PETS, ROYAL STRAY DOGS, SIAMESE CATS, COCKFIGHTS AND FISH FIGHTING IN THAILAND

CRICKET FIGHTS AND ANIMAL FIGHTING IN THAILAND

The Thais love to gamble on animal fights. Cockfights are popular of course. But fish and cricket fighting are also popular. Fighting Crickets are trained in miniature gymnasiums with miniature bamboo equipment. They fight in little flat bottomed bowls.

Cricket fighting has a long history in China. It dates back at least to the 14th century and has traditionally been a gambler's sport. Cricket fights take place in eight-inch-wide plastic containers. The owners of the crickets poke the insects with little hairs attached to a chopstick-like devise or some other instrument. During the fights crickets butt heads, toss each other out of the ring, with the winner chirping loudly as the loser slinks away. [Source: Mia Turner, International Herald Tribune, June 19, 1999]

Describing a fight, Mia Turner wrote in International Herald Tribune, "Once in the ring the competitors are then tickled with a rabbit-hair brush or a stick of grass to incite them. In the most vicious matches, which last about five minutes, the crickets, who fight with their jaws, can tear the claws off their opponents...A fighter who runs away automatically loses."

Beetle fighting is popular with some of the hill tribes. If you visit a hill tribe village and see an ugly, big-mandibled black beetle tethered to a piece of bamboo you will know what is going on. These beatles are bred as are other animals to be good fighters. Seeing and animal fight is difficult. They are illegal and they usually occur off in some back alley or in a remote village at a time only the participants know about.

Fish Fighting in Thailand

Fish fighting is old pastime that is mainly practiced by old timers and villagers. Male Siamese fighting fish—which by their nature go after each other—are kept in separate jars until the fight begins. Hundreds of dollars can be bet on these fights and huge crowds will form around the little jars where the fights take place.

According to the Tourism Authority of Thailand: “Everyone is thrilled to see two small fish in size of the middle finger bristle their fins and lash out at each other like plucky seasoned prize fighters. They belong to the tough and pugnacious species of fish: Thai fighting fish. Like cock fighting, fish fighting is a native sport of Thailand. At present there are still fish-fighting areas to be found in the countryside and on Bangkok's outskirts as no fish-fighting is permitted within the city limits. [Source: :Tourism Authority of Thailand. A Traveller's Guide to Thailand ^^]

When fighting is agreed upon, the fish are scooped our of their bottles and carefully put into a large tall jar. Coming face to face, the opponents are transformed into wonderfully beautiful creatures, their colour deepening their gills quivering and widening, their fins and tails spreading out and assuming a warm glow. Every part of the body becomes vibrant. They lose no time in getting at each other, biting fiercely and cruelly. With mouths locked for minutes or sometimes even hours, they fit up and down the water in the bottle manoeuvring for positions. Parts of gills, fins, tailsmortal combat, the enthusiasts would bet basing their culculations on the amount and severity of the injury inflicted and received by both sides. ^^

Thai fighting fish have attractive colours. They also have some characteristics peculiar to them that are good for fighting and knowledgeable breeders will keep only those with points highly-developed good points. The fish are well taken care of. They can be found in their natural habit but those that fight have been bred for sale. ^^

Several species of fish are used in fish fighting. The lukmoh is a tough customer that does not know the meaning of defeat. The pah fighting fish, which abounds everywhere even in the canals of Bangkok, has a longer body but has no stamina for a prolonged battle. In general, the Thai fighting fish is no more than 5 centimetres long and one centimetre wide. When caught, it should be put into a bottle of pond water. Only the male fights. It is distinguished from the female by its more brilliant colours, longer tails and larger fins. Strange to say, the female after laying eggs, will try to eat them and is only prevented by the male from doing so. The female must therefore be isolated while the male is left to take care of the spawn. The fry feed on tiny red plankton and later on mosquito larvae. They are ready to fight after six or seven months. ^^

Bettas (Siamese Fighting Fish ) originated in the murky waters of Asia. They are a member of a group of fish that has the ability to breath from the surface. They have this ability due to an organ called a labyrinth. There are a few other fish that carry this trait, but not many. Some Gourami's have labyrinth's. In their original form, the fish commonly known as a Betta was a fish with ugly color. Many years of breeding in captivity have developed the fantastic colors seen in today's Betta Splendens. Male and sometimes female Bettas are often aggressive and usually the males are kept alone. Sometimes people will hold Betta fights, to see which is strongest. The male will often fight to death as said in one book. Bettas are fairly easy to breed, the main drawback being the tremendous amount of small jars needed to house the over 100 fry that may survive. ^^

When the female is ready to lay her eggs the male Siamese fighting fish builds a nest of bubbles coated with slime so they don't burst. As the female lays her eggs the male catches them in his mouth and places them in the bubble nest. He then drives the female away so she doesn’t eat the eggs and guards the nest until the eggs hatch. Tthe males also collect eggs and young fish if they fall out of the nests.

Cockfight in Thailand

Cock fighting popular is very popular in Thailand. Competitions are held in sand pit arenas. There is a shrine in Thailand that is filled with statue of roosters. It is dedicated to a 16th century national hero, who was fond of cockfighting.

The cockfighting industry was hard hit by the bird flu epidemic in Southeast Asia in the mid 2000s. The sport was banned because the birds were often transported long distance for fights and there worries infected roosters could spread the disease to areas that had not been affected. Some owners treat their injured fighting cocks by sucking the bird’s blood. The practice is quite dangerous with bird flu present.

Melanie Brandy wrote in City Life, Chiang Mai: “Gambling on cockfighting is illegal, but it is one of the few forms of illegal gambling ‘overlooked’ by authorities. For those interested in seeing a cockfight it can be tricky finding one as venues are not openly advertised...Cockfighting can be an all-day affair. Whisky is drunk, food is eaten and bets are placed. Bookies are easy to spot, with their swiftly moving hands indicating the current odds. Basic knowledge of sports betting is helpful in deciphering how to wager and a little Thai doesn’t hurt either. [Source: Melanie Brandy, City Life, Chiang Mai, October 2003 #]

“Cockfighting is a rural sport and symbolises the rural Thais’ appreciation of a good, honest fight. Unlike other Southeast Asian countries, the bout does not last until death and Thai cockfighting does not include spurs, hooks or razorblades. It’s a match of true strength and will. Before the matches begin, owners of the sparring birds take extensive time comparing the cocks to determine the fairest fights. Bouts usually last around 15 minutes. If a cock tries to run away or screams in earnest two or three times, the match ends and the winner is determined. Injured cocks are sewn up by onsite surgeons and the next match begins.” #

Cockfight in Chiang Rai

Describing a cockfighting event in Chiang Rai, Thailand, Alan Sipress wrote in the Washington Post: “On a recent Sunday, Phapart Thieuviharn, a lifelong cock breeder with intense brown eyes and black hair speckled with gray, pulled up at the cockfighting arena as the dirt parking lot was beginning to fill with pickup trucks. Spectators, mostly men from surrounding provinces, crowded three rows of concrete bleachers below a corrugated metal roof. As the elegant, long-legged roosters began to stalk each other, cries rose from the crowd. Many people barked out wagers. Most pressed closer, in some cases leaning into the ring. [Source: Alan Sipress, Washington Post, April 14, 2005,=]

“As the pair of fighting cocks lunged at each other through the air, spectators surged against the edge of the ring with anticipation. Feathers flew. Blood oozed from wounded eyes and throats. Phapart shifted anxiously on the edge of his seat in the concrete bleachers, clutching the notepad on which he had scribbled his bets. Within moments, when one of the roosters surrendered to its injuries and retreated, hundreds and perhaps thousands of dollars would change hands in the arena, located down a dirt track deep in the rice paddies of northern Thailand. =

“Between the 20-minute rounds, the owners scrubbed the blood off their birds with bare hands, wringing out the rags on the ground. Then, with ordinary thread, they stitched the wounds around their eyes and fed them painkillers. Sometimes, Phapart recounted as he watched the hurried surgery, the injuries are so severe that owners relieve the swelling by sucking out the blood by mouth. =

Raising Fighting Cocks

Alan Sipress wrote in the Washington Post:“Phapart, 47, recalled learning to raise cocks from his father and grandfather. As a boy, he refused to go to the barbershop unless he could take along his favorite rooster. As a teenager, he rose hours before school began to train his cocks and then pitted them against those of his teacher. "When you raise fighting cocks, you see them from the moment you open your eyes in the morning. You can even recognize the way each one coos," Phapart said, wearing a green work shirt and chomping on an ever-present piece of gum. "You have a very close relationship with your fighting cocks, and the closer you are, the more confident you are about their health. You know their condition." [Source: Alan Sipress, Washington Post, April 14, 2005 =]

"When you raise fighting cocks, you see them from the moment you open your eyes in the morning. You can even recognize the way each one coos," Phapart said, wearing a green work shirt and chomping on an ever-present piece of gum. "You have a very close relationship with your fighting cocks, and the closer you are, the more confident you are about their health. You know their condition." =

“At a training session “in a farmhouse on the edge of town, two trainers were teaching young cocks to feint and dart by thrusting more seasoned roosters toward them. The men clasped the birds in their bare hands, and their forearms were scarred and swollen from the errant attacks of their pupils. "Train harder," Phapart told them. "They're not really strong enough." At the next stop, a large exercise facility where several roosters had just completed their morning sparring, the trainer was bathing them with a hot, moist towel, scrubbing each feather individually and massaging their muscles. Then, with his fingertips, he fed them a special dish made from the minced flesh of a river fish famed for its brawny nature, mixed with honey and herbs. Fighting cocks represent a lavish investment. A proven winner can sell for as much as $2,500, Phapart said. =

Horse Racing in Chiang Mai

Melanie Brandy wrote in City Life, Chiang Mai: “Chiang Mai Horse Track lies northwest of the moat behind Rama IX Park, which is located on a street connecting Chotana (Rt. 107) Road with the canal road. Races begin every Saturday at 12:30 pm and last until around 5:30 pm. On any given Saturday there can be between eight to ten races with 20 minute intermissions. Admittance is only 10 baht. [Source: Melanie Brandy, City Life, Chiang Mai, October 2003+]

“Even though avid race track fans study the 15 baht racing form like a holy book, predicting who will end up in the winner’s circle is often as easy as watching the odds, which are constantly changing. Why? Because the odds—”based on how much money is placed on a horse—”almost always predict the winner. +

“According to an article in Newsweek International last year, ‘The multi-billion Thai horse racing industry is one of the most corrupt in Asia with backroom deals occurring on a regular basis.’ The powerful Thai elite own these horses and oftentimes decide beforehand who will win. Because there is no regulatory body, there are no requirements for pre-race drug testing on all horses. Only the top three are tested, leaving the others easily susceptible to drugging. Even though many are aware of the fixing, this doesn’t affect the overall pleasure for the fans. +

“Betting is simple. The race track pays for win or place. A win is first place. A place is first, second or third. Place bets give you more chances but usually pay less than wins. The minimum bet is only 20 baht. Odds are on a 10 baht scale. For instance, if a horse’s place odds close at 14, then for every 10 baht that is bet, 14 baht will be paid out. Therefore, a 50 baht place bet earns a 20 baht profit. Odds are not determined when the bet is placed, however, but set just before the race begins. So, bets should be placed within the last five minutes before the bell rings. +

“As the race begins, thousands of people stand and cheer for their horses. At the final stretch, the volume grows and the stands almost tremble under the sheer weight of the excitement. Minutes after the race, the officials post the results. Some return to their holy book, others to the pay-out windows.” +

Pets, Dogs and Stray Dogs in Thailand

The “Dogie Bag” is a salon and spa for dogs in Bangkok that offers traditional Thai-style massages for pooches. The owner told Reuters, “I found out from many years of having dogs, they also love being massaged.”

Thailand is filled with millions of stray dogs. Nobody knows how many of them there are. Buddhism frown up on the killing of animals so they are allowed to live and skulk around. Sometimes there are particularly large numbers of stray dogs around the temples. For a while there were so many stray dogs around Bangkok’s international airport, there were worries they may get nailed on a runway. Dogs that are collected off the streets by dog catchers are caught with large spoon-like bags with handles and are neutered and spade and let go.

Some stray dogs have been picked up off the streets and trained to sniff out drugs. In many cases they are just as good at this as pure bred dogs, which are much more expensive to obtain. Stray dogs often get their meals from rubbish bins. Trainers say this is good training for sniffing out drugs. The training program was set up after the king suggested people come up with uses for stray dogs.

Stray dogs have held a special place in the hearts of Thai monarchs. Rama VI (ruled 1910- 25) was very fond of his dog, Ya-Lei. Ya-Lei was a hybrid dog born in the Nakhon Pathom prison. King Rama VI found him during an inspection of the prison. Ye-Lei was very fortunate to have caught the eye of the King and was brought to the palace. Ya-Lei was a very smart and loyal dog. The King was so fond of Ya-Lei that Ya-Lei was envied, and was later shot by an envious person. King Rama VI was much saddened when Ya-Le passed away and commanded that a copper statue of Ya-Lei be cast and placed on a pedestal in front of his palace in Nakhon Pathom. The King composed a poem for Ya-Lei that was inscribed below the sculpture.

King Bhumibol’s Stray Dogs

The present monarch King Bhumibol wrote a best-selling book called The Story of Thong Daeng that was inspired by his favorite pet— his stray dog Khun Thong Daeng. He suggested making this book into a bilingual comic illustrated by the famous Thai comic illustrator Chai Rajawat.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej has owned several former strays and has pleaded with Thais not to harm such dogs. The book about Tongdaeng sold over a million copies. The book contains photographs of the dog taken by the king plus pictures of the dog and the King together taken by palace photographers. T-shirts and other merchandise with a portrait of the king and Tongdaeng and Tongdaeng with her own litter of nine puppies were also big sellers.

Tongdaeng was rescued from a busy street where her mother gave birth her. She was the only survivor of the litter. A royal doctor presented her to the king, who adopted her and gave her a home in the royal palace. The book about Thong Daeng was meant to be an example for people. “Tongdaeng is a respectful dog with proper manners: she is humble and knows protocol,” the king writes. “She would always sit lower than the king, even when he pulls her to embrace her. Tongdaeng would lower herself down to the floor, her ears in a respectful drooping positions.

Thais Save Dogs from Vietnamese Cooking Pots But Also Catch Them for Eating

In January 2012, AP reported: “Thai authorities say they have rescued more than 750 dogs destined for cooking pots in Vietnam. Capt. Thirakiat Thongaram says a Thai navy patrol caught a gang of dog smugglers Thursday morning on the shore of the Mekong River in Nakhon Phanom province. His men found at least 750 dogs in small, rusty cages on a truck near a ferry ready to take them across the river to Laos. He says the canines were to be transported through Laos to Vietnam, where dog meat is a delicacy. One Thai man was arrested on charges including illegal transportation of animals, while the other smugglers escaped. The dogs will be sent to a shelter in Nakhon Phanom. [Source: AP, January 12, 2012]

Dog traders from town of Thatae in northeastern Thailand fan into the countryside in trucks with loudspeakers and steel cages to collect dogs for the meat and hide market. The traders used to exchange one plastic bucket for each dog and sold most of the meat to Vietnamese refugees who migrated to the area in the 1950s. In the 1990s the dog meat sold for $1.30 a pound. One trader said that he collected 14,000 dogs in just three weeks.

Some dog meat in Thailand is sun dried for protein supplements added to food for cattle, fish and even dogs. The skin is made into leather used bags and drums. Dog scrotum leather is favored for gloves. The penises are sent to China and Taiwan, where they are consumed as energy boosters.

Animal rights advocates claim the dogs are starved, clubbed over the head to make the meat more flavorful and finally killed with a slit to the throat.

Siamese Cats

Siamese cats arrived in the United States around 1890. The god who invented them, an old story goes, gave them the "grace of the panther, intelligence of the elephant, affection of the lovebird, beauty of the fawn, blue of the sapphire, softness of down, swiftness of light." They are one of the lighter cats, weighing only two or so kilograms, compared to five or six kilograms for a normal domestic cat. Siamese Cats enjoy walking on ledges and climbing curtains. Some even have been observed talking on the telephone. [Source: Adolph Suehsdorf, National Geographic, April 1964, ╾]

Siamese cats were introduced to the west when the King of Siam gave a a male and female to the British counsel general in Bangkok in 1884 as a going away present. For centuries before that Siamese cats were known as sacred animals possessed only by the royal family and Buddhist priests who used them as temple guardians. ╾

Siamese cats were imported from Thailand to England about 1875. Kittens are born white and obtain their distinctive markings in a few days. The paws of Siamese kittens becomes dark due to the lower temperatures of their extremities. A man with a diamond-eyed Siamese cat became extremely lucky and made a fortune from the animal. He spend tens of thousand of dollars on a marriage to another cat.

Royal Siamese Cats

The 50 or so royal Siamese cats, whose ancestors lived in the royal palace of Rama V, are taken care of by film producer Namdee Witta, a relative of the royal family. Cats of the same breed are featured on Thai lottery tickets and Thai postage stamps.

The cats are pure white and belong to variety known as khao manee ("diamond eyes'). Each one has two different colored eyes (green and yellow or blue and white). Believed to be the only pure bred khao manee left, they live in teak-paneled rooms, drink bottled mineral water, and are served food in gold- and silver-plated bowls.

"They are princes and princesses and the deserve the best, "Namdee told the Los Angeles Times. "Their value is beyond price. How valuable? Well, I can tell you, six years ago a monk had a Siamese cat of this breed and he sold it for 150 million baht [about $4 million] to a very wealthy jeweler. The monk built a temple with the money."

Namdee, who originally preferred dogs, took over raising the cats when his aunt, a granddaughter of Rama V, complained the cats scratched up her sofa. He spends so much time taking care of the cats he had to give up film making.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: Jukka O. Miettinen, Asian Traditional Theater and Dance, Theatre Academy Helsinki, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourist Authority of Thailand, Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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