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Owner of "animal actors" indicted on federal charges

By SCOTT McMILLION Chronicle Staff Writer

Troy Hyde, owner of Animals of Montana in the Bridger Canyon, has been indicted on federal charges for allegedly illegal traffic in endangered grizzly bears and tigers.

Hyde keeps and trains animals, according to his Web site, at what he describes as a "wildlife predator zoo." Photographers pay up to $500 an hour to take their pictures.

He also takes the animals to movie sets and photo shoots around the country.

He calls the animals "actors" and says they are trained to snarl and perform other actions on command.

The animals -- including porcupines, wolverines, wolves, mountain lions and others -- have appeared in a number of films, including some by National Geographic, Turner Original Productions and the BBC.

Hyde is accused of illegally buying a tiger and two grizzly bears and illegally selling a tiger, a lion and two grizzly bears, according to a 55-count federal indictment issued last week by a grand jury. He did not return phone messages left at Animals of Montana on Friday.

A total of nine people around the country were indicted. All of the charges center around transactions with Kenneth and Nancy Kraft, who ran a rare animal brokerage and a rural zoo in Minnesota, and allege violations of the Endangered Species Act, the Lacey Act or both.

Federal agents began investigating the Krafts and their businesses after a 7-year-old girl was mauled by a tiger at their BEARCAT Hollow facility in July 2001. BEARCAT stands for Beautiful, Endangered and Rare Conservation and Therapy.

The Krafts had been soliciting funds to support the zoo 120 miles south of Minneapolis, prosecutors say, but at the same time had been selling animals for profit.

Tigers fetched as much as $10,000. Grizzly bears usually brought around $2,000, the indictment said.

Neighbors had been trying for some time to shut BEARCAT down, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported. In addition to the tiger mauling, a black bear escaped in January 2002 and tried to enter a neighbor's home.

The ESA "generally makes it unlawful to buy or sell in interstate commerce animals that have been designated as being either endangered or threatened," the U.S. attorney's office in Minnesota said in an Aug. 19 press release.

The Lacey Act also governs interstate transactions of wildlife. Plus, it makes it illegal to make or submit a false record or label for any such wildlife.

The Krafts are charged with illegally selling or buying more than $200,000 worth of animals between 1999 and 2003. Most of the animals were alive, but some were dead.

There is an international black market for hide, teeth and other parts of tigers and other rare species.

Also indicted was Hans Jakob Leuck, a Washington resident who runs Wild Eyes Animal Adventure and Photography in Columbia Falls. He is accused of illegally buying a grizzly bear, a tiger, a spotted leopard and a wolf pup from Kenneth Kraft.

News of the indictments was forwarded to the Chronicle by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which urged prosecutors to "throw the book" at the animal traders and bar them from possessing regulated species in the future.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Bill Koch did not return phone messages requesting further comment Friday.

Pat Flowers, regional chief of the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, said Hyde is in full compliance with all permits issued by the state.

The press release said the Krafts allegedly made false records and false identifications on federal transaction forms. They sometimes claimed their transactions were donations or breeding loans instead of sales or transfers, the release said.

The charges carry maximum penalties of five years in prison and/or a $250,000 fine.


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