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People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals protested outside the embassy of Thailand in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, June 3, 2021. The animal-rights group wants the U.S. military to stop the practice of killing king cobras during the military exercise Cobra Gold in Thailand.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals protested outside the embassy of Thailand in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, June 3, 2021. The animal-rights group wants the U.S. military to stop the practice of killing king cobras during the military exercise Cobra Gold in Thailand. (Caitlin Doornbos/Stars and Stripes)

WASHINGTON — An animal-rights group submitted a formal complaint Thursday to the Navy’s inspector general protesting the tradition of killing animals and drinking snake blood as part of the multinational Cobra Gold military exercise in Thailand.

It’s the latest effort by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals to end the “ritualistic killing and consumption of animals” in the annual exercise co-hosted by the U.S. and Thailand, according to a statement by the group issued Thursday.

“PETA is calling on the Office of the Naval Inspector General to end the use of animals in this gruesome frat party-like event and reprimand any senior officer who orders Marines to throw decency aside in favor of bloodlust,” PETA veterinarian and Air Force veteran Ingrid Taylor said in the statement. “The Marine Corps’ reputation takes a hit every time someone shows a photo of a Marine sucking down cobra blood.”

The exercise involves the Army and Marine Corps, but only Marines were seen drinking cobra blood in photos from the 2020 Cobra Gold exercise that inspired PETA’s protests.

A Marine drinks cobra blood during Cobra Gold jungle survival training in Sattahip, Chonburi province, Thailand, Feb. 19, 2018.
A Marine drinks cobra blood during Cobra Gold jungle survival training in Sattahip, Chonburi province, Thailand, Feb. 19, 2018. (Micaiah Anthony/U.S. Marine Corp)

The blood-drinking tradition is part of the jungle-survival training during which Thai instructors share their knowledge of life-sustaining sources of food and hydration, the Army said in a statement issued March 2, 2020. Cobra blood can be used as an “alternative way to stay hydrated” in areas without clean water sources, according to the training.

But PETA called the survival drills an “annual frat-like party masquerading as training” and said the animal slaying violates military law.

“During Cobra Gold 2020, U.S. Marines and instructors were recorded killing chickens with their bare hands, skinning and eating live geckos, consuming live scorpions and tarantulas, decapitating cobras and drinking their blood,” PETA said. “Since these acts would violate U.S. cruelty-to-animals laws, they ‘bring discredit upon the armed forces’ and senior commissioned officers who order troops to engage in them have participated in ‘conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman.’”

The complaint comes after PETA has made a series of protests against the practice. The group has sent letters to Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and held public protests in June in front of the Thai Embassy in Washington, D.C., and outside Austin’s Virginia home.

Austin’s office responded last month to PETA’s concerns by saying the Pentagon would “continue to ensure we are employing best practices for the humane treatment of animals while accomplishing the need to prepare and train our service members for survival in any and all situations.”

Cobra Gold is the largest joint military exercise in Southeast Asia and includes training in disaster response, humanitarian assistance and jungle survival, according to the Army. 

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