Despite pleas from the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the Air Force Academy will not stop killing, skinning and cooking rabbits as part of cadets' survival training.
In a Tuesday statement to Air Force Times, Air Force spokesman Zachary Anderson said there will be no change to the academy's survival training practices.
"The Air Force is aware of PETA's concerns," Anderson said. "However, the use of animals in Air Force survival training plays a critical role in equipping our Airmen with skills needed to stay alive in a combat environment. The training fully complies with all applicable regulatory requirements and Department of Defense guidelines. The Air Force will continue to ensure we are employing best practices for the humane treatment of animals while accomplishing the need to prepare and train our Airmen for survival in any and all situations."
PETA said in its own statement it was disappointed by the Air Force's decision.
"The Air Force can do better," Kathy Guillermo, PETA's senior vice president of laboratory investigations, said. "There will be so many places — including seas, deserts, and wilderness — where there are no domesticated, tame rabbits for cadets to bludgeon that it is backward and needlessly cruel to continue this old routine."
"The U.S. Department of Agriculture is now investigating the Air Force's animal dealers for apparent violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act, and PETA will continue to urge the Pentagon to abide by its own policy, which requires the use of available non-animal training methods," Guillermo said.
In a statement, Agriculture spokesman Andre Bell said the agency is evaluating a complaint about the dealers.
"We do not have an open investigation," Bell said.
In a June 27 letter to Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, PETA urged the Air Force to stop using live animals for its training, calling it "cruel and unnecessary." PETA said the Colorado Springs-based academy has spent thousands of dollars buying tame rabbits from local dealers over the past two years for third-year cadets' sustenance training exercises.
The class teaches cadets how to catch, cook, preserve and store food, as well as how to find water and make sure it is potable. It also teaches cadets to avoid detection.
A syllabus released by PETA says in part, "Instructor will ensure that live animals are cared for humanely. Cadre [training cadets] will ensure animals are dispatched in an expedient manner."
In a May letter to academy superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson, PETA said it was contacted by someone who reported cadets "bludgeon docile, domesticated rabbits to death" during training.
PETA has criticized these academy practices in the past. During a previous objection in 1999, an academy spokesman said that cadets are taught to kill animals quickly and humanely with a rock or a club.
PETA wants the academy to instead use videos and books to teach cadets survival skills, and recommended the DVD "Prepared to Survive" by former Air Force survival instructor and "Survivor" contestant Gretchen Cordy.
Stephen Losey covers personnel, promotions, and the Air Force Academy for Air Force Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.