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August 23, 2010

Expert Statements on the Cruelty of Bear Baiting Competitions

Two biologists, each with more than 30 years of experience studying bears, viewed video taken by The Humane Society of the United States at underground bear baiting competitions in South Carolina. Below are their comments explaining the bear's extreme fear and defensive behavior. They agree that this practice, called "bear baying" by participants, is cruel and should be stopped.

Statement from Lynn Rogers with the Wildlife Research Institute

"By way of introduction, my Ph.D. is in bear ecology and behavior, and I have studied black bears since 1967 through the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the University of Minnesota, U. S. Forest Service, and Wildlife Research Institute. I have published over a hundred scientific papers on bears. I have been a hunter most of my life and worked with hunters and the legislature to elevate bears from varmints to big game status in Minnesota in 1971. At the request of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, I wrote the bear hunting regulations for the State of Minnesota, most of which are still followed.   

The video shows a cornered, tethered, terrified bear with no recourse other than to defend itself against the packs of hounds people released against it. It chomped its jaws in fear and stood with its mouth open in defensive terror while being beset by barking, biting hounds. Far from the ferocious animals that black bears are often portrayed to be, the bear was totally defensive, not offensive, in defending itself against dog bites. When handlers came to pull the dogs away, the bear made no move toward the handlers and did not take advantage of opportunities to bite the dogs. The bear was totally defensive. This obviously cruel and stressful treatment of the bear is illegal in every state except South Carolina. It is no different from dog-fighting or cock-fighting except that the bears are defensive, not offensive. The bears are totally victims of the people who use them. The bear was not only cornered and tethered, it was probably de-fanged and de-clawed as is usual for bears used in these inhumane bear baying events. The usual way of declawing a bear is to cut the bear's toes off — another form of cruelty. Nothing in this inhumane practice fits with modern civilization and our emerging knowledge about the basically timid psyche of black bears. In addition to using bears like this in bear baying events like that shown in the video, captive bears that are de-fanged and de-clawed bears are used by private hound owners to train hounds to be aggressive when used in bear hunting and in bear baying events. I can only imagine the cruelty that occurred as hound owners trained their dogs for this videotaped baying event. 

The same torment happens when hounds are used in bear hunting except the wild bears are not tethered, defanged, and declawed. To help hound owners train their hounds to be aggressive against bears, state agencies that allow hounding during bear hunts also allow spring and/or summer training periods in which hounds chase bears on public or private land at inhumane expense to the bears. Recent studies have shown the physiological damage that occurs when bears are overly stressed. In addition, bears and dogs are injured or killed during training periods and bear baying events. Wild cubs and young bears that hounds catch on the ground are especially vulnerable.

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."

Lynn Rogers, Ph.D., Wildlife Research Biologist
Wildlife Research Institute

Statement from Carrie Hunt with the Wind River Bear Institute

"I am Carrie Hunt, the Director of Wind River Bear Institute in Florence, Montana. I am a wildlife biologist, a Bear Conflict Specialist, and a Wildlife Service Dog Specialist, and have been directly involved working with bears in the field for over 30 years. Through my Institute's programs we work with bears throughout the United States, Canada, and Japan and the Karelian Bear Dogs in our program have been used extensively on grizzly, black and polar bears in 500-800 actions annually over the past 14 years. To date we have never had a bear, dog or human injured or killed. I have been a constant witness to the interactions between bears and dogs and know the behavior of bears well. Our program is the only program of its kind in the world, and as the creator of Bear Shepherding, I personally have been involved in  up to 500 of these encounters annually for over 14 years, mostly with grizzly and black bears.

I reviewed the footage of the bear bay in South Carolina and found it to be inhumane. The bear is tethered to a stake in the middle of an arena, surrounded by loud spectators. For hours at a time, pack after pack of dogs is released to attack the bear. The dogs bite at the bear but she is helpless to escape, and because her claws have been filed down and her teeth have been removed, she is helpless to defend herself, and the bear knows this…as do the dogs. The bear's jaw popping and foaming at the mouth is a display of extreme agitation, of unhappiness and fear. She is making very few moves that are on the offensive — almost all are on the defensive as displayed but her rarely moving even one foot from the corner. I see almost no aggression, only a defense as she tries to get through each new wave of dogs — occasionally looking to her handler to see if this process is going to be over and if he will come and take her from the bull ring.

The bear is not demonstrating aggression when she stands up on her hind legs; this is a posture assumed when a bear stands up to look to assess a situation, generally before turning to run away. A bear's instinct is to climb a tree when there is danger, but she is prevented from following her natural instincts as there is nowhere for her to go. The bear does not attempt to bite or claw the dogs because she knows she cannot, because she has no teeth and her claws are filed down. She knows this from previous sessions.

In my professional opinion she appears to have simply given up and is waiting out the session — trying to keep from getting badly hurt by staying backed into the corner and just protecting her front side. The bear backs herself into the corner as far as possible. She hides her head at many times, just waiting for the dogs to go away. After particularly aggressive dogs attack her she attempts to scare them off running at them — but even here it is in a very defensive manner as I do not see the big paw swats and follow through normally associated with aggression here. It is obvious that she does not want to fight, and merely wants to show no aggression. Her lack of offensive moves and lack of aggression is a sure display of trying to keep the aggression level down so that the dog's aggression level will stay down. Bears are very aware of and adept at communicating their intent and level of aggression by displaying the level that they want to interact at — in my opinion, this bear is rarely if ever displaying anything but defensive behavior and a controlled response intended to appease the dogs in such a way as to not agitate them."

Carrie Hunt, Executive Director, Wildlife Conflict Specialist & Wildlife Service Dog Specialist
Wind River Bear Institute 

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