Hollywood Animal Trainer Faces Cruelty Charges

Life of Pi Film Still - H 2013
Fox 2000 Pictures

Life of Pi Film Still - H 2013

The Canadian criminal charges follow the 'Life of Pi' tiger trainer being allegedly caught on video whipping a Siberian tiger in his care by animal rights group PETA.

A trainer who has supplied animals for Hollywood productions and was earlier caught on video allegedly whipping and verbally abusing a Siberian tiger under his care has been slapped with criminal charges in Canada.

The Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals on Wednesday said it formally filed animal cruelty charges against Michael Hackenberger, the owner of the Bowmanville Zoo. The zoo keeper in December 2015 was shown in a video obtained by animal rights group PETA apparently swearing at and whipping the young tiger 19 times.

The zoo is located roughly an hour outside of Toronto. In all, Hackenberger faces five charges of animal cruelty, including one charge of causing an animal distress by pushing his thumb into the animal’s eye, and another charge of failing to comply with prescribed standards of care for a tiger.

"The videos of Mr. Hackenberger interacting with Uno, the Siberian tiger, provides a basis on which to lay charges,” senior inspector Jennifer Bluhm of the Ontario SPCA said in a statement. Hackenberger has supplied animals for a number of TV and film productions including Seth Rogen's The Interview as well as, most famously, Jonas, a Bengal tiger who featured prominently in Ang Lee's Life of Pi (although the 2012 film also used computer-generated visual effects to portray the tiger).

A Hollywood Reporter investigation revealed in 2013 that another tiger on the set of Life of Pi allegedly nearly drowned during filming, according to an email from an American Humane Association monitor.

PETA president Ingrid Newkirk welcomed the charges against the Hollywood animal exhibitor. "We are pleased that criminal charges have been brought against Michael Hackenberger for the abuse of a tiger used in his exploitive zoo shows, and we hope that this case will result in an end to his torment of animals made to suffer for human entertainment," she said in a statement.

Hackenberger denied claims by PETA that he struck the Siberian tiger with a whip 19 times. The Ontario SPCA began probing the alleged animal abuse by Hackenberger after PETA revealed video of Hackenberger's alleged animal abuse.