Global animal rights organization the People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is taking issue with a new series premiering on Discovery Channel next month that pits humans against grizzly bears.
In a statement shared with Realscreen, PETA alleges that Man Vs. Bear (pictured), announced last week, is a “sickening stunt” that trades in “exploitation.”
The PETA statement, written by Lewis Crary, assistant manager of animals in film and television, specifically mentions Doug Seus, whose Utah sanctuary Wasatch Rocky Mountain Wildlife, Inc. (run with Lynne Seus) provides the setting for the series, and who PETA claims uses his “for-profit facility” as a “training compound.”
PETA’s Crary goes on to say that a program such as Man Vs. Bear “sends the dangerous message to viewers that wild animals are safe, approachable, and ours to control,” and that in airing the series, Discovery is “normalizing exploitation.” It is unclear if anyone at PETA, or Crary, has viewed a screener or footage from the series in advance of its Dec. 4 premiere on Discovery Channel, as the organization didn’t respond to an inquiry from Realscreen regarding that question.
When Realscreen followed up with PETA about specific worries they may have related to the series, a spokesperson offered two central concerns: that bears should live in a “naturalistic space” and in “seclusion” for their well-being rather than be made “unwilling participants” in commercial projects, and that “when anything but wild animals’ safety and independence is prioritized, tragedies can happen,” including injury and death from maulings.
“Wasatch Rocky Mountain Wildlife has been inspected and licensed by USDA APHIS since 1976,” Doug and Lynne Seus told Realscreen, in a joint response to PETA’s initial statement.
“We have a 40-year record of compliance that we stand proud of. The rules and regulations we must comply with can be viewed online at USDA APHIS. We also have a good working relationship with American Humane and Motion Picture Animal Protection and demand their representatives on set, no matter how small the production.”
They further explain that two of the featured bears in the upcoming series were orphaned as cubs in Alaska by poachers and that they would have starved and frozen in the wild without their mother. The couple adopted them in 2000 from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Additionally, the Seuses founded the Vital Ground Foundation in 1990, a non-profit land trust that conserves habitat for grizzly bears and other wildlife in the northern Rocky Mountains.
A spokesperson for Discovery Channel declined to comment on PETA’s statement. Red Arrow Studios-owned Kinetic Content, producers of the series, had not responded to a request for comment from Realscreen at press time.
Man Vs. Bear sees three grizzlies — Bart, Honey Bump and Tank — taking on three human competitors each week at the Seuses’ Utah sanctuary in five distinct challenges designed to test speed, strength and stamina.
The challenges will be based on the bears’ natural instincts as well as predatory skills and actions, whether it’s engaging in a game of “tug of war” or using brute force to roll giant logs. In the final round, the two top competitors will come together to face Bart, standing eight feet, six inches tall and weighing 1,400 pounds.
The human competitor who earns the most points of the day will be named champion, and at the end of each season, the top three competitors with the most points will return one more time for the super-human showdown against the bears.
The series will also include commentary from on-the-ground experts Brandon Tierney, host of CBS Sports Radio talk show Tiki and Tierney, and Casey Anderson, wildlife expert, filmmaker and founder of the Montana Grizzly Encounter.
The controversy over the yet-to-air Man vs. Bear doesn’t mark the first time that Discovery has run afoul of the animal welfare organization. Last week, the group drew attention to the Oct. 27 episode of River of No Return, produced by Wheelhouse Entertainment’s Spoke Studios, in which a cast member of the series hits a horse with a metal hammer. A Discovery spokesperson told The Wrap that the five-second scene “will never air again on Discovery.”
(With files from Jillian Morgan and Barry Walsh)