An animal-rights group is accusing an Oklahoma City company of supplying a Taiwanese gambling syndicate with prized pigeons used in grueling races in which millions of dollars are illegally wagered and many of the birds die.
Officials with the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals say a five-month investigation last year by the organization in Taiwan uncovered a multibillion-dollar industry centered on racing pigeons imported from all over the world, including from Oklahoma City-based Continental Breeding Station. Richard Mardis, former owner of the breeding business, already faces felony gambling charges in Oklahoma County as a result of another PETA investigation that authorities say exposed illegal pigeon races in Oklahoma.
“It’s not about specifically who is doing it; it’s about the fact that this activity is going on,” said Jared Goodman, PETA’s director of animal law. “This is a cruel underbelly to an activity that many people aren’t aware exists.”
Mardis, 66, of Oklahoma City, could not be reached for comment.
Conner Helms, Mardis’s attorney, said his client is innocent and discounted PETA’s investigation. He said the organization has focused on illegal gambling after being unable to convince any jurisdiction that the racing pigeons are being mistreated.
“Their fallback position is gambling, which they really couldn’t care less about,” Helms said. “They’re really just trying to stop this international sport.”
Mardis’s son, Steve Mardis, said he now owns Continental Breeding Station, which operates out of a residence at 14600 S Indiana Ave. Court records list the address as the home of Richard Mardis. Steve Mardis said his father is no longer affiliated with the company, but declined to say when he stepped down.
Steve Mardis said his company exports pigeons to Taiwanese racers. He said he was unaware of the most-recent PETA investigation, was unfamiliar with Taiwanese gambling and animal-cruelty laws and denied any wrongdoing. He declined further comment.
Pigeon racing is a popular hobby in the U.S., but in Taiwan it’s a high-stakes business, with links to organized crime and illegal gambling. Millions of dollars can be wagered on races and the sport has been beset with reports of race fixing and birds being kidnapped and ransomed or fed performance enhancing drugs.
During its undercover investigation in Taiwan, PETA alleged that pigeons less than a year old were shipped out to sea to fly back to their home lofts over a series of seven weekly races. It was common for less than 1 percent of the birds to survive, according to PETA. Thousands perished in typhoons or were swept underwater by waves and drowned. Others snagged their wings or legs on wires. Birds who returned rarely received appropriate veterinary care, and pigeons that failed to return within qualifying time often had their necks snapped, PETA said.
“PETA's investigators captured video of a single race in which tens of thousands of these highly intelligent birds likely died in a matter of hours in typhoon-strength winds,” Goodman said.
PETA officials also say they recorded top officials at Taiwan’s largest racing club admitting to sponsoring illegal gambling and misrepresenting the amount of money at stake. They also claim organizers concealed profits and that top government officials are involved.
PETA officials said they filed a complaint earlier this year with Taiwanese government officials who promised to investigate. PETA officials also alerted authorities in the United States, where several of the breeders are located.
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It’s not about specifically who is doing it; it’s about the fact that this activity is going on. This is a cruel underbelly to an activity that many people aren’t aware exists.”
PETA’s director of animal law