Extreme military drills in which soldiers are made to eat live lizards and drink snake blood could “spark the next pandemic”, animal rights campaigners have warned.
Troops from around the world head to Thailand every year to participate in the infamous Cobra Gold exercises, the largest event of its kind.
First held in 1982, the drills see participants kill chickens with their bare hands and skin and eat live geckos as well as scorpions and tarantulas, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) claims.
Soldiers have also reportedly been known to decapitate cobras and drink their blood in what they’re told are training exercises to prepare them for jungle conditions.
Approximately 4,500 US personnel attended Cobra Gold 2020 last year along with troops from Singapore, China, Japan, India, South Korea, Indonesia and Malaysia, the Sun reports.
Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic this year’s Cobra Gold will be smaller than usual, with events scheduled for February and March and field exercises in August.
However PETA is urging the event to be banned, sending an urgent letter to senior Defence officials of both Thailand and the UK demanding that organisers “permanently replace the use of live animals in food procurement survival exercises with more effective and ethical animal-free training methods”.
It’s not only the alleged animal cruelty the nonprofit objects to, but the risk of zoonotic disease spreading from animals to humans, they said.
“Shipping military personnel to Thailand to drink the blood of beheaded snakes is the kind of absurdity that could spark the next pandemic,” a spokesperson said.
“The use of live animals during Cobra Gold poses a risk of spreading zoonotic diseases akin to Covid-19, endangering troops and the wider public.
“Viruses like SARS-CoV-2 likely originated in bats and were first transmitted to humans via contact with an intermediate animal host.
“While the training exercise is marketed as a food procurement drill, officials have admitted it is intended to build camaraderie among troops in a manner resembling a barbaric hazing ritual.”
Approximately three-quarters of all infectious diseases known to have recently emerged began in animals which then jumped to infect humans, PETA said.
SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes Covid-19, is believed to have spread to humans at a wet market in Wuhan where livestock was kept and slaughtered in unhygienic conditions.
Since the outbreak scientists from around the world, including those working for the World Health Organisation, have warned that humanity is doomed to more and more pandemics in the future if we don’t change agricultural practices.
Environmentally damaging farming methods, such as battery caging or deforestation of animals’ habitats, is forcing other species into increasingly close contact with human beings.
This increases the risk of viruses spreading from animals to people, with the potential to create a devastating outbreak of the dreaded Disease X, the name for whatever harmful unknown pathogen is lurking in the world ready to cause mass death and suffering.