Tag Archives: cock fighting

Underground Cock Fighting in Manila Revisited

Last month my editor at Getty Images gave me the rare opportunity to revisit some of my old stories from the Philippines: Small scale gold mining in southern Leyte, and the underground cock fighting scene in Manila.

I was first introduced to the world of cock fighting when I decided to move out of my guest house in Manila and onto a fighting cock training farm in the working class neighbourhood of San Andres Bukid. In metro Manila, where space is in short supply, the “farm” was really just an empty lot between two houses. But shaded by tall bamboo thickets and closed off from the hustle of the streets by a tall iron gate – ominously topped in concertina wire – the training centre proved to be one of the most relaxing places I’ve yet to find in a city of nearly 12 million.

Floren Castillio, whose house in little more than a tarped bed he shares with his wife and granddaughter, is the farm’s caretaker and a well respected “gaffer” – a combination of fighting cock trainer and amateur veterinarian. Two years ago, when I first met Floren, he unhesitatingly agreed to allow me to set up a tent on his property within the first hour of meeting him. During the month or so I stayed there, he greeted me each morning with a cup of coffee and recoiled whenever I tried to pay him rent. Even though I hadn’t had any contact with the man since 2012, when I showed up again out of the blue he immediately went to his small storage closet, pulled out my old tent, and asked me how long I wanted to stay.

Though a tight work schedule limited my time in Manila and I couldn’t spend as much time with Floren as I would have liked, he was instrumental in getting me access to the underground cock fighting scene once again. Animal ethics aside, cock fighting is one of the most popular national sports in the Philippines, and it takes place nearly every day in the country, from Manila’s backstreets to massive government sanctioned arenas.

This story was shot over a day and a half in the neighbourhoods of San Andres Bukid and Raymundo. All images are the exclusive property of Getty Images.

Floren Castillio, a respected gaffer, pulls a young fighting cock towards him before giving it minor surgery.

Floren Castillio, a respected gaffer, pulls a young fighting cock towards him before giving it minor surgery. ©Luc Forsyth/Getty Images

Floren Castillio uses a metal pin to clear an area for a feather transplant. When fighting cocks suffer damaged feathers, they are replaced - sometimes with heavier turkey feathers - to give the birds increased balance and stability.

Floren Castillio uses a metal pin to clear an area for a feather transplant. When fighting cocks suffer damaged feathers, they are replaced – sometimes with heavier turkey feathers – to give the birds increased balance and stability. ©Luc Forsyth/Getty Images

Floren's bloody body after a morning of giving surgery.

Floren’s bloody body after a morning of giving surgery. ©Luc Forsyth/Getty Images

Young men inspect the cocks on Floren's property, looking for a potential bird to buy.

Young men inspect the cocks on Floren’s property, looking for a potential bird to buy. ©Luc Forsyth/Getty Images

A group gathers on Floren's farm to test the aggression of fighting cocks in advance of a large fight. This pre-fight test will influence what birds are bet on the following morning.

A group gathers on Floren’s farm to test the aggression of fighting cocks in advance of a large fight. This pre-fight test will influence what birds are bet on the following morning. ©Luc Forsyth/Getty Images

A non-lethal test fight to test the aggressiveness and stamina of the birds.

A non-lethal test fight to test the aggressiveness and stamina of the birds. ©Luc Forsyth/Getty Images

The morning of a fight, men gather in the working class neighbourhood of Raymundo to place bets.

The morning of a fight, men gather in the working class neighbourhood of Raymundo to place bets. ©Luc Forsyth/Getty Images

An old man contemplates which bird to bet on before a fight. People have been known to wager a month's pay on a single fight.

An old man contemplates which bird to bet on before a fight. People have been known to wager a month’s pay on a single fight. ©Luc Forsyth/Getty Images

Crowds gather to watch one of many fights for the day.

Crowds gather to watch one of many fights for the day. ©Luc Forsyth/Getty Images

Multiple gaffers, or fighting cock doctors, are on hand to treat injured birds after each fight.

Multiple gaffers, or fighting cock doctors, are on hand to treat injured birds after each fight. ©Luc Forsyth/Getty Images

The bloody hands of a gaffer at the end of the day's fighting. Gaffers act as amateur veterinarians, and can treat almost any wound a fighting cock might suffer.

The bloody hands of a gaffer at the end of the day’s fighting. Gaffers act as amateur veterinarians, and can treat almost any wound a fighting cock might suffer. ©Luc Forsyth/Getty Images

A man watches money being exchanged after losing a bet.

A man watches money being exchanged after losing a bet. ©Luc Forsyth/Getty Images

Feathers are swept out of the fighting pit at the end of  each fight.

Feathers are swept out of the fighting pit at the end of each fight. ©Luc Forsyth/Getty Images

Versions of this story appeared in The Wall Street Journal and Yahoo! News.  These photos are the exclusive property of Getty Images and may not be used without consent – all images are available for purchase here.

 

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Born to Kill: Underground Cock Fighting in Manila

Cock Fighting is one of the most popular sports in the Philippines and is broadcast on national television, with some fights filling sports stadiums to capacity. But far from the cameras and regulations of the prime time events, underground fights occur daily in Manila’s working class neighbourhoods.

The fights are short and brutal, with the cocks fighting until either exhaustion or death. Though amateur veterinarians – referred to locally as gaffers – are on hand to treat injuries, the long curved knives attached to the bird’s feet often result in the death of the losing bird.

The fighting cocks live relatively pleasant lives when compared to the battery chickens which feed the world’s appetite for poultry, with owners caring for their birds with an affection bordering on love. Yet the animals live as gladiators, with their only purpose being to fight and possibly die for the enrichment and bragging rights of its owner.

This story was shot in Manila’s working class neighbourhoods of San Andres Bukid and Raymundo.

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Floren Castillio, a locally renowned cock fighting gaffer – a mix of trainer and amateur veterinarian – pulls a bird towards himself in order to perform surgery on it.

 

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A group of young men inspect the fighting cocks in Floren’s farm, looking for the right bird to buy or bet on.

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Floren removes a fighting cock’s wattle with a pair of scissors. The wattles and crowns are removed so that they cannot be cut during a fight and cause debilitating bleeding.

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The bloody body of Floren Castillio after a morning of surgery.

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Floren prepares to replace a broken feather of a wounded fighting cock. Each feather is important to the bird’s balance, and so damaged feathers must be replaced.

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A crowd gathers to watch as two fighting cocks are tested for aggressiveness before a fight. The results of this comparison will be used to determine which birds to place bets on.

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A practice match between two fighting cocks in which observers will decide which birds to bet on.

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A large crowd gathers on a public holiday to watch a morning of fights.

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A fight organizer calls on spectators to place their bets before a fight begins.

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An elderly man prepares to place a bet before the start of a fight. It is not uncommon for a month’s wages to be won or lost on a single match.

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Long curved knives are attached to the feet of the fighting cocks before a fight. The blades are sharp enough to shave with and have been known to cause human fatalities on rare occasions.

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Crowds watch a fight in the working class neighbourhood of Raymundo.

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Multiple gaffers are on hand to treat injured fighting cocks during a morning of underground fights in Raymundo.

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Bloody gauze is dropped on the ground as gaffers tend to wounded fighting cocks. The gaffers carry comprehensive medical kits and can treat nearly any non-fatal injury a bird might sustain during a fight.

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The bloody hands of a gaffer after a morning of treating injured fighting cocks.

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A man watches as money is exchanged after losing a bet.

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Feathers and blood are swept from the floor of the outdoor fighting pit in Raymundo.

 

 

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Born to Kill: Underground Cock Fighting in Manila

A huge fighting cock in San Andres Bukit. Promising birds are fed well and grow to large sizes.

A huge fighting cock in San Andres Bukit. Promising birds are fed well and grow to large sizes.

In September 2012 I arrived in Manila with no idea of what I was doing there and no story ideas whatsoever. But through a series of random meetings and strange luck I was invited to pitch a tent in an empty patch of land in the working class neighbourhood of San Andres. Though living in a tent in the middle of metro Manila was strange enough, the piece of land I was living on also happened to be the site of an underground cock-fighting farm and training ground. I wrote a short article at the time talking a little about what it was like to live on the farm, but I neglected to post many photos for some reason or another. After digging around in my archives I realized that I had quite a few decent images and thought I’d post a more comprehensive visual story about these illegal death matches happening in the street outside my front door, so to speak.

From the cradle to the grave, these animals are raised only to fight, and most likely die. Large amounts of money can be won on these fights, so a champion bird will most probably fight again and again until he is no longer able to win. Since the blades used are 10cm long and razor sharp, not winning is probably synonymous with death – though there is a potential for the lucky to receive only a blinding or severe maiming.

The fights are illegal. Cock Fighting is one of the most popular sports in the Philippines and is even broadcast on TV, but those fights are regulated and licensed. The fights on the streets of San Andres were underground and subject to police raids. On more than one occasion the local police rushed into the area on motorcycles after a fight was over and admonished the watchers. Typically the losing bird (most likely dead), was given to the officers in payment, presumably to be grilled and eaten down the street at the local police station. Illegal or not, the fights are going to happen, and the police accept this as long as they get something out of it.

What I found particularly confusing about the whole spectacle is the bipolar nature of the affection for the birds. When alive, the proud owners would hold them up and stroke them lovingly. They display them and compare them to their friends birds. A champion is treated like a beloved pet. They obviously care about them greatly, yet the moment the cock loses a fight it is tossed into the gutter like a piece of trash. When I asked one of my local friends, an owner himself, how they can have such a dismissive attitude towards an animal they had spent so much time with, he replied simply “fighting cocks are for fighting.”

I should maybe mention that this story is perhaps not as comprehensive and exposing as I would have liked it to be because after a few days of shooting I realized that I was making enemies. Apparently many of the bird owners believed that it was bad luck to have their fighters photographed and legitimately blamed me for their loss. So out of a mixture of respect for their beliefs and fear of their anger, I stopped taking pictures of the fights themselves.

Note: Some of these images are bloody. This is not a case study in animal rights or ethics. I have my own opinions on cock-fighting and this story is neither condemning nor supporting the practice.

Chicks are raised in a small cage before they are mixed with the larger fighting cocks. These chicks will likely not leave the small plot of land in San Andres until it is time to fight, perhaps 1-2 years later.

Chicks are raised in a small cage before they are mixed with the larger fighting cocks. These chicks will likely not leave the small plot of land in San Andres until it is time to fight, perhaps 1-2 years later.

The fighting cocks are fed a high-energy mixture of corn and protiens to ensure they grow to a desirable size.

The fighting cocks are fed a high-energy mixture of corn and protiens to ensure they grow to a desirable size.

Floren is an underground veteranarian, known in cock fighting circles as a gaffer. He tends to injured birds when needed and allows cocks to be fed and raised on his property.

Floren is an underground veteranarian, known in cock fighting circles as a gaffer. He tends to injured birds when needed and allows cocks to be fed and raised on his property.

A cock has his crown surgically removed with scissors. The crown is susceptible to injury and can bleed into the cock's eyes during a fight, so they are removed before the birds reach fighting size.

A cock has his crown surgically removed with scissors. The crown is susceptible to injury and can bleed into the cock’s eyes during a fight, so they are removed before the birds reach fighting size.

Several tail feathers from a promising fighting cock are surgically removed and replaced with larger turkey feathers which help to improve balance and stability during a fight.

Several tail feathers from a promising fighting cock are surgically removed and replaced with larger turkey feathers which help to improve balance and stability during a fight.

A group of men look on eagerly at the appearance of a prospective challenger . There are no fixed fighting schedules and matchmakers like Jimmy (left) wander the neighbourhood arranging fights for a small comission.

A group of men look on eagerly at the appearance of a prospective challenger . There are no fixed fighting schedules and matchmakers like Jimmy (left) wander the neighbourhood arranging fights for a small comission.

Knives are passed between gaffers.

Knives are passed between gaffers so the cocks can be readied for fighting.

A 10 cm curved knife is attached to the cock's foot. The blades are sharp enough to shave with and have been responsible for human deaths in rare cases.

A 10 cm curved knife is attached to the cock’s foot. The blades are sharp enough to shave with and have been responsible for human deaths in rare cases.

An experienced gaffer checks that the blade is secure to the cock's foot before the fight begins.

An experienced gaffer checks that the blade is secure to the cock’s foot before the fight begins.

A crowd gathers to watch and to bet on the outcome of a cock fight

A crowd gathers to watch and to bet on the outcome of a cock fight

The cocks fight by jumping towards their oppoent and kicking out with long curved knives. A single direct hit is enough to kill.

The cocks fight by jumping towards their oppoent and kicking out with long curved knives. A single direct hit is enough to kill.

Blood stains a curb in San Andres Bukit.

Blood stains a curb in San Andres Bukit.

A crowd looks on as a fight ends, the loser dead.

A crowd looks on as a fight ends, the loser dead.

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A dead cock, kicked through the heart by one of the 10cm blades.

The exhausted and disoriented winner of a fight paces near the blood of his fatally wounded opponent.

An exhausted and disoriented winner of a fight paces near the blood of his fatally wounded opponent.

A cock is stitched up after sustaining a serious injury during a fight. Because of the cost involved in raising the birds, those that can be saved are given medical treatment.

A cock is stitched up after sustaining a serious injury during a fight. Because of the cost involved in raising the birds, those that can be saved are given medical treatment.

Blood drips on Floren's feet as he stiches up an injured fighting cock.

Blood drips on Floren’s feet as he stiches up an injured fighting cock.

The feet of a dead fighting cock are used as kindling for a cooking fire.

The feet of a dead fighting cock are used as kindling for a cooking fire.

An onsite incubator holds the next generation of fighting cocks.

An  incubator holds the next generation of fighting cocks.

A young fighting cock, to small yet to fight, is tethered to a fence in San Andres.

A young fighting cock, too small yet to fight.

 

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Life on a Fighting Cock Farm

An illegal cock fight in San Andres, Manila. The fights usually last around a minute and all evidence is quickly carried away to avoid problems with the police.

In an odd twist of fate I now find myself living on a fighting-cock farm in the lower class neighbourhood of San Andres, Manila. In an empty lot between two houses, Floren, the caretaker of the farm, allowed me to pitch a small tent. I share the space with around 15 fighting cocks, a pair of Chinese chickens, and two turkeys. The cocks and turkeys are in a constant state of feud, harassing each other and skirmishing endlessly in the small space. I can’t help but feel sorry for the turkeys. Despite their larger size, they are vastly outnumbered by an opponent that is born and bred to fight to the death. They stick close together and pace the yard cautiously.

The sound of 15 roosters is deafening, and they usually get me up by around 5am. There is nothing much to do but drink coffee with the large posse of elderly women who sit on plastic chairs on the street outside the farm’s front gate. By 9a.m. the first of the day’s cock-fights have usually started, and continue until there are no more competitors.

Fast and violent, one of the fighters is generally dead within two minutes. Sometimes the winner will also bleed out minutes later.

10cm curved knives are attached to the feet of the roosters before the fight. They are sharp enough to shave with and have resulted in human deaths when the cocks are not carefully controlled.

The loser of the fight is given to the winner’s owner to be eaten.

It looks like I’ll be staying on the farm for the next month or so, so expect a more comprehensive story on the underground cock-fights soon. Animal rights activists be warned: there is very little sympathy for these animals, and the images will be gruesome.

 

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