By Laura Zuckerman
(Reuters) - A 24-year-old man was mauled to death over the weekend by two grizzly bears at a Montana facility that trains captive animals for films, commercials and public appearances, authorities said on Monday.
Benjamin Cloutier was cleaning the enclosure that secured the two captive-bred bears at Animals of Montana in Bozeman, Montana on Sunday when the mauling occurred, Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin said in a written statement.
The more aggressive of the two grizzlies, purchased from an out-of-state vendor and permitted for the facility in 2005, was destroyed, said James Kropp, chief of law enforcement for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
It was the first fatality in Montana linked to some 20 captive animal facilities, including zoos, licensed by the state.
National attention was drawn to private ownership of exotic wildlife earlier this year when authorities gunned down dozens of wild animals in Ohio after they were freed by an owner before he committed suicide.
Montana authorities on Monday declined to provide additional details about the incident. Chuck Watson, attorney for Animals of Montana's owner and principal trainer, Troy Hyde, told Reuters there were no witnesses to the incident.
Watson said the bear that was killed, which he estimated at between 300 and 400 pounds, was not considered a risk.
The bears were routinely exposed to people, including a Christmas season event in which they were photographed with children and families.
"It's not clear if an attack was involved," Watson said. "He could have fallen, hit his head, passed out. We have reason to believe it was an unusual situation."
Animals of Montana, which houses everything from snow leopards to African lions, bills itself as a wildlife casting agency that caters to photographers and filmmakers.
"What separates Animals of Montana from the competition is the fact that all of their animals are worked with day in and day out from just days old," according to the company's website. "They develop a special bond with their training, which in turn eliminates misbehaving, unruly, scared animals."
Montana law requires certain standards to ensure the security and well-being of wild animals in zoos, under private ownership or at a "roadside menagerie" like Animals of Montana.
The licensing and other paperwork for the facility was in order but it was unclear when it was last inspected, said Michael Lee, who oversees Montana's permitting program. He said Animals of Montana participates in numerous exhibits and submits notice and other materials to the state for each event.
Lee declined to comment on whether the facility, permitted since the mid-1990s, had been cited for violations in the past.
(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Todd Eastham)