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Wildlife worker killed by his favorite bear, coworker says

By Lauren Maschmedt, KTVM Anchor, lmaschmedt@ktvm.com
Published On: Nov 05 2012 08:49:39 PM MST
Updated On: Nov 05 2012 08:58:21 PM MST
Sheep-killing grizzly bear to be relocated
BOZEMAN, Mont. -

Investigators are calling the death of man at a wildlife casting center north of Bozeman an accident- after a strange series of events end in his favorite grizzly killing him, and the grizzly being put down.

The Gallatin County Sheriff's Office said it was 24-year old Benjamin Cloutier who was cleaning the pen of 8-year old grizzly brothers Griz and Yosemite on Sunday morning before the fatal accident.

Cloutier, originally from Pennsylvania, lived in Bozeman and had worked at Animals of Montana since 2008.

According to the company's website, it is a wildlife casting agency that specializes in providing exotic animals for photography and film.

The animals- all raised and trained from birth- make appearances in commercials, movies and on network TV.

Syrian brown bears Yosemite and Griz were part of that team.

Head Trainer Demetri Price told us he was the first person on the scene on Sunday.

He said Cloutier was cleaning all the animal pens that morning, and that the bear cage was his last stop.

Price said Griz was Ben's favorite animal, and that Ben had the proper training in case something went wrong.

Which is why, when he found Cloutier dead- and Griz the apparent cause- Price could only think of the incident a "tragic accident."

He told us in over 30 years of business, Animals of Montana has never had anything bad happen.

The Sheriff Coroner and Fish and Game Wardens responded to the scene, and tried to piece together what happened.

At a news conference Monday, Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin said they ruled the case completely accidental- but Cloutier did die from wounds sustained by the bear.

He said no noise came from the area at the time of the death- not from Cloutier or Griz, or the several wolves housed nearby that usually howl if anything is out of the ordinary.

Plus, Gootkin said, Cloutier's bear spray was still on his belt- not deployed. No physical sign they could see that the highly-trained veteran worker tried to defend himself against any sort of attack.

He recounted the scene Price saw when Price discovered the accident less than 20 minutes from when it happened.

"One of the workers that found Ben, was the one where the bear... would not allow him near Ben," Gootkin said. "He had to go and get the rifle, come back and he did shoot the bear twice and killed it."

Price told us he thinks Cloutier fell and got knocked unconscious, and that prompted Griz to act on his animal instincts.

He said Griz was highly-trained, well loved and well taken-care of- and they are mourning both losses.

Gootkin said the department has concluded its initial investigation and will not conduct an autopsy of Cloutier, because his wounds were too severe to determine if something internal like an aneurism contributed to his death.

Authorities said we may never quite know what sparked the incident.

As standard protocol Fish, Wildlife and Parks is reviewing the Animals of Montana facility's overall licensing. They've also suspended the temporary permit the company had to exhibit the bears- meaning Yosemite cannot leave the facility's premises until further notice.

Spokesperson Andrea Jones said all the paperwork for the facility is current and properly filed with FWP.

We checked into state law, and found roadside and wild animal menageries, as well as zoos must have a permit through the state.

FWP inspects the care, feeding and conditions of the animals and how they're housed.

If a facility is found in violation, permits can be revoked and animals confiscated.