BILLINGS — An animal trainer mauled to death while cleaning the Montana pen of two, 500-pound captive brown bears used for filmmaking suffered extensive wounds that make it impossible to determine if he was conscious before the attack, authorities said Monday.
There were no defensive wounds on the hands or arms of 24-year-old Benjamin Cloutier when his body was pulled from the pen Sunday, and he apparently had not used the bear spray he was carrying, said Demetri Price, head trainer at Animals of Montana near Bozeman.
As a result, Price speculated Cloutier might have fallen and hit his head before being killed.
Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin confirmed the absence of defensive wounds and that the mace-like bear spray had not been used. But he said there was no way to prove Cloutier was unconscious when the attack began.
“The body had been attacked so fiercely, there were so many injuries that there was no way — that’s why we’re not going to speculate,” Gootkin said.
However, he said it was clear that Cloutier died of bite and claw wounds that hit major arteries.
The death remains under investigation by the sheriff’s office and wardens from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. It has been listed as accidental and is not considered a criminal matter.
Animals of Montana provides captive-bred animals for photography shoots and motion pictures, ranging from African lions and minks to badgers and bobcats. The company says the bears have been used in “attack re-enactments” for films in which trainers are used as stuntmen.
The company’s state license to operate as an animal menagerie will be reviewed in the wake of Cloutier’s death, said Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks spokeswoman Andrea Shaw. She said it has no prior safety violations.
Price said there had been no prior problems with the animals owned by the company, adding that Cloutier was trained and knew what he was doing.
Cloutier had worked as a trainer at the company since 2008 and had been in the bear enclosure hundreds of times, Price said.
Price was the first person to arrive at the pen after the mauling. He described Cloutier’s death as a “tragic accident” and insisted it was not an attack. Cloutier did not scream for help, and none of the other animals at the facility showed any signs of alarm before the discovery, Price said.
“I believe, given all things accounted for, that (Cloutier) was somehow rendered unconscious, whether it be he slipped and hit his head or something” else, Price said. “The bears we believed killed him, but we don’t believe it was an attack scenario.”
Price said he was approaching the enclosure when he saw the victim on the ground with two captive-bred, 8-year-old male bears nearby. One of the bears, nicknamed Griz, was behaving as though he had taken possession of the victim.
When Price sprayed Griz with bear spray and it did not back down, he said he retrieved a rifle and shot the animal so he could get to Cloutier.
When he did, Cloutier was dead from wounds inflicted by Griz or the other bear in the enclosure, nicknamed Yosemite.
Animal of Montana’s permit for Yosemite to travel for exhibitions or other purposes will be suspended pending the investigation, Jones said.
Cloutier was originally from York Haven, Pa. Price said the staff at Animals of Montana had suffered “a double loss” with the death of Cloutier and the loss of Griz, which he called the favorite animal of the victim.
Cloutier’s family could not be immediately reached for comment.
Animals of Montana had three bears prior to Sunday that were identified on the company’s website as grizzly bears.
However, the facility’s permit for the two involved in the mauling lists them as Syrian brown bears, a subspecies of brown bears that are different from grizzlies, Jones said.
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