August 17, 2012
Bear Baiting Competitions
What are bear baiting competitions?
Bear baiting is a cruel spectator event in which a captive black bear is pitted against teams of dogs. The bear's claws and many of her teeth have been cut off or file down, and she is tethered closely to a stake in the corner of a fenced area. She is helpless to defend herself and has little freedom of movement.
Hundreds of dogs are released, one to three at a time, supposedly to "bay" the bear. In general, bear baying means that dogs are expected to bark at the bear, make eye contact with her, and keep her in place. But in bear baiting events, the dogs harass the bear, often jumping on her and biting her.
The term "bear baiting" is also sometimes used to describe setting out food to lure wild bears to a location, then shooting them at close range. Although also cruel, this practice is unrelated to the bear baiting competitions found in South Carolina.
Where does bear baiting occur?
Bear baiting is only known to occur publicly in South Carolina. Public bear baiting competitions are held in Spartanburg, Hickory Grove, and Travelers Rest, S.C. Backyard events are reportedly held throughout the rural areas of northwest South Carolina during much of the year.
Are bear baiting events cruel?
Black bears are shy animals who usually avoid humans whenever possible. When a black bear feels threatened or trapped, she will often bluff by charging forward and popping her jaws. The bear featured in the bear baiting footage demonstrates fearful and defensive behavior; she is not aggressive. She attempts to shield her face from the dogs, and at most, attempts to knock the dogs away from her. In addition, HSUS investigators observed bears at baiting competitions being subjected to barking, biting dogs for hours on end without access to water, food, or shelter.
Black bears are highly intelligent and roam miles a day in search of food. The home range of a male black bear can be as large as 200 miles. However, South Carolina law only requires that a bear's enclosure be a mere 84 square feet in size. One captive bear has been listed by the DNR as weighing 800 pounds. A roughly nine-by-nine-foot cage is hardly adequate for such a large animal. Black bears can live nearly 40 years. If the practice of bear baiting continues, these bears could be forced to endure this cruelty for at least an additional 25 years.
Who runs bear baiting operations?
The known public bear baiting events in South Carolina are operated by breed clubs associated with the United Kennel Club and the American Kennel Club. These associations hold large annual events featuring bear baiting, and may hold smaller events throughout the year.
Are bear baiting events regulated?
The practice is almost entirely unregulated. Lawmakers and the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources knowingly allow the practice of bear baiting (which they call "baying") to continue in the state, and the DNR has issued permits for bears to be kept in confinement.
However, there are few regulations on how the captive bears must be treated. The bears can be kept in extremely small cages without nutritionally appropriate foods. The DNR does not keep veterinary records for the bears or ensure that they are altered, although the agency stated it would not allow further breeding of captive bears. Inspections of the bears are very infrequent and cursory, and the DNR does not inspect the actual bear baiting events.
What do the experts say?
Two experts trained in bear behavior and biology watched our investigation video and agreed that bear baiting is cruel and should be eliminated.
Lynn Rogers, a biologist with 40 years of experiencing studying bears, stated that "bear baying is a cruel 'tradition' that should be eliminated. This is my opinion and is obviously the opinion of the many Americans who have voted to outlaw bear baying, dog-fighting, and cock-fighting across the country." Rogers also stated that "nothing in this inhumane practice fits with modern civilization and our emerging knowledge about the basically timid psyche of black bears."
After examining video footage taken by The HSUS, the biologists explain that the bear exhibits no aggression and that all her actions are defensive. Carrie Hunt, a biologist with 30 years of experience studying bears, states that in the video footage taken by The HSUS, "the bear's jaw popping and foaming at the mouth is a display of extreme agitation, of unhappiness and fear."