The Australian greyhound-racing industry has been rocked by revelations of shocking cruelty involving the use of rabbits, possums and piglets as live bait.
Twenty-three trainers, owners and track operators, including some of the best-known figures in the sport, have been suspended and could face criminal charges after footage was broadcast of the terrified animals being strapped to mechanical lures and catapulted around tracks before being mauled to death.
One animal was flung around a track 26 times over the course of nearly an hour.
Animals Australia, an animal-welfare group whose undercover investigators captured hundreds of hours of disturbing footage at training tracks in New South Wales (NSW), Victoria and Queensland, alleges that another 50 people are implicated.
Those suspended by the greyhound racing industry include a two-time Australian greyhound trainer of the year, the president of a Victorian racing club and the brother of a former deputy chief steward.
Those convicted of live baiting could face two years in jail and a €24,000 fine.
Governments in all three states vowed to take strong action to force the self-regulating industry to wipe out the “abhorrent” and “barbaric” practice.
The NSW Premier, Mike Baird, said he was “sick to the stomach” after watching the footage Monday night.
Although live baiting was outlawed decades ago, some owners and trainers believe it enhances a dog’s performance.
Greyhound-racing industry bodies expressed revulsion, and promised to crack down on what they said was a small minority of rogue individuals.
Brent Hogan, chief executive of Greyhound Racing NSW, said there was “no place whatsoever for animal cruelty of any kind in our sport”, and the industry was “determined to do everything we can to make sure the sport is rid of that element”.
About 30,000 people are involved in the industry legally, according to the industry group Greyhounds Australasia.
However, some close to the industry suggested live baiting was rife and widely known about.
Liz Walker, chief executive of RSPCA Victoria, said she was “stunned” that the industry’s own stewards had failed to uncover any live baiting.
One Victorian trial track, which featured prominently in the exposé and was raided by the RSPCA last week, had been inspected 16 times in recent years.
The scandal is the latest to tarnish the reputation of Australian racing. Two horses died at last year’s Melbourne Cup, one collapsing with heart failure after the race, the other euthanised after breaking his leg on a fence.
About 125 horses die on Australian racetracks every year.