A Montana wildlife company where a keeper was killed by a pair of captive brown bears used in filmmaking has been barred until further notice from taking animals off-site because of public safety concerns, state officials said.
The notice to Animals of Montana Inc., released Friday, said it was too early for the company to return to "business as usual" given the mauling of animal trainer Benjamin Cloutier, 24.
The company's facility near Bozeman is licensed by the state as a roadside menagerie. It has about 50 animals, ranging from the brown bears to two leopards, a Siberian tiger and two species of lynx. They are used for photography shoots, motion pictures and television productions.
State Game Warden Michael Lee said the suspension of any off-site work by the company would remain in place while its license is evaluated. He would not say if there had been any prior complaints about or problems with the company.
Cloutier, originally from York Haven, was killed Sunday while cleaning out a pen with two 500-pound brown bears. His death has been ruled an accident.
"We're looking at the public's health and safety here," Lee said. "We're working on it right now, today. We haven't made a clear decision yet."
The Bozeman-area company's head trainer, Demetri Price, said the state's action could scuttle a $1 million contract for a commercial using the company's animals that was due to begin filming soon.
He said the public has been never at risk from the company's animals, which he described as being kept in secure compounds on a wooded, rural site north of Bozeman that is posted with no trespassing signs.
Prior to Cloutier's death, the company never had a serious incident that involved death or permanent injury, Price said.
"We've had the occasional bite or scratch. In the thirty years this business has been running, that's all we've had to deal with," he said.
The company's website says the bears have been used in "attack re-enactments" for films in which trainers are used as stuntmen.
Price said the animals are highly-trained and that his company has built up a reputation that draws hundreds of paying photographers and filmmakers to Montana annually. Filming or photographing the animals is done on-site at its headquarters near Bozeman or at other privately-owned locations.
"We guarantee we will provide services of animals that are trained to the script as given to us," he said.
Price was the first person to arrive at the pen after the mauling. He has described Cloutier's death as a tragic accident and insisted it was not an attack, speculating that the victim may have hit his head and fallen unconscious prior to being mauled.
There were no defensive wounds on Cloutier's hands or arms, authorities have said, and he also had not used the mace-like canister of bear spray he was carrying.
Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin has said there was no way to prove Cloutier was unconscious when the attack began.
Cloutier's family was making funeral arrangements.