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PETA to protest at SECDEF Austin’s home over Marines eating snakes, scorpions in annual Cobra Gold exercise in Thailand

Then-Defense Secretary nominee Lloyd J. Austin III before the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington, D.C. Jan. 19, 2021. (EJ Hersom/DOD)
June 02, 2021

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) plans to protest outside of Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s home in Virginia and outside the Royal Thai Embassy in Washington D.C. on Thursday. The protests continue their ongoing opposition to Cobra Gold, an annual joint military survival training exercise between the U.S. and Thailand, in which U.S. Marines and their Thai counterparts have eaten insects and other live animals, and drank blood from decapitated snakes.

“A Girl Scout could figure out how to survive in a jungle without killing animals for practice, and our military’s best and brightest should be able to as well,” PETA Vice President Shalin Gala said in an emailed statement to American Military News. “PETA urges officials to end the bloodlust killing of animals during Cobra Gold, which sullies Marines’ honor, risks a zoonotic disease pandemic, and endangers species vulnerable to extinction.”

Cobra Gold has been an ongoing annual joint exercise between the U.S. and Thailand since 1982. According to a U.S. military statement shared to DVIDS, “Cobra Gold is an important element of the United States and participating nations’ regional military to military (mil-to-mil) engagement efforts to maintain readiness and increase the capability, capacity and interoperability of partnered nations while simultaneously reinforcing our commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

According to Star and Stripes, as of 2019, Cobra Gold has expanded with participation from 27 countries, including South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia.

PETA’s new protests are the latest in the group’s opposition to the Cobra Gold training, which began last year.

Last year, PETA sent a letter to Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David H. Berger and then to then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper to the portions of survival training that entail the consumption of live animals. In February, PETA sent a letter to Austin, shortly after his defense secretary confirmation, again calling for an end to the practice of consuming live animals in survival training.

In April, PETA stepped up its opposition to Cobra Gold, with calls for its supporters to protest outside the Pentagon.

While past iterations of Cobra Gold have indeed shown Marines consuming live animals, the survival training covers a range of techniques, including ways to make fires, find plants fit for consumption and find sources of hydration when water is not readily available.

“Cobra Gold is purportedly about survival training, but officials have admitted that the actual intention is to build camaraderie among troops—which could easily be done in ways that don’t involve consuming live animals and putting public health at risk. The Department of Defense’s own policy requires the use of non-animal training methods whenever possible, and several U.S. military facilities have adopted animal-free food-procurement training after hearing from PETA,” PETA added in their statement to American Military News.

PETA also shared a video of compiled footage from past Cobra Gold events.

PETA plans to protest outside the Thai Embassy at noon on Thursday, followed by the protest outside Austin’s Virginia home later that evening at 6 p.m.

“More than 111,000 of our supporters have urged an end to the use of live animals during Cobra Gold bloodlust training, via PETA’s action alert, a petition for rulemaking, and a protest at the Pentagon,” Gala said. “Disturbing video shows U.S. troops drinking blood from beheaded cobras and chomping on the live bodies of tarantulas and scorpions—but top military brass have refused to take responsibility and have disingenuously blamed Thailand alone for the horrific and dangerous animal killings that occur during the annual drill.”

“So, PETA is taking our urgent message directly outside of Defense Secretary Austin’s home and the Embassy of Thailand, where they can’t ignore this vital issue,” Gala continued. “It’s time for the military to put a stop to this totally unnecessary, disrespectful behavior and start taking the threat of potentially lethal zoonotic disease transmission seriously, by permanently disavowing all participation in the use of live animals during this training.”