Fatal Bear Mauling At Montana Company Could Have Been Prevented, Say Authorities

A fatal bear mauling at Animals of Montana, a company that provides captive-bred predators and other animals for photography shoots and motion pictures, could have been prevented.

Federal authorities say the killing of 24-year-old Benjamin Cloutier by two 500-pound brown bears may not have happened if standard safety practices been followed. It was also revealed the animal trainer’s death followed the escapes of numerous other animals from the company.

Cloutier was killed in November 2012 as he cleaned the pens of two Syrian brown bears, named Griz and Yosemite.

This week, the US Department of Labor said the circumstances of Cloutier’s death had violated federal workplace safety rules. The agency recommended fines totaling $9,000 for allowing employees to have direct contact with bears and for failing to report Cloutier’s death promptly.

Investigators into the fatal bear mauling concluded that Cloutier’s death could have been prevented had the bears simply been kept in a separate enclosure while their pen was cleaned. Jeff Funke, area director for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, said:

“Those types of apex predators, it’s common knowledge that they’re dangerous. If this were a [captive] bird or a raven or something else it would have been a different story.”

However, Animals of Montana has denied the death of Cloutier was preventable, with owner Troy Hyde insisting that putting trainers inside the cages of predatory animals “is absolutely something we must do.” He told The Associated Press:

“We work inside a business that’s a highly dangerous business, and everybody that works within this business is very aware of the dangers. Those people don’t understand what we do. We’re not a zoo.”

Hyde also suggested Cloutier was unconscious before the mauling – a claim he first made in the days following the trainer’s death – as there was no evidence of defensive wounds on Cloutier’s remains, such as bite marks on the hands. But Funke said investigators had found no evidence of a fall. He said:

“From our perspective it was clearly an attack from a bear.”

[Image via Shutterstock.com]