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WARNING: CONTAINS GRAPHIC CONTENT
Training drills where soldiers drink snake blood and eat live animals like geckos and scorpions are at risk of sparking a new pandemic, campaigners have warned.
Thousands of international military personnel travel to Thailand each year to take part in the Cobra Gold joint military exercises.
According to animals rights group PETA, troops are encouraged to kill and eat live animals for 'survival exercises', with footage from last year's event showing American soldiers skinning and eating live geckos, biting into lizards and scorpions and drinking blood from a decapitated snake.
PETA, which is now calling for a ban on such exercises, said: "Last year, participants were recorded killing chickens with their bare hands, skinning and eating live geckos, consuming live scorpions and tarantulas, decapitating cobras and drinking their blood, and otherwise revelling in the ritualistic killing and consumption of animals."
The group argues the annual training exercise could 'spark the next pandemic', having now sent a letter to UK Secretary of State for Defence Ben Wallace, urging him to demand the organisers of the exercises 'permanently replace the use of live animals in food procurement survival exercises with more effective and ethical animal-free training methods'.
A call for action on its website explains: "Shipping military personnel to Thailand to drink the blood of beheaded snakes is the kind of absurdity that could spark the next pandemic.
"The use of live animals during Cobra Gold poses a risk of spreading zoonotic diseases akin to Covid-19, endangering troops and the wider public.
"Viruses like SARS-CoV-2 likely originated in bats and were first transmitted to humans via contact with an intermediate animal host.
"While the training exercise is marketed as a food procurement drill, officials have admitted it is intended to build camaraderie among troops in a manner resembling a barbaric hazing ritual.
"This goal could easily and safely be achieved through other means that don't involve causing animals to suffer and die."
A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: "The UK contributes a small number of military planners to Exercise Cobra Gold.
"We do not contribute troops to the field training component of the exercise, and no UK forces were involved in the drill highlighted by the PETA campaign."
It is understood two military planners went to last year's event, while one is due to attend this year's in August, the Independent reports.
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