Thursday, May 2, 2013

Bear mauling

Bear mauling, A fatal bear mauling in Montana has federal authorities wondering if the attacks by a pair of 500-pound captive brown bears could have been prevented.

ABC News reported May 1 that the death of 24-year-old Benjamin Cloutier, who was killed last November, was likely preventable if standard safety practices had been followed, federal authorities said Tuesday.

Cloutier was killed while cleaning the pens of two Syrian brown bears named Griz and Yosemite at Animals of Montana near Bozeman. The company raises and provides captive-bred predators and other animals for movies, commercials and photography shoots.

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has proposed $9,000 in fines after reviewing the incident. The DOL said Animals of Montana violated workplace safety standards by allowing direct contact with bears. The fine is also because the company did not report Cloutier’s death in a timely manner.

Had the bears been kept in a separate enclosure while their pen was cleaned, the tragic acident would not have occurred, officials say.

“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,” said Jeff Funke, area director for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

But Animals of Montana owner Troy Hyde rejected the claim they could have prevented their employee's death, saying that having their trainers inside the cages of predatory animals “is absolutely something we must do.”

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

Hyde also repeated a claim previously made shortly after Cloutier’s death. Hyde says Cloutier must have been unconscious before the mauling, and Hyde says the lack of defensive wouknds, such as bite marks on Cloutier’s hands, supports this.

Funke said investigators considered that possibility but found no evidence of it.

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

According to the Associated Press, Griz was shot at the scene of the mauling by Demetri Price, the company’s head trainer. Montana wildlife officials had requested that the second bear also be killed, to protect public safety, but the company refused. Price described Yosemite as a possible “bystander” during the mauling because the bear did not have blood on it.

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