BILLINGS – A Montana company that rents out wildlife for filmmaking was ordered Friday to kill the second of two brown bears involved in the fatal mauling of one of the company’s trainers.
State officials told Animals of Montana Inc. to immediately destroy the 500-pound bear nicknamed Yosemite “for the health, safety and welfare of the public and any current or future employee of the facility.”
The order was signed by Montana Fish and Wildlife Administrator Dave Risely.
A second bear, Griz, was shot at the scene by another trainer following Sunday’s mauling of 24-year-old Benjamin Cloutier as he cleaned the animals’ pen near Bozeman. His death has been ruled an accident.
Animals of Montana has about 50 captive predators and other animals used in photography shoots, motion pictures and television productions.
The mauling prompted state wildlife officials to prohibit the company from taking any animals off-site for filming while an investigation is pending. At the request of the company, that order was temporarily lifted Friday for several animals slated to be filmed in an upcoming commercial.
But Risely said any other requests to take animals off-site will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. The company’s facility is licensed by the state as a roadside menagerie, although that license is under review pending the investigation by state and federal agencies.
The company’s head trainer, Demetri Price, had warned that the suspension of off-site work threatened to scuttle a $1 million contract for a commercial using the company’s animals that is due to begin filming soon.
Risely’s letter identified those animals as a snow leopard, tiger and African leopard, and said they could be taken off-site only for “conditioning” of the animals in preparation for filming and for the filming itself.
Price declined to say what commercial they were being used in.
He said the public has been never at risk from the company’s animals, which he described as being kept in secure compounds on a wooded, rural site north of Bozeman posted with “no trespassing” signs.
Prior to Cloutier’s death, the company never had a serious incident that involved death or permanent injury, Price said.
“We’ve had the occasional bite or scratch. In the 30 years this business has been running, that’s all we’ve had to deal with,” Price said.
State officials have declined to say whether Animals of Montana has been the subject of any prior complaints.
The company’s website says the bears were used in “attack re-enactments” for films in which trainers are used as stuntmen. It also offers the animals for photography shoots that cost up to $500 per session for the leopards, tiger and other big cats.
Price said the animals are highly trained and that his company has built a reputation that annually draws hundreds of paying photographers and filmmakers to Montana. Filming or photographing the animals is done on-site at its headquarters near Bozeman or at other privately owned locations.
“We guarantee we will provide services of animals that are trained to the script as given to us,” he said.
Price was the first person to arrive at the pen after the mauling. He has described Cloutier’s death as a tragic accident and insisted it was not an attack, speculating that the victim may have hit his head and fallen unconscious prior to being mauled.
There were no defensive wounds on Cloutier’s hands or arms, authorities have said, and he also had not used the mace-like canister of bear spray he was carrying.
Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin has said there was no way to prove Cloutier was unconscious when the attack began.