August 23, 2010
Investigation Documents Cruelty of Bear Baiting
Only in South Carolina
A black bear cowers in the corner of a pen in rural South Carolina. She is tethered to a stake, surrounded by hundreds of onlookers.
She is foaming at the mouth and popping her jaws, behavior that means she is terrified. Her captors have cut or removed her claws and many of her teeth, leaving her defenseless.
Three hounds run at the bear from one end of the arena, barking furiously. Some of them bite her face and legs. Others jump on her. She backs up on her hind legs, trying vainly to shield her face. The assault continues for four hours, as nearly 300 dogs attack her in quick succession.
This spectacle is a bear baiting competition, called a "bear bay" by participants, and is practiced only in South Carolina. It is similar to the archaic blood sport of bear baiting.
HSUS investigators videotaped this scene during visits to four bear baiting events in the state hosted by breed clubs associated with American Kennel Club and United Kennel Club. According to attendees, the bear used in some of these events was a 15-year-old female taken from the wild as a cub.
Most people have never seen these underground events, because organizers try to keep the practice away from the public eye. They know that if most people saw the terrified, tethered bear cornered by dogs for hours on end, they would demand an end to this abuse.
The supposed objective of South Carolina bear baiting contests is for the dogs to corner the bear, make eye contact, and keep her "at bay." These events are billed as training events for hunting dogs, but for some, bear baiting is a spectator event for those who enjoy watching dogs attack a bear.
There are currently 26 captive black bears in South Carolina, many likely used for bear baiting. The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources issued permits for their possession, but has turned a blind eye to the cruelty they endure. The South Carolina DNR does not inspect bear baiting competitions.
Not only do bears endure abuse in these public events, but many are subjected to the same treatment in frequent backyard events.
By nature, black bears are shy animals who flee to the safety of a tree when threatened. Bears usually attack as only a last resort, but when clawless and toothless they don't have even this option.
Two respected bear biologists viewed The HSUS's footage and remarked on the bear's stress and fear. One biologist stated that the bear's actions stem from "extreme agitation, out of unhappiness and fear," and the other, that her actions reveal "defensive terror."