Cockfighting in Thailand is very popular and has been a part of the country’s culture for several hundred years. Said to be the world’s oldest spectator sport, it is also very popular throughout all of Asia and legally governed by stringent rules. It is illegal for the cocks to use artificial spurs that can cause serious injuries. Instead, owners use padded metal spurs, called gaffes, to lessen their impact. The “fight to the death rule” is also outlawed, so cocks do live to fight again. They are retired after two years.
In Krabi, cockfighting is mainly a program organized by the local Muslim folks. They love gambling, cockfights and fish fighting. The cockfights are great events in which local people find real enjoyment. In fact, fighter cocks are very expensive and they are groomed with meticulous care.
Although no definitive proof exists, legend has it that cockfighting was a spectator sport in Thailand by 1350 A.D. In 1562, Crown Prince Naresuan was captured by the Burmese when he was seven-years-old, to ensure that the prince’s father stayed loyal to the Burmese King. It is said that the Prince, who grew up watching and enjoying cockfights, took part in one with a Burmese Prince and won. Today, in the city of Ayutthaya, at Wat Suwandararam, you can see murals which depict the fights between the Burmese Prince’s roosters and Prince Naresuan’s birds. The Prince returned to Thailand, and as a King he still enjoyed the sport of cockfighting. It was a sport quickly taken up by the aristocrats of the day. Nowadays, it is more the rural population of Thailand that enjoys this sport.
There are two types of purebred Thai fighting birds. The first is the type that Prince Naresuan took with him to Burma, the “kai lueng hang khao”, which literally translates as “yellow chicken with a white tail”. This bird is still very popular today amongst breeders, it is a native of Phitasanulok in Northern Thailand. The second major breed of cock is a native of Central Thailand, the “pradu hang dam” with a brown body and a black tail.
Thai birds are known for their aggressiveness in the sport, with blistering jump kicks and a barrage of pecks to their opponents. Burmese cocks on the other hand are known for their strategic fighting. The most prized fighting bird these days in the world of cockfighting is a cross breed of Thai and Burmese, combining the best from both animals, the patience of the Burmese with the power of the Thai.
At six weeks old, breeders select the chicks that already show promise of being good strong fighters. They are fed a special high-protein, low-fat diet to build up their strength. They may also be given steam baths with lemongrass to toughen up their skin. Fighting cocks live for about ten years but only two or three of those years are spent fighting.
It is also a requirement that all cockfighting birds register with the Livestock Department, where they receive a “Fighting Cock Passport”. This is a requirement that has been in place ever since the outbreak of avian flu, in 2004. The identity cards certify the vaccination records of the birds.
Fights take place every weekend around the country. And it is estimated that today in Thailand the cockfighting industry has an audience of over 200 000 people each weekend, held at over seventy five licensed venues throughout the country. The cockfights themselves take place in round, sandy pits measuring about twenty feet across, with one and a half foot high padded walls. The only person allowed into the pit during the fight is the referee. Thai cockfighting does not include spurs or blades, and the bouts do not last until death; usually they will last up to fifteen minutes. Fairness is the name of the game in Thailand; before a cockfight, owners gather to compare the weight of their birds so that they can match up good fighting pairs.
Though gambling is illegal in Thailand, official bets are placed; however, unofficial bets made amongst the spectators continue throughout the fight. This is because organizers of some cockfights can ask for, and sometimes receive, an exemption from the gambling laws and bets are allowed at the fights. People keep track of their wagers in small notebooks, furiously scribbling down their wins and losses. There is a lot of excitement around the rings with people shouting, yelling out to the birds, to each other, laughing and commiserating with one another.
It has been said by some that the cockfight has come to symbolize the Thai’s love of a fair fight, the popularity of the sport speaks for itself.