Snake blood off the menu at US-Thai military love fest ‘Cobra Gold’

A 2020 file photo of a military man tasting blood from a headless cobra. Photo: Cobra Gold Thailand / Facebook
A 2020 file photo of a military man tasting blood from a headless cobra. Photo: Cobra Gold Thailand / Facebook

One by one, the soldiers line up to stretch out their tongues and lap blood dribbling from a headless cobra. It’s a defining image associated with regional joint military exercises led every year for the past four decades by the American and Thai militaries.

But last week, when soldiers from around the region convened for the 40th Cobra Gold exercises, no cobra blood was spilled, a move animal rights group PETA today took credit for.

“PETA exposed the fact that forcing service members to eat animals alive and suck down cobra blood is dangerous and cruel,” Jason Baker of PETA Asia said today in a statement. “Such barbarity needs to be relegated to the history books, and this year demonstrates that no animals should ever again be used at Cobra Gold events.”

There has been no formal announcement from either the Thai or U.S. military. PETA said that it was notified by a Thai military representative that “no snakes, lizards, or any other animals were killed at this year’s Cobra Gold, which ended Friday.

PETA said that it had filed complaints to the U.S. Defense Department, staged protests outside the Pentagon and petitioned Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha to end the “bloodlust killing of animals, which sullies the honour of Thailand and endangers species who are vulnerable to extinction.”

The group had complained in February to U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin that soldiers drinking cobra blood was a “ritualistic rather than instructive” health risk, according to Stars and Stripes, which covers the U.S. military. It said it was the group’s second attempt to end the practice.

More than just cobras, the organization said that Cobra Gold 2020 saw military personnel “killing chickens with their bare hands, skinning and eating live geckos, consuming live scorpions and tarantulas … and otherwise reveling in the ritualistic killing and consumption of animals—all acts that would potentially violate Thai and U.S. cruelty-to-animals laws and, arguably, the U.S. Uniform Code of Military Justice.”

Since 1982, Operation Cobra Gold has brought together soldiers from Thailand and the United States, along with participating nations such as Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, South Korea and Singapore, to display their military flair and blow stuff up together in a range of activities that include extensive peacekeeping and humanitarian exercises.


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