtained by American Military News. “PETA is pushing Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III to stop sullying Marines’ honor and risking public health with these gruesome bloodlust frat-like parties camouflaged as drills.”

Royal Thai Marine tames a king cobra during exercise Cobra Gold 2020. (U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. Nicolas Cholula)

For more than a year, PETA has been calling for the U.S. military to put an end to the Cobra Gold training exercise, an annual joint survival training exercise between the Royal Thai Marines and the U.S. Marine Corps. While the survival training covers a range of survival techniques, including make fires, find plants fit for consumption and how to find sources of hydration when water is not readily available, PETA has also criticized the survival training after Marines have been photographed eating live insects and drinking the blood of snakes.

In March 2020, PETA sent a letter to Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David H. Berger, calling on him to end the Cobra Gold training. In August 2020, PETA followed up on their calls to end the training, this time issuing a letter to then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper.

U.S. Marines drink the blood of a king cobra during jungle survival training as part of Cobra Gold 19. (Lance Cpl. Kenny Nunez/U.S. Marine Corps)

In February, PETA followed up once again, this time with President Joe Biden’s defense secretary. In their February letter, PETA called on Austin to “to stop the frat-like party masquerading as training in Thailand known as Cobra Gold” and said, “if Girl Scouts Could Survive in the Jungle Without Drinking Snakes’ Blood, Eating Live Lizards, What’s Wrong With U.S. Marines?”

In its Wednesday email, PETA said, “Cobra Gold is purportedly about survival training, but officials have admitted that the actual intention is to build camaraderie among troops—which can be done in other ways. Department of Defense policy requires that non-animal training methods be used whenever possible, and there are numerous food-procurement training options—from books and videos to virtual reality and computer simulations—that don’t harm animals and that have been adopted by various U.S. military facilities after they heard from PETA.”

A Royal Thai Marine, right, teaches a U.S. Marine how to create a fire using bamboo during jungle survival training as part of Cobra Gold 19. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Kenny Nunez)

PETA has suggested the Cobra Gold survival training could be replaced with troops reading about survival techniques, watching instructional videos or doing virtual reality training.

The effort to discontinue the portions of Cobra Gold that feature consumption of live animals is not PETA’s only effort to affect change within the Department of Defense. In April 2020, PETA demanded the United States Air Force Academy retire a new live falcon mascot and “pledge not to use live-animal mascots in the future.”