Nine people face animal-cruelty charges and other allegations after a year-long investigation into the use of dogs to attack Florida black bears, Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission announced Wednesday.
Defendants posted videos on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat of bears being chased and mauled by large packs of dogs, Bondi’s office said. The bears were lured with dog food, doughnuts, pastries and peanut butter in areas of Baker, Flagler, Marion and Union counties.
“In some of the videos, defendants can be seen forcing the bears to a waiting pack of approximately a dozen dogs that then repeatedly bit the bears,” a news release about the arrests said. “None of the individuals involved tried to call off the dogs or stop the attack on the bears.”
Robert Klepper, a spokesman for the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said that while the fate of the bears is unknown, evidence suggests some were killed.
“The actions of these violators clearly show the intent to harm, harass or injure these animals, which is an unequivocal violation of Florida statutes,” Klepper said.
Eric Sutton, executive director of the commission, said in a prepared statement that “as conservationists and ethical hunters, it is appalling to think about the callous disregard for common decency and our state’s precious natural resources shown by these violations.”
Bondi said the “gruesome acts” were recorded “for the amusement of the defendants.”
Charges filed include animal cruelty, animal fighting or baiting, conspiracy to commit racketeering, littering, unlawful taking of black bears and the unlawful use of a two-way communication device.
Arrested were Lake Butler residents Dustin Reddish, 25, Haley Reddish, 25, Troy Travis Starling, 45, and William Tyler Wood, 29; Callahan residents Charles Luther Scarbrough III, 30, and Hannah Weiner Scarbrough, 27; Christopher Elliot Haun, 42 of Ormond Beach; William Landrum, 39 of Millboro, Va.; and Mark Lindsey, 26, of Moultrie, Ga, according to the news release.
Issues related to black bears have long been closely watched in Florida. In recent years, the issues have focused on whether bear hunting should be allowed and how best to keep bears from clashing with humans in residential areas.
The bear population in the state was down to 300 to 500 in the late 1970s, when the animals were placed on the state’s list of threatened species. Efforts to protect the animals have resulted in the population now topping 4,000. Bears were removed from the threatened species list in 2012.
A controversial hunt in 2015 resulted in 304 bears being killed in two days.
Since that time, the state has worked to reduce bear-human interactions through education and a program to reduce the costs of bear-proof trash containers in certain parts of the state.
In September, the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission divided $500,000 among Seminole, Santa Rosa, Lake, Collier, Marion, Okaloosa, Volusia and Walton counties and the cities of Apopka and Mount Dora for the “BearWise” trash-container program.