Until the day when they killed him and his girlfriend, and then devoured them both.
"I think ultimately he was deluding himself, because he was bound to piss off a bear at some point, he was bound to do something with a bear that was going to end up in an attack," said Bekoff. "These animals are all risky, they're all dangerous. That's not to be negative about the animal, they're natural born killers and that's how they make their living."
A circus was in town in Honolulu when Tyke the elephant snapped. After killing her trainer, the elephant rampaged though the circus tent, made her way out onto the streets of the city and in the end, died in a hail of bullets. The scene horrified elephant lovers and advocates, and helped lead to the creation of an elephant sanctuary in rural Tennessee.
It is the last refuge for elephants that have become too aggressive for a zoo or a circus to manage. Some of the 19 elephants there have killed and live now isolated from the public, under the care of Carol Buckley and Scott Blais.
"Elephants shouldn't be in captivity," said Blais. "That's the bottom line. Even in a 2,700 acre preserve … we're barely touching their needs."
All contact with humans at the sanctuary is closely managed. But even in this environment, there is tragedy. More than a year ago, trusted trainer Joanna Burke was killed by an elephant named Winkie. Blais, who was there, says there were no warning signs.
"She turned and, you know, took three or four quick steps and was at Joanna before either of us could blink," he said. "I've always said to people, I hope you never see it, because if you did, you'll have a completely different respect for special boundaries. Because when they do respond, it is lightning fast. … You don't have time to blink. I think Joanna knew that Winkie was coming after her but there was no time to really do anything."
Burke is buried at the sanctuary.
"This is their space," said Blais. "We are entering their space. It is a risk that we take, that we are aware of."