After Fatal Bear Attack, Questions About Private Menageries

Police in northern Ohio are investigating the third fatal bear attack in the United States this year. But unlike the first two, this death wasn't in the wild, but at a private menagerie that also houses tigers and wolves.

Such places, known as backyard menageries, where wild animals are kept as family pets or for profit, are a lot more common than you might think. There are hundreds of them across the country.

"There is captive wildlife all over the U.S," says Casey Anderson, a naturalist often featured on the National Geographic Channel. "And I venture to guess that the majority of them out there are pretty shady and not meeting regulations."

Bear Kills Caretaker
Bear Kills Caretaker

Two days ago, tragedy struck at one such menagerie: World Animal Studios, southwest of Cleveland.

Owner Sam Mazzola called 911 Thursday night, after one of his employees, 24-year-old Brent Kendra, was mauled while helping feed a 400-pound black bear.

But it was too late. Kendra died the next morning at the hospital.

This morning, with one of his bears on display, Sam Mazzola absolved himself of any responsibility on "Good Morning America."

"This was his choice," Mazzola said. "If we get injured, it's no different than an airline pilot getting injured."

Kandra loved playing with the bear, who was outside of his cage when the attack happened, Mazzola said.

"The particular bear was his favorite bear. It was one that he basically raised," he said. "Every time he was around him, that was the first bear he ran up to and said hi to, and I mean they knew each other very well.

"They were just playing with each other, the food was already there," Mazzola said. "I mean the bear wasn't even interested. He was interested in playing with Brent. And when it was just time to, for him to leave, the bear didn't want him to go and just grabbed him."

Kandra's father said today that several relatives watched a veterinarian euthanize the bear today, The associated Press reported.

Mazzola had said Kandra's family would what should be done with the bear. Mazzola's lawyer didn't return a call for comment today, the AP said.

Mazzola used to hold bear-wrestling matches, where members of the public could pay to play, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture eventually pulled his license to hold these exhibitions.

Casey Anderson, who started his own wildlife menagerie to take in cases of animal abuse, said tragedies like the one at World Animal Studios happen when proper precautions aren't taken.

"Unfortunately, you go in there with your guard down, you become complacent," said Anderson, who runs Montana Grizzly Encounter, located east of Bozeman, Mont. "You forget they are wildlife and that's when this happens."

Ohio officials are looking into Thursday's accident, to determine whether Mazzola will face any charges related to Kendra's death.

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