Will the Montana Supreme Court finally shut down Animals of Montana?

By Jamie Joseph

On October 13th I published an article about British photographer David Yarrow’s choice in working with Animals of Montana; suppliers of exotic animals used in staged photography. Their current court case, involving 22 violations, is under review in The Montana Supreme Court.

After evaluating the story I wrote, David immediately cut the cord with the wildlife casting agency, and our discussions that followed has spurred on noteworthy changes in the way he does business. It can takes years to change laws, but to lead by example is an action that has the power to influence an industry with immediate effect. I was delighted to see that David has included his new directive on staged photography in the gallery publications launching his Wild West series this month, with sentiments reflected in the quote below. 

“We recently completed an assignment where rather than using a captive wolf on set, we used the Tamaskan dog breed, which aesthetically looks very similar to wolves,” says David Yarrow. “The project was a success – in part because the dogs were easier to instruct and work with. This has reinforced my team’s belief that it is not only ethically preferable to not use captive wolves, it is more practical too.

And should I ever photograph a wild animal in the States again, it will be a wild animal in the wild. 

Some wild animals in captivity are looked after with the highest of standards, but removing ourselves from the equation removes the need to conduct the necessary due diligence on each project – something we and most outsiders are ill equipped to do.

I don’t feel the laws in America are protecting captive wild animals enough, and neither are they protecting the film makers who rely on these laws as an assurance of supplier work ethic. To that end I have committed significant funds to the formidable charity, Humane Society of the United States, ring-fenced for advocacy and strengthening of laws nationwide. I look forward to progress.”

Tamaskan dog and Cindy Crawford – new Wild West series by David Yarrow
Cara Delevingne and Tamaskan dog – new Wild West series by David Yarrow

With immediate effect, Saving the Wild has turned our attention to the Montana Supreme Court currently reviewing the case of Animals of Montana. The case has already dragged out through five years of delay tactics, and we are advocating that Animals of Montana lose their license, indefinitely, and they are not given any opportunity to re-home these vulnerable animals. 

We are calling on our allies to build momentum that will bring justice for these animals, and better days for the rest of their lives. And, at best, this case will set precedent for future cases. 

Their sordid history of recorded animal abuse stretches as far back as 2004 when Troy Hyde, owner of Animals of Montana, was convicted of illegally trafficking tigers and grizzly bears. And yet 16 years later, and enough violations to make minds boggle, they continue to own and command a grizzly bear, black bears, coyotes, gray wolves, bobcats, lynxes, a Siberian lynx, a badger, red foxes, a pine marten, porcupines, fishers and a black leopard.

A brief history of Animals of Montana (AOM):

Statement issued by Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks on January 31, 2020.
Source: http://fwp.mt.gov/news/newsReleases/headlines/nr_4362.html 

Animals of Montana roadside menagerie license revoked

A decision by Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks to revoke the license of Animals of Montana, Inc. was affirmed in the District Court of Lewis and Clark County earlier this month.

Animals of Montana is considered a roadside menagerie, and before its permit was revoked, the company provided animals for filmmaking and photo shoots. The company owns a grizzly bear, black bears, coyotes, gray wolves, bobcats, lynxes, a Siberian lynx, a badger, red foxes, a pine marten, porcupines, fishers and a black leopard.

It is the responsibility of FWP to license these types of facilities and businesses. In 2015, FWP inspected the Animals of Montana facility and found numerous violations, which resulted in the department filing a “notice of revocation, imposition of penalties and opportunity for hearing.”

This case has been in process since then. After an administrative hearing last year, FWP Director Martha Williams decided to revoke the license. Animals of Montana filed a petition for judicial review in district court and the court supported Director Williams’ decision.

With the license revoked, Animals of Montana cannot use the animals in their possession to make money. FWP is working with the company to determine the disposition of the animals at the facility. Animals of Montana has filed a notice of appeal of the decision to the Montana Supreme Court.

//END.

Violations include:

  • Taking animals from the AOM premises without a permit from FWP on at least three separate occasions (Yarrow shoot)
  • Numerous cages not secured by padlock 
  • Some enclosures too small
  • Some enclosures lacked roof protection
  • Some enclosures had no water and/or unsanitary conditions
  • An incident in Detroit involving a tiger where someone was asked to use a weed whacker to create noise to encourage the tiger to move, thus creating a hazardous situation and cruel treatment for the tiger (Yarrow shoot)

Additionally Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks has documented numerous issues over the years at AOM including several escapes, injuries to humans from the animals, and the death of an employee mauled by a black bear while cleaning the enclosure, which resulted in two bears being shot. 

Present day: 
AOM appealed the revocation of their license to the district court. The district court affirmed the revocation of the license. AOM then filed an appeal with the Montana Supreme Court. AOM had a deadline of November 9th to file their written argument. FWP was given an opportunity to respond in writing. The Montana Supreme Court will review and can make a written decision, or it could be determined that an actual hearing needs to take place.

Even while Troy Hyde’s license hangs by a very thin thread, he has continued to sell babies for profit throughout this year, including wolf puppies, cougar cubs and lynx kittens.

How it works with these roadside menageries is they make a quick buck with photographers taking pictures of the babies, and when they get too old to be cute they are either sold off quickly, or they are otherwise disposed. Below is a cougar cub promoted on Animals of Montana instagram page in October 2019, and then a few months later for sale by Troy Hyde on an exotic animals trading website.

We’ve done some investigations into who Hyde sells his animals to, and it’s terrifying. A recent sale of a baby mountain lion went to a wealthy couple in Florida who appear to treat their animal purchases like fashion accessories. Worse, they are breeding. 

In 2018 Hyde sold wolves, all female and one years old, to Animal Haven Zoo in Wisconsin. Reading the reviews on TripAdvisor paints a distorted picture with comments that include, “I don’t know if I am more angry or more heartbroken. The enclosures are completely unacceptable. It is absolute cruelty.” Another visitor disagreed and wrote in the TripAdvisor reviews, “This zoo is 100% donation funded and they take old animals, or animals with no where to go.”

Well if they stop buying young, wild animals from the likes of Troy Hyde they won’t have to use their donations to feed them. Frankly, a lot of the time visitors to these vile places pretend to be ignorant because they want to pet exotic animals without any consideration for their welfare. And the laws are fuelling the trade.

All of these menageries selling wild animals to each other have one thing on their mind: making money off the back of enslaved animals. They are not sanctuaries, they are prisons, with humans chipping away at their souls with every click of their camera.

Timeline of Animals of Montana/Troy Hyde abuses, violations and convictions

2004

Troy Hyde, owner of Animals of Montana, convicted of illegally trafficking tigers and grizzly bears in violation of the Endangered Species Act and the Lacey Act.

“Owner of “animal actors” indicted on federal charges”

https://www.bozemandailychronicle.com/news/owner-of-animal-actors-indicted-on-federal-charges/article_7867c9be-c70b-5ff8-a62c-2daf526cc658.html

2007-2009 

Audubon magazine expose on photography game farms, by investigative journalist Ted Williams:

According to documents I obtained from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Animals of Montana—a game farm near Bozeman at least as popular as Triple D—euthanized eight wolves in 2007 because they were “dangerous.” In other words, their behaviour was too wolflike. The spring 2009 issue of Currents, NANPA’s newsletter, quotes a photographer who requested anonymity as saying this about her first and last visit to Animals of Montana: “The owner took out a mountain lion, but the lion didn’t want to come. There was kicking and dragging and yelling.” 
  
I definitely needed to see Animals of Montana’s famous grizzlies, which “love to perform [and] will amaze you by running towards the camera, standing on command, snarling viciously or posing cute.”  But when I tried to book a session, Tracy Krueger, companion and business partner of owner Troy Hyde, said she was “excited” to report that the operation was “switching hands.” This, I learned from court documents, was because Hyde had filed false information with the feds and had been convicted of illegal wildlife trafficking in violation of the Endangered Species Act and the Lacey Act. 

On April 27, 2008, shortly after the USDA moved to terminate Hyde’s exhibitor’s license, Krueger applied for a license. The USDA saw it as a ruse—i.e., “an attempt to circumvent the impending termination”—and rejected the application. On June 6, 2008, Hyde’s lawyer applied for a license. The USDA saw that as another ruse, noting that to obtain a license any new operator would have to purchase animals and property.
  

https://www.audubon.org/magazine/march-april-2010/phony-wildlife-photography-gives-warped-view

2009

Hyde’s Animal Welfare Act license withdrawn for two years due to violations. 

https://nationalaglawcenter.org/wp-content/uploads/assets/decisions/animals.pdf

2012

Animals of Montana employee Benjamin Cloutier was fatally attacked by a grizzly bear while cleaning the animal’s enclosure. The bear was shot at the scene, and Cloutier’s death was later recognized as preventable by the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration. Troy Hyde then ordered to kill two of his bears after this. 

2015

Tiger in Detroit shoot terrified by weed whacker
https://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/local/detroit-city/2015/08/18/tiger/31853371/ 

Animals Of Montana owner fined for taking a wolf into a bar without permission

http://canislupus101.blogspot.com/2015/09/animals-of-montana-owner-fined-for.html

2017

Article reveals that Troy Hyde/Animals of Montana, set up wolves and a bear to fight over a carcass for paying photographers: What happens when “wildlife photography” is faked…

State asks court to uphold denial of Animals of Montana permit

Dec 18, 2018

https://www.bozemandailychronicle.com/news/state-asks-court-to-uphold-denial-of-animals-of-montana/article_e563d0c7-637d-54a8-b0d0-5170ee51731f.html

Court upholds FWP decision to revoke license for Animals Of Montana

Feb 05, 2020

https://www.krtv.com/news/montana-and-regional-news/court-upholds-fwp-decision-to-revoke-license-for-animals-of-montana

As it stands today, Animals of Montana appealed to the Supreme Court and they are currently reviewing the case. This, we hope, is the end of the delay tactics, and the end to all suffering. Will the next few weeks be a triumph for these wild animals enslaved to tiny cages and awful living conditions, or will it be another travesty of justice? 

We all can, and we must do more.

Please support and follow this unfolding battle on Saving the Wild’s Instagram and Facebook pages. Hashtag #ShutDownAnimalsOfMontana.

Aerial image of Animals of Montana | Photo © Chris Boyer / kestrelaerial.com

“Animals of Montana’s sordid history of recorded animal abuse stretches as far back as 2004 when Troy Hyde, owner of Animals of Montana, was convicted of illegally trafficking tigers and grizzly bears. And yet 16 years later, and enough violations to make minds boggle, they continue to own and command a grizzly bear, black bears, coyotes, gray wolves, bobcats, lynxes, a Siberian lynx, a badger, red foxes, a pine marten, porcupines, fishers and a black leopard.”
-Jamie Joseph, Saving the Wild | #ShutDownAnimalsOfMontana