Bear-baiting was popular in England until the nineteenth century. From the sixteenth century, many herds of bears were maintained for baiting. In its best-known form, arenas for this purpose were called bear-gardens, consisting of a circular high fenced area, the "pit", and raised seating for spectators. A post would be set in the ground towards the edge of the pit and the bear chained to it, either by the leg or neck. A number of well-trained hunting dogs would then be set on it, being replaced as they tired or were wounded or killed. For a long time, the main bear-garden in London was the Paris Garden at Southwark.
Henry VIII was a fan and had a pit constructed at Whitehall. Elizabeth I was also fond of the entertainment; it featured regularly in her tours. When an attempt was made to ban baiting on Sundays, she overruled Parliament. Robert Laneham’s letter describes the spectacle presented by Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester presented at Kenilworth Castle in 1575 :
A variation involved other animals being baited, especially bulls, but also, on one curious occasion, a pony with an ape tied to its back was baited: a spectator described that "...with the screaming of the ape, beholding the curs hanging from the ears and neck of the pony, is very laughable". Attempts to end the entertainment were first made in England by the Puritans, with little effect. The deaths of a number of spectators, when a stand collapsed at the Paris Gardens on January 12 1583 was viewed by early Puritans as a sign of God's anger, though not primarily because of the cruelty but because the bear-baiting was taking place on a Sunday.
By the late 17th century "the conscience of cultivated people seems to have been touched", but it was not until 1835 that baiting was prohibited by Parliament, Cruelty to Animals Act 1835 was soon extended across the Empire. Bear baiting's last known occurrence was in the small town of Knottingley.
Bull baiting was a contest which was similar to bear baiting in which the bear was chained to a stake by one hind leg or by the neck and worried by dogs. The whipping of a blinded bear was another variation of bear-baiting.
Bear baiting still occurs in the Punjab and Sindh provinces of Pakistan, although it has declined considerably overall since 2004. The events are organised predominantly by local landlords who own the fighting dogs used; the dogs are usually a cross breed similar to Pit Bull terriers.
During the event the bear will be tethered to a rope 2–5 metres long in the centre of an arena to prevent escape. Bears’ canine teeth are often removed and their claws may be filed down giving them less advantage over the dogs. Each fight lasts around three minutes. If the dogs pull the bear to the ground they are said to win the fight. Bears usually have to undergo several fights during each day’s event. Despite receiving serious injuries, bears and dogs rarely suffer fatal wounds, forcing the animals to endure lifelong suffering.
Bears are illegally sourced by poaching. Asiatic black bears and brown bears are known to be poached in Pakistan and used in bear baiting. Asiatic black bears are listed as vulnerable on the World Conservation Union's (IUCN's) Red List of Threatened Animals. The capture of bear cubs is prohibited across three provinces of Pakistan by: the North West Frontier Province Conservation and Management Act (1975); the Punjab Wildlife Protection, Preservation, Conservation and Management Act (1974); and the Sindh Wildlife Protection Ordinance (1972).
Bear baiting was banned in Pakistan by the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (1890). Pakistan’s wildlife authorities are working with animal welfare groups to eradicate the events, with some success.
Baiting animals is outlawed in the Quran. The Bioresource Research Centre, a Pakistani wildlife group working to end bear baiting, use this to encourage mosques in areas where baiting occurs to add an anti-cruelty message to their Friday Khutbba (sermon).
Kund Park Sanctuary in Kund, North-West Frontier Province, was opened in 2001 by the World Society for the Protection of Animals to provide a home for bears confiscated by the wildlife authorities and NGOs working to eradicate bear baiting in Pakistan.
Because the practice is time consuming and disrupts a person's daily schedule, the term "bear baiting" is sometimes used in Alaska to mean "screwing off," for example if a person is late for work or misses an appointment.