Bear Mauling in Montana; Company Fined $9,000: How Common Are Bear Attacks?

By iScienceTimes Staff on May 2, 2013 11:08 AM EDT

Bears and cubs
Last November’s bear mauling in Montana could have been prevented if proper safety procedures had been followed, OSHA said on Tuesday. (Photo: Reuters)

Last November's bear mauling in Montana could have been prevented if proper safety procedures had been followed, the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) said on Tuesday, proposing a $9,000 fine.

Benjamin Cloutier was mauled last year while cleaning the cages of two brown bears at Animals of Montana, a private menagerie which keeps dangerous animals for use in photography and film shoots. The two 500-pound Syrian brown bears, Griz and Yosemite, attacked Cloutier while he cleaned their pens. OSHA says that the death could have been prevented if Griz and Yosemite had been moved to a separate enclosure while Cloutier cleaned their cage.

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But Animals of Montana owner Troy Hyde said that the nature of his business is a dangerous one, and he rejected OSHA's claims that Cloutier's death could have been prevented.

"We work inside a business that's a highly dangerous business, and everybody that works within this business is very aware of the dangers," Hyde said. "Those people don't understand what we do. We're not a zoo."

Hyde claimed that Cloutier may have been unconscious before the bears attacked him, since no defensive wounds were found on him. Hyde's theory is that Cloutier fell, at which point the bears attacked him. Investigators say they found no evidence of that.

"From our perspective it was clearly an attack from a bear," said Jeff Funke, area director for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

But just how common are bear attacks?

Consider the polar bear. According to Tom Smith, a polar bear expert from Brigham Young University, in the period from about 1880 to 2008, polar bears in Alaska and Canada killed a total of ten people (or about one person every ten years).

Black bears in the wild are more likely to give you trouble. They've killed 63 people in the period roughly spanning 1900 to today--about fifteen people every decade.

And what of the feared grizzly bear? Grizzlies have killed roughly the same number of people since 1900 as black bears have: 61.

To put that in perspective, you're about 20,000 times more likely to die in a car crash.

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