KIOWA COUNTY, Oklahoma - Twenty-three people are facing charges in connection with an illegal cockfighting operation in Kiowa County.

The Kiowa County Sheriff’s Office says deputies at the scene requested back-up and the Oklahoma Highway Patrol and Snyder Police Department responded to assist.

Deputies say they found 56 birds, 16 of which were dead.  The Humane Society of Tulsa took the remaining birds to an undisclosed location.

“I think it’s extremely serious,” said Gina Gardner, the president of the Humane Society of Tulsa.  “I know that the Kiowa County Sheriff is further investigating.  They believe there may be more birds involved.”

The Sheriff’s Office and other law enforcement raided a spot in the Cooperton area off of State Highway 54.  They say deputies found about 20 to 30 people suspected of taking part in the illegal activity and arrested 23 of them.

“They found all kinds of fighting, paraphernalia, they had deceased birds, and they have seized the remaining birds and called our emergency response team,” said Gardner.

The response team took some of the birds to the Humane Society’s emergency shelter, where they are kept away from one another.  State Department of Agriculture officials, as well as veterinarians, will be examining them.

“The first step in that is testing them for a lot of different diseases and conditions.  Will also be collecting evidence,” stated Gardner.

Gardner says cockfighting is still very prevalent in Oklahoma, but says she’s encouraged by law enforcement, who is continuing to crack down on this illegal blood sport.

“Just like dog fighting and other things that are cruel to animals,” said Gardner.  “Unfortunately, there are still people in our society that still take joy and pleasure in that.”

The Humane Society hopes to place these birds on farms, if possible.