HONOLULU – Upset with a new federal law, which makes it a felony to promote, stage or facilitate cockfighting, some Hawaii game breeders say a cultural practice is being unfairly targeted.
Local police sometimes make arrests for cockfighting in the islands, but usually bring only misdemeanor charges of animal cruelty or for use of outlawed metal gaffs attached to the roosters' legs.
All forms of gambling, often associated with cockfighting, are also outlawed in the islands. But breeders have not been prevented from raising and exporting fighting cocks to mainland and foreign buyers.
President Bush signed a bill last week adding felony-level penalties for activities that promote or encourage animal fighting.
"I think my cultural rights are being discriminated against," said John Cambra, 53, a state employee who grew up around game birds. "Are they going to go after hunters for hunting or fishermen for fishing? Is that cruel? We need to take a look at this law."
Cambra, who is one of the largest game-breeders in the state, said he's considered moving to the Philippines because he doesn't intend to stop.
Cambra said he sells fighting roosters to cockfighters in Guam, Latin America, Micronesia, Louisiana, Oklahoma, California and New Mexico — with buyers signing affidavits saying they won't use the birds for fighting.
Animal-welfare groups have long urged Congress to adopt stronger penalties on blood sports such as dog fighting and cockfighting, centuries-old traditions that most lawmakers and animal rights advocates now label brutal.
Violators of the new federal law would face felony-level penalties, with up to three years in prison for knowingly buying, selling or transporting animals across state or international borders for the purpose of fighting.
The law also would make it a felony to knowingly sponsor or exhibit an animal fight, or to buy, sell or transport knives, gaffs and other weapons used in cockfighting.
"I don't think that's fair. Each state should make their own laws," said Pat Royos, vice president of the 1,800-member Hawaii Game Breeders Association.
Hawaii lawmakers this session didn't include cockfighting in animal cruelty legislation.
Sen. Clayton Hee, D-Kahuku-Kaneohe, said he hasn't taken a position on cockfighting, but recognizes it as the "fabric of the culture of the islands."
"When I lived on Molokai, I remember once going to a cockfight and my guess is anybody my age would have either known people who fought chickens or attended a fight," he said.
Honolulu police said they have not reviewed the new law and cannot comment on its enforcement.
"We haven't had a chance to review the amendment but we support any laws that increase protection for animals," said Michelle Yu, Honolulu Police Department spokeswoman.