Lee County deputies and animal control officials shuttered a rooster breeding operation near the eastern border of the county on Tuesday, arresting three men and confiscating more than 260 birds raised and bred to bring top dollar in cockfighting circles.
Many of the roosters — some 200 of the confiscated birds, according to the Sheriff’s Office — will likely be euthanized due to repeated exposure to steroids, according to officials at the scene.
“They’re contaminated,” Lee County Domestic Animal Services spokeswoman Ria Brown said. “I mean, there’s nothing usable.”
The men arrested were identified as Alvaro Gadiel Meza-Barba, 34; Jesus Guadalupe Meza-Barba, 29; and Noel Eduardo Madrid-Matate, 34. All three face felony charges of possessing animals used for fighting and operating property used for fighting; Jesus Guadalupe Meza-Barba and Madrid-Matate each face an additional charge of possession of fighting paraphernalia.
A Lee narcotics deputy discovered the operation as he accompanied federal Immigrations and customs enforcement agents executing a search warrant in a drug case at the home, 18151 Wildcat Dr.
Finding the penned birds, in addition to needles and spurs, the deputy notified officers with the agency’s agricultural and animal control unit.
Officers converged on the secluded 11-acre property, set back from a pitted dirt road and surrounded by scrubby fields and pasture. They found medical equipment, scales and rooster fighting magazines, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
More than 60 leg spurs — sharp blades attached to a rooster’s leg during a fight — were also discovered on the property, and officers recovered a stolen handgun.
By Tuesday afternoon, officials described a sophisticated operation intended not for fighting the birds but breeding and selling them for top dollar to fighters across the U.S. and Latin America.
The suspects removed the combs and wattles of the roosters, an effort to limit blood loss and preserve energy in a fight, and the birds were injected with steroids, Sheriff’s Office Cpl. Randy Hodges said. Separate pens housed roosters, while hens and chicks remained together.
“The birds are well taken care of — they’re beautiful birds,” Hodges said. “Unfortunately, all these birds know is to fight.”
Hodges said suspects told deputies they occasionally sparred the birds but never fought them. Such birds, with blood-lines well traced in cockfighting circles, could sell for between $500 and $1,500 apiece.
He estimated the operation existed a year before its discovery.
Mark Kalka, 38, a resident of nearby Linda Lee Way, said he was unaware of the roosters. Most people move to the area to be left alone, he said.
“For the most part, no one bothers anyone,” he said.
Yet a photograph on the Lee County Property Appraiser’s website entry for the address clearly shows the operation, rows of single pens with roosters visible.
Animal services and employees from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals removed the birds from the property on Tuesday afternoon, placing them in crates which were then loaded them onto a 30-foot air-conditioned trailer and taken to animal services’ headquarters in South Fort Myers.
Animal Services Chief Adam Leath said a judge would decide whether his organization will dispose of the birds. Any deemed salvageable—more likely the hens, chicks and fledglings—would be placed with assistance from ASPCA.
The roosters, crated individually due to their aggression, are more likely to be euthanized, Leath said. When he attempted to remove one of the male birds from a crate on Tuesday, the rooster flared its feathers and dashed at his hand.
“It is something we are not very happy about,” Leath said of the stranded birds, “but it’s something we did not create.”