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FWP details investigation into wildlife casting agency after fatal mauling

By Katherine Mozzone, KTVM Reporter, kmozzone@ktvm.com
Published On: Feb 08 2013 07:50:25 PM MST
Updated On: Feb 08 2013 09:11:57 PM MST
BOZEMAN, Mont. -

Four months after the fatal grizzly mauling of an Animals of Montana employee, folks with Fish, Wildlife and Parks say they've come up with a series a recommendations they included in a letter to the company on how they should operate from now on.

"We take all of this very seriously.  It's not about punishing, it's about keeping tight regulations, tight safety protocols to prevent tragedies from occurring," says FWP spokesperson Andrea Jones.

NBC Montana sat down with Jones to get details of their investigation. She says after the mauling a number of neighbors came forward claiming several animals had escaped from the facility over the years.

"An African lion, a black panther and wolf pups," says Jones. And that none of those escapes were reported to FWP as required by their permit.

Jones says from now on, they'll be required to report any escapes immediately for the safety of the animals and surrounding public.

"Obviously, in the case of an escape, neighbors and people in that vicinity might be at risk," says Jones.

She says the investigation also revealed the company reported a mountain lion attack on an employee as a scratch, something she says is unacceptable.

"According to the attending physician that saw the employee in question, this could have been fatal.  There were lacerations to the skull of the individual in question and had the attack not been broken up by another employee, we could have had another very tragic incident that, as I mentioned, was reported to us as a scratch," explains Jones.

Jones says their findings have led them to urge Animals of Montana to modify their safety protocol.

"We also recommend to Animals of Montana that, going forward, individual employees should not be allowed to enter cages alone to feed or clean the cages of large predators," says Jones.

We called Animals of Montana to get their take. Folks there say they feel the investigation was under-handed and unfair, relying solely on hearsay and secondhand information from folks who may or may not have their best interest in mind.  They say they've had no direct dialogue with FWP about the investigation and will consider a rebuttal if the letter is released.

Jones says FWP has no intentions of revoking the wildlife casting company's permit as long as they keep proper records and promptly inform FWP of any accidents within thirty days.

"We understand that they're a business and they need money and [they] own those animals...Our concern, again, is the safety of the people and the public and the animals involved," says Jones.

Folks with FWP say they also made a decision about Yosemite, the Syrian brown bear who was in the cage at the time of the mauling.  They say he can no longer be used for commercial purposes off-site and may never be allowed in the presence of the general public again.