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A winner rooster poses with money after a fight at an event organised to celebrate the Lunar New Year and the year of the Rooster on the outskirts of Bangkok, Thailand January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

(reuters_tickers)

By natasha howitt

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Prized birds faced off in front of thousands of spectators at a stadium near Thailand's capital on Sunday as celebrations for the Year of the Rooster brought a windfall for some.

Although cockfighting is banned in many countries on grounds of animal cruelty, it is a lucrative business in Thailand as well as a popular pastime. Sunday's top bird sold for over $70,000 (£55,795).

"This year is a very good year for us. It's the year of the golden rooster. The value of the roosters has gone up," said Banchej Changyai, 55, who was running the contest south of Bangkok on the second day of celebrations for the Lunar New Year.

Each fight involves two roosters facing off in a pit. They lurch at each, inflicting damage with beaks and wings.

Each round is 22 minutes long, and there can be up to six rounds depending on the roosters' endurance.

"Today, the rooster brought me a lot of money. I love cockfighting, it's a hobby of mine," said Narongsak Sealee, 22, after winning 500,000 baht (£11,303) at the Thedthai cockfighting stadium in Samut Prakan province.

Unlike in many countries, the Thai cocks do not fight to the death. Instead, the first bird to cower away loses.    

"This rooster is so good that it gives me, the owner, a great reputation and makes me very happy," said Virat Patcharaphangkorn, after buying the event's prize rooster for 2.5 million baht.

(Editing by Matthew Tostevin, Larry King)

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