Australia shocked by live-baiting scandal in greyhound racing

MELBOURNE (Reuters, AFP) - Australian officials have launched a probe into local greyhound racing after a television expose showed evidence that leading trainers were secretly using possums, pigs and rabbits as live bait to train their dogs.

Footage on 'Four Corners', an investigative show on state broadcaster ABC, showed trainers tethering animals to mechanical lures to propel them around tracks in three Australian states while dogs gave chase.

Clips showed dogs being allowed to attack and kill the animals on the lures and a possum snapped in half after being sent around the track at high speed dozens of times.

Trainers were heard laughing off-camera as a man joked about whether an animal, lying motionless on the ground, was dead.

“I think anyone who saw it or heard about it would be sick to their stomach,” NSW Premier Mike Baird told reporters of the expose. “We will get to the bottom of this and we will ensure there is absolutely zero tolerance.”

The maximum penalty for animal cruelty is two years jail and a A$30,000 (S$31,669) fine with Greyhound Racing Victoria chief executive Adam Wallish pledging that “we will move heaven and Earth to make sure they are convicted”.

Australia has one of the largest greyhound racing industries in the world and live baiting has been banned and criminalised for decades. 

But some trainers still believe it will give their dogs an advantage when they race at the track chasing the artificial hare or rabbit.

The animal welfare group RSPCA, in conjunction with police in the states of New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland, raided five properties last week after the ABC handed over its evidence ahead of the programme being broadcast on Monday evening.  

RSPCA Australia chief executive Heather Neil said the practice appeared to be an entrenched culture where animal cruelty was seen by some as an accepted cost of the sport. “If it is this widespread in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria, it would be naive to think it isn’t happening elsewhere,” she said in a statement.

“The callous disregard for animal suffering shown by individuals captured in this footage should see the state and territory racing bodies immediately suspending the trainers and others implicated.”  

Greyhound Racing Victoria (GRV) chairman Peter Caillard said he was "disgusted" by the revelations in the report and claimed live-baiting was limited to only one private track in Victoria state.

"As soon as the allegations were brought to our attention we immediately suspended the individuals involved," he said in a statement. "GRV has already commenced an investigation and we look forward to the involvement of the Racing Integrity Commissioner in that investigation. It must not happen again."

Greyhound Racing New South Wales has also set up an investigative taskforce to probe live-baiting in the eastern state.