Every year, photos and video footage from the extreme survival course are shown by media around the world. The American marines who drink snake blood have become a regular ritual during the military exercise Cobra Gold.
The exercise is held every year in Thailand. The USA organizes Cobra Gold together with Thai partners. In 2020, soldiers from 27 countries participated. Among them were the United States, South Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and other US allies in Asia.
The military magazine Stars and Stripes mentions Cobra Gold as one of the largest military exercises in Asia.
Cobra Gold is followed with great interest. The survival course, in which live snakes are used, receives a great deal of attention.
Now animal activists have had enough. They want to ban the survival course. The reason is that animals are killed.
– The pictures of ecstatic and young marines eating scorpions and swallowing snake blood are disgusting. This is more reminiscent of a drunken party that has gotten out of control than a serious military exercise, says Shalin Gala to NRK.
He is vice president of the American animal protection organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).
Gala tells the news site The Hill that what happens to the animals is unethical
PETA believes such survival courses are unnecessary. They claim the animals are tortured to death for the soldiers to be entertained. Another reason is that it should create unity between the crews.
PETA does not believe any of the soldiers on their own would go in to capture one of the world’s most poisonous reptiles for drinking blood from the snake’s body.
Practice surviving in the jungle
Every year in February, thousands of soldiers train in jungle warfare under Cobra Gold. The exercise takes place in the Chonburi province of Thailand. The first time was in 1982.
The US Marine Corps, the US Navy, is participating in Cobra Gold. As part of the exercise, the elite soldiers will learn how to survive in the jungle without food.
– We get to test out local delicacies. It can be plants and fruits. We also get to taste different animals and try snake blood. We eat komodo dragons, monkeys and squirrels and much more, says John Marks.
He is a sergeant in the US Navy.
Marks was interviewed by the news agency Reuters during the exercise this year.
One of the Thai instructors explains what the main purpose of the survival course is.
– We do not do this because it is fun. We do it because we learn how to stay alive, he tells Business Insider.
The knowledge will be relevant in a war situation where a soldier gets away from his department and has to fend for himself in nature. Soldiers fleeing captivity will also benefit from the courses.
Kills king cobras
As part of the training, the soldiers learn to kill snakes. One of the species used in training is king cobras. This cobra species can grow up to six meters. The king cobra is very poisonous. A bite can kill a human within half an hour.
The king cobra is widespread in India and Southeast Asia. In several countries it is threatened with extinction.
During the survival course, the soldiers are shown how to cut off the heads of live cobra snakes. Then the Marines will drink blood from the snake’s body. The blood apparently tastes sweet and is nutritious. Later they will eat raw snake meat.
Snakes are also cut with a knife while they are still alive. The soldiers get to know with their hands how the snake heart still beats.
A video posted by the South China Morning Post shows other parts of the training. It turns out that the soldiers are shown how to kill chickens with their hands. They are not allowed to use a knife or other tools. The crew also eats live insects. They get to try lizards, spiders and scorpions.
Will ban snake killing
Over the past six months, the survival rate has come under increasing pressure. The animal protection organization PETA demands that the training be banned. The organization has published video images from the exercises. It has provoked strong reactions in the United States.
– We demand that such barbaric and old-fashioned military exercises are not arranged. They must be replaced by something else that can teach soldiers how to survive. It is possible without using live animals, says Shalin Gala.
Gala points out that a number of military exercises are arranged where soldiers are given various products in their field rations as a substitute for food.
He points out that in a jungle area there are also fruits and plants that soldiers can learn to eat to survive an extreme situation.
This is already part of the survival course under Cobra Gold.
PETA has repeatedly complained to the US Department of Defense Pentagon. Animal activists demand that survival courses be banned. The organization has also sent a letter to the Commander – in – Chief of the US Navy, General David H. Berger. In addition, Minister of Defense Mark Esper has received an inquiry.
In its letters, PETA writes that the animals suffer from the treatment. Several of the species, such as the king cobra, are also endangered.
The organization also points out that soldiers can be exposed to serious viral diseases from animals. The infection can spread and develop into pandemics.
PETA has previously complained to the U.S. Navy. Even then, it was about treating live animals during survival courses. In 2011, therefore, the practice was changed at The Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center in Bridgeport, California. According to PETA, the fitness center changed the practice so that they did not use animals during the exercises.
PETA also criticizes Norway. The organization claims that most NATO member states have banned the use of live animals during military training.
Norway is one of the exceptions. Together with seven other NATO countries, Norway allows the use of live animals during military training.
Together with Norway, Germany, Denmark, Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands have not introduced such a ban.
An article published on PETA’s own website accuses the seven countries of gross violations and torture of live animals. In particular, criticism is directed at the use of live pigs to train sanitary wards. The pigs are seriously injured so that military health personnel can learn to handle bleeding, gunshot and burn injuries.
The Armed Forces confirms that they use live pigs as part of the training. Spokesmen Per-Thomas Bøe explain to NRK why Norway still has such a practice.
– This is done to ensure that both military and civilian health personnel in the total defense are able to save the lives and limbs of people who are exposed to high-energy trauma. This applies to incidents that can affect both civilians and the military, says Bøe.
He explains that the animals are so-called “fully anesthetized”. This means that they do not feel pain or are conscious.
Bøe emphasizes that the animals are killed while they are still anesthetized.
– The Norwegian Food Safety Authority has approved this activity. The Armed Forces meets all national standards for the use of animals for experiments. We do not violate European or Norwegian legislation on animal welfare, says Bøe.
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