Predators in Action Bear Attack

The name of the animal trainer killed during the bear training incident at Predators in Action was released by the San Bernardino Coroner’s Office.

The 39 year old male was Stephan Miller, cousin to Randy.

Already Born Free (an animal rights group) is using the incident to encourage a ban on animals in the entertainment industry.

The UK group has recently joined forces with the Animal Protection Institute (API).

Animal acting has changed since my early days in the industry but hands-on contact is always a calculated risk.

Randy has always remained diligent in how he manages his charges–which is why he has had a clean record until now.

As I mentioned before, it is a number’s game.

Animal attacks were not uncommon at one facility I worked at in my early years but then we had animals out training and working on a daily basis. Lions, tigers, bears, elephants–plus a variety of others including orangutans and chimpanzees.

Today, many of those trainers now have their own facilities and the intense wrestling and attack scenes are rare–now mostly replaced by special effects due to the risk.

The Predators in Action trainers did have bear spray and used it to stop the bear and to get him back into his enclosure.

I just finished an article talking about the use of bear spray to ward off predators in the wild during outdoor activities. Then today, this article on wild grizzly incidents was published.

Bear spray wasn’t around when I started my career–but I am glad it is today.

Our community is saddened by the loss and we also hope that Rocky is not destroyed over this incident. The investigation will be ongoing and it will be interesting to see what plays out as the final assessment.

Finally, I am wondering what your opinion is regarding animal actors and taking risks through close encounters with the wild kind. Leave your opinion below.

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  1. I have always enjoyed animal shows – I haven’t been to many circus acts but mainly shows at amusement parks. As you say there are always risks with wild animals but these shows may be the only chance that some people have to see them in the flesh.

    The show that I enjoyed the most was the Seaworld show that uses rescued dogs and cats as performers. No doubt these acts are less risky but just as entertaining.

  2. I think the whole “wild animals in captivity” issue is one that people will continue to polarize over.

    Some people don’t even want pets in entertainment–and don’t get me started on the number of domestic animal incidents, dog bites, and occupational deaths from working with domestics.

    Since I’ve been around a while (30 years +) I have seen the pendulum swing from one side of the scale–where people could care less about the animals and their environment and saw them purely as a novelty or entertainment–to the opposite side where people now want them out of captivity and not mentally stimulated (trained).

    The problem of the pendulum is that neither side is generally right but feel that they are. Today people know and care about animals because of the exposure through captivity–zoos and other venues such as circuses AND by knowing the individuals are motivated to take actions to conserve or change laws in order to make life better for them.

    In the media, animal actors remain a favorite. On one hand the documentaries (which often set up shots with animal actors) expose people to the world of the animal kingdom while educating people about them.

    The underbelly of the industry is that even the great shows like Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, early Disney, and the Croc Hunter–shows that motivated people to care–often had not-so-nice things happen on the set or behind the scenes.

    There will always be good and bad. There will always be risk…especially when working with wildlife but even domestics have risks!

    BTW, captive animals are not like their wild counterparts–the whole idea of “be free” is a bit naive.

    It would be like turning a city kid out into the local forest to live.

    Just look at Keiko’s tragic death–people want to believe in the dream and not the reality:

    No matter what the opinion, we don’t live in an ideal world so the answers are never simple.

    This won’t be the last animal attack incident–and the topic will remain a hot one for a long time to come.

  3. There are huge numbers of captive animals that couldn’t adapt to being released into the wild. As long as the zoos are serious about “creature comfort” and limit their stock to captive-bred or disabled animals, the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.

    While cages or even landscaped enclosures are nowhere close to a natural habitat, is it really a cruel lifestyle? Humans spend nearly all of their time confined to a house, automobile, or office cubicle – it’s not much different than a zoo: public display, temporary handling crates, and private cages.

    Of course freedom of choice is the key difference – I can go running in the woods whenever I’m feeling stir crazy.

    This freedom of choice is what makes animal entertainment more objectionable. It’s one thing to let them live at peace even if in captivity, but forcing them to perform specified tricks on a set schedule can be cruel, especially if the particular animal doesn’t enjoy such behavior.

    Conversely, seeing animals only in their natural habitat brings the danger of excessive “eco-tourism”. One of my college classmates was killed by an elephant in Africa when it reacted to the clicking of her camera’s shutter. Sometimes I wonder if that elephant was sick of all the paparazzi?

    And there lies the dilemma – if we give the animals too much freedom, they have the option to injure us; if we constrain them to a degree that guarantees our safety, then their lives are miserable.

  4. Renee Glenney says

    I think there is a good & bad side to using animals in tv, movies etc. The good side, to me, is that it makes people aware that these creatures have character, are intelligent (more so than we give them credit for in most instances), they tend to get people more involved in animal issues etc. I think Steve Irwin did more for crocs in the positive light than anyone could have ever imagined could be done. The bad side is that these animal actors live their lives in enclosures/pens, are taught behaviors that are not normally seen in wild animals & sometimes (not often I hope) endure abuse while training. The most horrific ending to their lives comes when they are no longer needed/wanted/too old etc and end up in a *canned* hunt somewhere. Now how anyone with an ounce of sportsmanship in them could hunt an animal in an enclosure or one that was raised by humans is beyond me but that is the case. but that’s another story. I hope Rocky is not euthanized due to someone’s *mistake*. I have trained dogs for over 30 years and did wildlife rescue and rehab (cougars, wolves and Fl Wildlife) for 6+ years and whenever there was a bite/mauling incident I heard of it could usually be traced back to *human error*>

  5. Chris Fell says

    Well said Renee. You have hands-on experience with animals which puts you in-the-know. People should realize that wild animals are always wild. Even a wolf hybrid dog can attack. Just because it is half domestic and raised in a home, its behaviour can still be unpredictable. The key is respect and knowledge.
    As for being attacked by an elephant in Africa, those tourists had to have been too close to the herd. Elephants really only charge as a warning and don’t attack, so that tourist must have been cocky and gotten too close…to close for the elephant. And if it was anywhere near mating time…bad timing folks.
    As for Rocky, sure he could still be in movies but everyone has to realize that they are at risk.

  6. @Andrew: Sorry to hear about your friend. Freedom is relative as we encroach into more and more habitat animals are crowded into less and less space. Some of the problems we see with wildlife is because of our encroachment. Captive born and bred animals are a different culture–city kids versus country kids is a parallel. They don’t have the same skill sets, see other places outside of their living quarters as foreign and often threatening. Counterpoint is the wild animal that is brought into captivity–stress from close proximity to people and confinement is huge.
    @Renee: Thanks for commenting. Actually Rocky will not be euthanized–which is good news. Read more here:
    @Chris: Appreciate your comments but to clarify, elephant incidents have been escalating and they don’t always give warning. Part of this is attributed to the culling and lack of guidance (and discipline) from older, stronger elephants. I wrote about this sometime back. As for Rocky, I don’t know if he will continue to work or be retired. When you work with wild animals you know you are at risk and sometimes accidents do happen.