(Reuters) - Nine people were arrested and some 3,000 fighting roosters and hens rescued when New York authorities busted a cockfighting ring they said was one of the biggest ever uncovered in the United States.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced the arrests and said in a statement: "Cockfighting is a cruel, abusive and barbaric practice that tortures animals, endangers the health and safety of the public and is known to facilitate other crimes."
Officials simultaneously raided an apartment building in the New York City borough of Queens where 70 people were attending a fight overnight Saturday, and also a pet shop in Brooklyn that dealt in fighting chickens as well as a 90-acre (36-hectare) farm in Plattekill, New York, where thousands of roosters and hens were kept and trained.
"Operation Angry Birds," named after a popular mobile game, targeted a gambling operation where people bet up to $10,000 on a single fight to see roosters, often fitted with knives, battle to the death, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).
Some 70 people at the Queens apartment building, where cockfights had been held twice a month since May, were detained and questioned, and about 65 birds seized, the attorney general's office said.
It was the biggest cockfighting bust in New York history, authorities said.
Nine people were charged with felonies, punishable by up to four years in prison and a fine up to $25,000, authorities said. Cockfighting is illegal in every U.S. state.
Spectators paid admission and a seat fee for the all-night fights in the basement, where alcohol and drugs were sold, prosecutors said.
In some of the locations, authorities found cockfighting paraphernalia, such as fake rooster spurs, candle wax and syringes used to inject the birds with performance-enhancing drugs, ASPCA officials said.
Humane societies and animal rescue groups in seven states are helping with the shelter and transfer of the animals, officials said.
"Our primary goal was to immediately remove these birds from a cycle of violence and suffering," said Stacy Wolf, senior vice president of the ASPCA's Anti-Cruelty Group.
(Reporting by Karen Brooks in Austin, Texas; Editing by Scott Malone and Stephen Powell)