A 24-year-old trainer was mauled to death Sunday while cleaning the Animals of Montana grizzly bear enclosure in Bozeman, Mont., officials say.
Animals of Montana, a wildlife casting agency, said it regards the death of Benjamin Cloutier, a former Pennsylvania resident, as a possible accident rather than an attack.
"We do not believe it was an attack. The victim has been with us since 2008. He was a highly experienced trainer, and it is unlikely that the bears caused his death," Animals of Montana's lead head trainer, Demetri Price, told ABC News. "He had the right safety equipment and the right training to avoid that kind of attack. The investigators are looking into other causes of death. He might have accidentally slipped in the cage or hit his head prior to the mauling."
Animals of Montana provides captive-bred wild animals for photography shoots and motion pictures. Adam, Griz, and Yosemite were the "Trio of Grizzly Bears" that the organization said it proudly offered to clients. Griz was put down so that Cloutier's body could be retrieved.
"Griz and Yosemite look like they have been involved in the mauling. At the time we found our trainer, Griz had a grip on him. This was a life and death situation where I was putting my safety at risk while trying to save our trainer, whom we suspected might still be alive. Our initial abating techniques failed and destroying Griz was our last resort to retrieve our trainer in the safest way possible," said Price. who told ABC News that the Animals of Montana owner Troy Hyde was on a trip to Los Angeles when the incident happened.
Hyde's attorney, Chuck Watson, said that the cause of the Cloutier's death is yet to be determined pending an autopsy. "The circumstantial evidence we have so far does not suggest a bear attack since there weren't any defense wounds. Of course, we'll have to wait for the autopsy results to find out what really happened," said Watson.
The death is being investigated by the Gallatin County Coroner and Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks wardens.
"We are the ones who issue licenses for facilities like Animals of Montana to keep a wild animal like a grizzly bear captive," Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks warden's Public Information Officer Andrea Jones told ABC News. "From the way it looks, the trainer and the facility did not violate any of our licensing rules and regulations at the time of the incident. The man was operating within the normal business hours and met all the regulations involved in his activity. It is up to the coroner and the Sheriff's office to rule the cause of death."
"We suffered a double loss," said Price. "We lost a very valuable trainer, tragically, and we lost one of our most precious bears. We invested in Griz hours and hours of training and love and care."
"It's very tragic that they suffered these losses," said attorney Watson. "Destroying the bear must have been a difficult decision since, believe me, the last thing these people want to do is kill an animal. But it was a life and death situation and it must have been devastating."