Two cockfighting arenas were discovered in the Eshkol region in the Gaza border area over the weekend, where farmworkers would allegedly have chickens fight each other for entertainment purposes.
The rings were discovered following a tip given to the Agriculture Ministry, whose animal welfare division worked in cooperation with police and the Eshkol Regional Council.
The investigation, which is still in its preliminary stages, currently indicates that the ones responsible for this are farmworkers who originally came from out of the country, specifically Thailand. These workers allegedly captured these chickens to be used as game cocks, which are chickens used in cockfighting.
The area was also reportedly turned into a habitat of sorts that would let them breed the chickens to raise more game cocks. In addition, drugs smuggled into Israel from Thailand were found in the chickens.
Over 70 game cocks were found and have been transferred to the Agriculture Ministry for treatment.
“This is a terrible case,” Agriculture Minister Oded Forer said in a statement. “I will continue to follow the investigation closely so we can continue to act in order to eradicate such an ugly thing.”
Israeli NGO Animals Now, which looks out for the betterment of livestock animals in the country, lauded the “rescue of the roosters from the terror of cockfighting.”
“Like the chickens imprisoned in the meat industry, every rooster is a living and feeling creature, capable of experiencing both pleasure and suffering,” Animals Now said.
“We hope that the abusers will be brought to justice and that the rescued animals will have the opportunity to spend the rest of their lives in the peace and freedom they deserve.”
Cockfighting is a widely condemned practice and is seen as an example of animal cruelty, similar to dogfights. The blood sport is illegal in Israel but is legal in Thailand where it is an old and popular tradition for entertainment and gambling, though they do not play to the death there.
It is also not the first time police have busted a cockfighting ring organized by Thai workers in Israel. Back in 2018, police stopped one such cockfight in Kfar Hess.
However, the current cockfight bust also comes as the country currently battles a severe bird flu outbreak among both domesticated and wild birds.
Already, hundreds of thousands of poultry have been found infected with avian influenza throughout Israel, with authorities ordering the birds isolated in order to prevent the virus from spreading further.
While it is so far only among birds, that could change if a zoonotic transmission happens that could see the virus jump to humans.
Such a case has already happened in the United Kingdom, where a person has been confirmed as having contracted bird flu.