A couple of American soldiers kneel down on the jungle floor as blood from a dead cobra drips onto their tongues.
"Fishy, it tastes like fish. It’s interesting,” one smiling participant said in a video of the encounter from 2018.
Getting a mouthful of snake blood has long been a major highlight of the decades-old multinational Cobra Gold training held in Thailand every year.
Originally designed for U.S. and Thai troops to exchange military tactics and skills, the 10-day course includes jungle survival lessons using snakes, scorpions and geckos. These animal encounters have been well-documented parts of the exercises, with photos and videos of the often-bloody activities released annually.
But not this time, according to the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which previously called it a “frat party-like event.”
It said snake blood drinking has been cut from the program after a campaign to end the practice, which it only learned about last year. The animal rights group protested outside the Pentagon in Washington, contacted the U.S. Marine Corps, and sent a letter to Thailand’s prime minister.
"These sorts of training doesn’t actually deliver any survival skills. In fact, the U.S. Marine Corps has admitted that the primary goal of this training is to attempt to build friendship between the two countries,” said Nirali Shah, a spokesperson for PETA Asia. She pointed out that there are many other ways to build camaraderie without subjecting animals to suffering.
Footage from the 2020 exercises shows a Thai soldier demonstrating how to skin and eat a gecko, and then feeding pieces of it to American troops, who also tried scorpion and, of course, snake blood.
The animal rights organization said it learned about the cancellation of the snake blood drinking exercise from Amnuay Kerdkaew, the director of joint operations of the Royal Thai Air Force. Amnuay and the U.S. embassy in Bangkok did not immediately respond to a request for comment from VICE World News.
The Cobra Gold training was first held in Thailand in 1982 to improve relations between American and Thai armed forces, which are now staunch allies. The program has since expanded to involve 29 countries including Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea.