Mexico's biggest ever cockfighting festival kicks off
Mexican cockfighting promoters on Friday kicked off an event billed as the largest exhibition of the bloodsport the country has ever seen.
The annual Texcoco Horse Fair, which takes places on the eastern fringes of Mexico City, will see 16 nightly bouts of cockfighting over the space of a month – all of which end in the death of one of the animals.
Trainers from all over the country compete not only for the title of best trainer, but also to keep alive what they claim is a proud Mexican tradition despite demands to ban the 'disgusting' sport.
'Cockfighting is deeply embedded in Mexico's rural culture', Texcoco tourism spokeswoman Rosalinda Benitez told MailOnline on the opening night of the month-long bloodsport bonanza. 'We want to showcase the proud tradition to our visitors'.
The event, which includes fairground attractions and one of Mexico's biggest horse auctions, expects to receive more than 600,000 visitors over the month.
'Banning these events will never be accepted by the public', said Jaime Rodriguez, a Texcoco resident who looks forward to the annual fair every year.
'This year they want to make clear how much the people love to come and watch quality cockfights'.
While cockfighting is banned in all 50 US states and Europe (it was banned in England in 1835), it nevertheless draws big crowds in Mexico, where fans come to gamble on the fights and drink until the early hours of the morning.
Cockfighting is also banned within the limits of Mexico City, four cities in the state of Veracruz and Coahuila state on the Texas border, but the bloodsport is nevertheless extremely popular in more rural areas of the country.
Indeed the cockfighting arenas, known as palenques, are often the social hubs of many Mexican towns. 'Cockfighting is a family business', said Gregory Castillo, a gamecock trainer from Ranchito Gaby, one of the eight gamecock-producing ranches competing on the fair's opening night. 'We get a good reception wherever we perform and people always come out to witness the spectacle. It always produces a good party atmosphere'.
Gregory had already seen two of his prize gamecocks die against superior opponents that evening, and was engaged in strapping the curved razorblade of Mexican cockfighting regulation onto the left leg of his third bird.
'The razorblades make for more interesting fights', he told the MailOnline as he spat on the rooster's head, a common technique to anger the bird before it enters the battle.
'We train our animals to attack with their legs and feet first, and use the beak to finish the job later'.
The weapons attached to the birds' legs must be changed every five minutes in order to ensure they are not left blunted by the sand of the arena.
'It's a disgusting practice and there's no reason that it should continue simply because it's seen as tradition', said Leonora Esquivel, a leader of the AnimaNaturalis animal rights organisation, in a telephone interview with the MailOnline.
Leonora's organisation, which works closely with Mexico's Ecologist Green Party, is currently petitioning the government to put an end to animal cruelty in the country.
The group focuses particularly on bullfights, cockfighting and illegal dogfights which occur periodically around the capital.
Each cockfight runs for a maximum of 15 minutes, though most are over within two. Starting on the edge of the arena, the gamecocks are shown to one another, producing aggressive crowing, before being placed in their respective corners and let loose to attack one another.
The flurry of feathers, beaks and claws is rapid and furious. The male birds are extremely vicious and often emerge from the scuffles with their beaks filled with other's feathers. Even if a bird is injured and not attempting to fight any longer, it is permitted only a 15 second recovery period before being placed within a yard of its opponent and forced to continue.
A fight is declared over only when one of the birds is lying dead on the arena floor. The sport revolves entirely around gambling, and betting odds are always 2:1 on the fight's outcome.
The gamecocks are displayed to the gamblers by being paraded around the circular arena, before being placed in front of a non-competitor mona ('monkey') gamecock to allow the gamblers to gauge their reactions.
'The more aggressively they peck, scratch and display their neck feathers at the mona, the more likely it is that they will be a good fighter', said Mauricio Alvarez, an observer in the crowd who had quadrupled his money over the previous two fights.
'But sometimes it comes completely down to luck. A weak bird might land a fatal blow with the razor and it's all over'.
Bookmakers patrol the circular arena taking bets whenever a fight is not in progress. The high-rollers are always invited to seats within five rows of the arena and bookies' fees are negotiated depending on the size of the bets.
For people further back in the stands, tennis balls with slits in them are thrown back and forth between gamblers and bookmakers: stuffed with stakes, winnings and losses.
The palenque in Texcoco has a capacity of more than 3,000 people, and few seats were left unsold as the public clamoured to see the opening event of the month-long celebration.
Following 16 cockfights, each ending with the bloodied loser unceremoniously dumped in a cement bucket, one of Mexico's most famous bands 'Los Angeles Azules' (The Blue Angels) took the animals' place to play to a packed house.
The fair will culminate with three shows by Luis Miguel, one of Latin America's most famous artists and a Michael Bublé-esque crooner, from April 9 to 11. All the shows will follow directly on from the cockfights.
In December of last year animal rights activists achieved a nationwide ban on the use of wild animals in circuses, imposing fines of up to £180,000 on organisations which cannot prove the domestic origins of any animals which are used in their performances.
The Mexican government is currently engaged in the struggle to find homes for more than 2,000 repossessed tigers, lions, elephants and other such animals which have been freed as a result of the law.
International supermarket chain WalMart was in trouble late last year as shoppers complained that a store in Veracruz state hosted a cockfight in order to promote a soft drinks company.