The image above depicts the “sport” of bear-baiting being practiced in England in the early nineteenth century. But this isn’t something which is only found in history books; bear-baiting is known to be continuing in at least two countries of the world:
- Pakistan – mainly takes place in the provinces of Sindh and Punja
- USA – bear-baiting is still legal in South Carolina where efforts to legislate against it continue to fail.
WHAT IS BEAR BAITING?
Not to be confused with the practice of luring bears to food bait-piles and then shooting them, bear-baiting involves trained fighting dogs being pitted against a tethered bear. Typically three or four dogs will be set against a single bear. The bears claws and some or all of its teeth will have been removed, usually without the use of an anaesthetic.
In both Pakistan and the USA the proceedings at an “event” will be much the same. There is a shouting, cheering crowd many of whom will have placed bets on the outcome of each round of a fight. There is the terrified, maimed and tethered bear and there are the dogs, often pit-bull terriers or similar, bred and trained for their ferocity. The dogs are released into the arena or pen and jump at the bear, biting and trying to pull it to the ground.
In the USA an undercover team from the Humane Society witnessed a baiting session which lasted for over four hours and during which a bear faced a total of almost 300 dogs. In Pakistan the WSPA reports that fights last for three “rounds”. In the USA hundreds of spectators watch each event, in Pakistan the number can be several thousand.
Bears often suffer horrific injuries, particularly to their noses, snouts and mouths. Dogs are also injured but not usually as seriously as the bears. Both animals have relatively short lives with bears succumbing to the continuous toll of injuries and poor living conditions, the dogs being destroyed when their useful fighting life is over; these animals cannot become household pets.
Cruelty to animals is against the teachings of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad and, technically at least, against the 1890 Pakistan Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. Despite this the practice continues, most commonly in the provinces of Sindh and Punjab in the winter months. Events range from one bear and few dogs to ten or more bears and more than forty dogs. Evidence suggests that the practice may be increasing with the law only enforced weakly.
Pakistan’s Bioresource Research Centre is working in the field to break up events, to rescue bears and to end the practice through education, provision of alternative livelihoods and through the support and encouragement of law enforcement.
Commonly known as “bear baying” in the United States the practice still takes place illegally in some states. It is still legal in South Carolina to “bay” bears but the practice was effectively ended when in 2013 the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources indicated it would not issue any new permits for the private possession of black bears. Six bears that had been used in “baying” competitions in South Carolina were moved to the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg, Colorado in October 2013.
In 2010 the Human Society of the United States (HSUS) carried out an undercover Investigation into South Carolina bear-baiting competitions in 2010. You can watch their video report on the investigation below.