Zoo Closes After Hollywood Animal Trainer Charged With Cruelty to Animals
In 2015, a PETA eyewitness caught the owner of Ontario’s Bowmanville Zoological Park, Michael Hackenberger, on video viciously whipping a Siberian tiger named Uno approximately 20 times in a row during a savage training session. The young tiger was so traumatized that he involuntarily emptied his anal sacs, a fear response in big cats. Hackenberger—who also supplied animals to TV and movie productions, including Life of Pi—later admitted, “I got a bit angry there.”
“I like hitting him in the face. And the paws … being on the rock, when you hit him, it’s like a vise,”
Hackenberger told PETA’s eyewitness. “It stings more.” He admitted that such beatings would cause public outrage if exposed. “If … we’d been running a videotape … of the times I struck this animal … PETA would burn this place to the ground.”
After PETA’s video exposé, he was charged with five counts of cruelty to animals, and shortly thereafter, the Bowmanville Zoo closed its doors. In February 2017, he apparently suffered a severe stroke that has left him incapacitated. As a result, Canadian officials have withdrawn the prosecution.
In additional video footage released by PETA, Hackenberger describes his cruel training methods. He asserts that using a whip is a “disincentive,” saying that punishment is the only way to force an animal to perform.
He goes on to boast about using the whip to “carve my initials in their side.” And while brandishing a stick—as a wolf cowers on the floor off camera—he says, “You smack ’em and they generally fold like a house of cards. … And that’s the beauty of these things.” In the background, a wolf in a cage can also be seen pacing—a sign of severe stress in caged animals. A Bowmanville Zoo administrator later acknowledged Hackenberger’s violent training methods, stating, “You throw them down on the ground so they know who’s boss. That’s basically Michael’s way of working all animals.”
Viewers previously got a taste of the anger Hackenberger directs toward animals when he swore at a baboon who fell off a pony during a live television stunt.
What You Can Do
Vote against cruelty with your wallet:
Never buy tickets to any movie or live performance that uses wild animals. When their revenues take a hit, animal abusers take notice. For example, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus ended elephant acts because of a “mood shift” in public opinion concerning the use and abuse of animals for entertainment. In May, the circus will cease operations altogether.
If you witness cruelty or neglect during the production of a film, a television show, or an advertisement or at an animal-training compound, please click here to learn what you can do.