ALABAMA (WHNT) — The history of bear fighting laws in Alabama is a little more complicated than one might initially think.
The practice of humans wrestling bears was rather common in the 1980s and allegedly provided Paul “Bear” Bryant with his nickname. While animal rights activists call the practice cruel, it wasn’t until 1996 that a law on the books forbade it.
Protests of the practice date back to 1989, according to the Times Daily. That reporting says protestors outnumbered patrons at a Mobile bar who were hoping to see a bear-wrestling contest. Specifically, they were hoping to see “Terrible Ted.”
“Ted” was a 6’3 bear that stayed locked in a cage at the bar until a challenger approached to wrestle him. His neck was kept in a chain, he was declawed, had no teeth, and his arm muscles were cut to stop him from gripping anything.
The bear was also known to frequent The Ponderosa Club in New Hope as recently as 1996 — the same year that the practice was outlawed by the Alabama legislature.
According to a 2006 section of the Alabama Code, the law forbade exploiting bears and laid out penalties to punish those who continued the practice.
The 2006 code stated:
A person commits the offense of unlawful bear exploitation if he or she knowingly does any one of the following:
– Promotes, engages in, or is employed at a bear wrestling match
– Receives money for the admission of another person to a place kept for bear wrestling
– Sells, purchases, possesses, or trains a bear for bear wrestling2006 Alabama Code – Section 13A-12-5
The law also outlawed surgically altering a bear for the purposes of wrestling, and any bears that were seized as a result of breaking that law would be taken to a humane shelter.
That law was on the books for almost 20 years — until it fell in 2015 as part of the legislature’s attempt to do away with laws that were “obsolete or no longer serve a purpose.”
However, the law being repealed doesn’t mean it’s legal to wrestle bears again. Alabama’s current animal cruelty laws could cover bear wrestling as they include provisions for “cruel mistreatment” and “cruel neglect” of animals in your custody.
The law doesn’t specifically lay out a path for bear wrestling’s legality in the future.
So… is bear wrestling illegal in Alabama? Technically, it is not; however, you may find yourself in legal hot water or in the jaws of a hungry bear if you try it.