Bear gave off no reasons for concern before trainer's
See Comments below by
Wed Apr 23, 8:59 AM ET
BIG BEAR LAKE, Calif. -
The grizzly bear that wrestled Will Ferrell's
character in the recent film "Semi-Pro" seemed to obediently follow cues
— which made its killing of its trainer with a bite to the neck all the
Three experienced handlers were working with the
grizzly Tuesday at the Predators in Action wild animal training center
when the bear attacked Stephan Miller, 39, said San Bernardino County
sheriff's spokeswoman Cindy Beavers.
Stephan Miller is the cousin of training center owner Randy Miller, she
Pepper spray was used to subdue and contain the bear, and there were no
other injuries, Beavers said. Paramedics arriving shortly after the
initial emergency call around 3 p.m. were unable to revive Stephan
The state Department of Fish and Game and Occupational Safety and Health
Administration were investigating the incident.
Fish and game spokesman Harry Morse told the San Bernardino Sun Tuesday
his department would not decide whether the bear will be euthanized
because the attack occurred outside its jurisdiction during a training
session on facility grounds.
Morse speculated that the county animal care officials may decide the
bear's fate. A call placed early Wednesday to the county's Animal Care
and Control Program was not answered.
Sheriff's Sgt. Dave Phelps said the bear was a 5-year-old male named
Rocky. The Predators in Action Web site said Rocky is 7 1/2 feet tall
and weighs 700 pounds.
The site, which was off-line early Wednesday due to overtaxed bandwidth,
identified Rocky as the animal that appeared with Ferrell's character in
the scene from "Semi-Pro." Randy Miller doubled for Ferrell in the bear
wrestling match, according to the site.
Calls seeking comment from Randy Miller were not immediately returned
The center, located in the San Bernardino Mountains east of Los Angeles,
has two grizzlies, and also trains lions, tigers, leopards, cougars and
wolves for uses ranging from film and TV to advertising and education.
In a February interview, Randy Miller called Rocky "the best working
bear in the business," the San Bernardino Sun reported on its Web site
Wednesday. But, the paper quoted him as saying, "If one of these animals
gets a hold of your throat, you're finished."
Randy Miller has 25 years of experience training animals and his
facility has had a perfect safety record, according to the site.
Randy Miller won a World Stunt Academy Award for his work wrestling
tigers in the 2000 blockbuster "Gladiator" and performed stunts with his
animals in films like "The Postman," "The Island of Dr. Moreau," and
"The Last Samurai." He also helped recreate animal attacks for National
Geographic documentaries and the Discovery Channel.
It was not immediately known how long Rocky has been at the facility.
The attack prompted actress Virginia McKenna, founder of the
international wildlife charity Born Free, to call for the entertainment
industry to stop using wild animals.
"The movie industry urgently needs to use its technological and creative
imagination to put an end to the use of live wild animals in commercials
and movies," McKenna, who starred in the 1966 wildlife film "Born Free,"
said in a printed release. "Hollywood is a dream factory — this time the
dream has become a nightmare."
Denise Richards, who works with wild animals at Moonridge Zoo, a
sanctuary for injured and homeless wildlife in nearby Big Bear Lake,
said trained animals that turn on their handlers are often destroyed.
"You can train them and use as many safety precautions as you can, but
you're still taking a chance if you're putting yourself in contact with
them," Richards said. "It's still a wild animal. Even though it may
appear that the bear attacked for no reason, there was a reason. I'm
sure Randy understands why it happened. They're not cold-blooded
Native grizzly bears are extinct in California.
Comments by Steve Stringham
The Miller tragedy is regrettable. But destroying the
bear would be inappropriate. Although the bear killed Miller, there is
no indication that this result was intentional.
Whenever an attack occurs, it's important to separate
motivation from result. Motivation can be the same whether a bear is
directing bites or swats towards another bear or towards a person. But
results differ dramatically between fellow bruins vs. people. For we
humans are as fragile by bear standards as china dolls or hampsters are
by our standards.
As best I can judge from the fact that the bear showed
no sign of rage, and delivered only one bite, no clawing, this was a 3rd
* Third degree assault: A bite or swat delivered to send a message. I
have received a number of these over the years without suffering more
than scratches or pinches. More intense "messages" can, however, draw
blood or even require stitches. This is the most common kind of injury
inflicted by wild black bears, usually when someone tries to touch them
or to hand-feed them. This is analogous to a person swatting a dog for
chewing on a shoe or pissing on the carpet. Message assaults seldom last
more than a second or two.
* Second degree assault: A flash of temper that can
draw blood from a fellow bear; seldom last more than a 1-2 seconds.
* First degree assault: An infuriated bear that keeps
inflicting injury until the opponent is seriously injured or killed.
(For further details, read WHEN BEARS WHISPER, DO YOU
I suspect that the bear had a flash of temper and bit
Miller as it would have bit a fellow bear, which would had done no
significant damage to the fellow bear, and would not have killed Miller
had it not landed on his throat. The bear might have been irritated with
something he did, and the bear was telling him "enough!"
These occasional flashes of temper are uncommon in the
wild. Yet, anyone who spends hundreds or thousands of hours around
bears, as professional viewing guides and scientists like myself do,
cannot avoid seeing this happen now and then. One way to minimize risk
hat we don't become the object of such messages is to stay a reasonable
distance away. At sites like McNeil Falls, Hallo Bay or Geographic
Harbor in Alaska, a reasonable distance can be as short as 10 yards.
Closer is just too close. In areas where coastal bears are less
acclimated, even 50 yards can be too close. With inland brown/grizzly
bears and some inland black bears, 200-300 yards is a good minimum
The issue is not whether a person can get away with
being closer. After all, Treadwell got away with it for 13 summers --
until one fateful day in October 2003. Rather, the issue is how much
buffer do you need in the rare even a bear gets pissed off, seeks a
scapegoat, and turns on you.
After decades of studying bear behavior, I don't
advise anyone to be closer than those minima; and even longer
separations may be required by the National Park Service (e.g., at least
50 yards at Katmai) or other government agencies. Granted, some viewers
think they are safe at even closer ranges. But those are mostly viewers
without enough experience to have seen a number of close-calls. The
longer you spend with bears, the more improbable events come to pass.