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Wildlife trainer says grizzly not involved in mauling deserves to live

By Lauren Maschmedt, KTVM Anchor, lmaschmedt@ktvm.com
Published On: Nov 12 2012 08:25:59 PM MST
Updated On: Nov 12 2012 08:43:43 PM MST
BOZEMAN, Mont. -

Head trainer Demetri Price of wildlife casting agency Animals of Montana said when Fish, Wildlife and Parks asked the agency to kill one of its bears, trainers thought FWP reacted too fast without looking at all aspects of the incident.

"This scenario is really unfortunate, and I think their basis to want to kill this other bear without even asking any relevant questions is something that we can't fathom," Price said.

We met with Price in a Bozeman law office on Monday. He said grizzly bear Yosemite is a wild animal, but highly trained since birth.

That makes the situation quite different than if this was a bear in the wild -- and Animals of Montana will do what it takes to keep the bear alive.

Yosemite was in the pen on November 4 when his brother Griz killed 24-year-old worker Benjamin Cloutier as he cleaned their enclosure.

Authorities ruled the death an accident because Cloutier -- who was experienced with handling the bears -- showed no defensive wounds.

The bear spray on his belt wasn't deployed. No noise came from the area at the time of his death.

Price said when he discovered the incident, he had to kill Griz on the spot. He believes Cloutier may have fallen and got knocked unconscious, and Griz acted on his animal instincts.

But for Yosemite? Price said the bear wasn't involved.

"Yosemite was in the back of the enclosure wanting no part of the incident that had taken place," Price said. "I say that with reason because there was no blood around his mouth, there was no blood on his paw."

Price said Griz was a dominant bear who outranked Yosemite. Griz was being protective of the body, and wouldn't let anyone go near him.

FWP said they filed the request because Yosemite poses a threat to the public and company employees.

Price said trainers have been watching Yosemite, and he hasn't had any change in behavior that would suggest that.

"There's been definitely nothing violent, there's been definitely nothing confrontational," Price said. "His attitude is definitely different. His attitude definitely does show an animal grieving a loss."

Yosemite appears to be mourning the loss of his brother, Price said. The bear grew up right alongside Griz, and the pair has never been separated for more than a few days.

Over the past week, Price said Yosemite wouldn't eat any food and has been acting lethargic and distant.

Also in the past week, several clients have left comments on the Animals of Montana Facebook page, saying the company is always careful and takes a lot of precautions when dealing with the animals.

Price said he plans to call in an outside bear biologist for a second opinion.

He said he doesn't want this to turn into a legal battle, and Animals of Montana hopes to work out an agreement with FWP soon.