Bear Attack: How will you die?

Locally there was a bear attack today…and it involved an animal actor from Predators in Action. It was not a native wild bear.

Incidentally, the Grizzly is five years of age and in his prime. Adolescent animals can be a handful–just like teens they test the limits and really begin to feel their oats.

Early in my career one of my relatives said she expected to one day hear that I might be killed by one of the animals I worked with.

I thought it was a morbid thought–and strange that she would ponder my death as I was still pretty young.

When you are young you don’t think about death too much. Lately, I’ve lost a string of family and friends–it really is tough on a body…and it makes you look at your own mortality.

The reality is that one of the occupational hazards of working with wildlife is that they are big and strong and can kill you intentionally–or by accident.

Early in my career I witnessed many incidents and I’ve been diligent because of it.

When my friends hugged a tiger or lion in the photos, I merely kneeled with a tiger for mine.

My pals questioned me about my caution…and chided me for it. Most of them are no longer in the industry.

Silly? No, I don’t think so. Remember the high school girl who was mauled by a tiger during a photo shoot?

There are incidents every year involving animals. I lost a college buddy to a tiger attack just shortly after we graduated from our animal training school. A few years later another professional acquaintance was decapitated on the cables of an elephant yard…

Sadly, I’ve been front and center when a lion attacked another trainer a short distance away from where I was tossing students into empty cages–as I anticipated trouble.

I gotta say I admired his back-up trainer who stood over him with a hickory cane prepared to defend him from further attacks by the lion–who was too busy fighting another male through the fence.

Personally, I think it is a number’s game. When you work long enough, and close enough, with animals you will have an incident of one type or another.

One of my few was when dolphin tried to submerge me–the other trainers (in another country) did not heed my request to be pulled from the tank prior to the incident.

Yes, I escaped unharmed but there is nothing like an animal incident to shake your foundation and remind you to remain diligent. And to really find those people who can be good back-up trainers because your life depends on it.

The bear attack locally was fatal.

Just last night we were just discussing the facility and the bear while watching a commercial for a building supply store.

My guest wondered if it the star was a local animal actor. I didn’t see the front teeth of the bear and was explaining that it used to be common practice to pull the canines of animal acting bears early in my career. Our local animal acting bear has his teeth.

The conversation morphed into a bigger issue related to people misunderstanding animals and the difference between working with a wild animal and a domestic creature.

People want to believe that wild creatures are benevolent and tame. They aren’t.

When you raise and work with the animals they accept you into their realm of familiars and so treat you as such. This can work in your favor or against you.

Many of my family and friends used to “tsk, tsk” during our conversations early in my career because they could never discern between my discussions about my human pals or my animal ones.

Personally, I didn’t know to many people by the name of Sheeva, Tambui, or Zamba–but hey, it might just be me.

Besides, I spent more time with the animals than I did the people–and yes, I considered them my buddies but not once did I ever doubt their wild natures or the fact that under the right circumstances I might be injured.

When I was wrestling a bear, prepping for a movie, the animal got a bit “hot.” He was about five and in his prime. As I wrestled I told my back-up trainers he was hurting me but I sounded too calm–and they didn’t pay attention.

I let the animal take me down and it took four or five guys to pull him off.

It was a minor incident. My instincts told me to relax and go down to the ground. Had I not, he might of done some damage. The jaws, even without the front teeth, are powerful.

There are a lot of other deaths more common than one from an animal attack. However, I think animal attacks touch a primal fear response and so attract a morbid fascination because of it.

You are more likely to die in an incident involving a car or perhaps a sport related accident than from an animal attack–but when you are an animal trainer–it remains a risk your entire career.

Anyway, my rambling here is to say that we all are sadden by the incident at Predators in Action no matter who it involved.

As for the bear, the determination about what happens to him will be made by the regulatory agencies. He was, after all, just being a bear.

Our community sends our best wishes for the family and friends of the victim and our hopes are that any decisions related to the animal compound, staff, and animals be fair and just.

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  1. “I think animal attacks touch a primal fear response…”

    Very true. Sometimes I wonder about the rumors of cougars returning to Michigan and it can be unnerving, yet I never worry about deer. However, deer kill a thousand folks via auto collisions for every one person killed by a predator.

    Experience is a big factor in mitigating risk. No way would I feel comfortable near a bear, let alone wrestle one! Yet dogs don’t worry me – I have enough experience to recognize signs of anxiety or aggression and have some idea how to calm a dog. I wouldn’t know what to look for or how to act with a bear or large cat, though.

    By the way, why were you wrestling a bear?

  2. Knowing the natural history of the species and the individual animal that you are working with helps to mitigate problems. And yes, experience helps. We were training the bear for a movie–probably just what the trio was doing with Rocky prior to the bear attack incident.


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