Hollywood Animal Trainer Facing Cruelty Charges for Whipping Tiger

Animals don’t belong in the entertainment business. If you needed additional proof of this fact, look no further than what’s going on right now with one of Hollywood’s best known animal trainers. To be more precise, look at what he does to “train” tigers.

Michael Hackenberger, a renowned Canadian animal wrangler for movies like “Life of Pi” and “The Interview,” is under fire after the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) released a secretly recorded video of one of his training sessions with a Siberian tiger named Uno.

Released in December 2015, the video reportedly shows Hackenberger swearing at and whipping the performing tiger approximately 19 times. Watch it for yourself and decide what’s going on here:

The video captures a man who appears to be Hackenberger discussing his techniques, saying things like:

  • “I like hitting him in the face. And the paws….The beauty of the paws being on the rock when you hit him, it’s like a vise. It stings more.”
  • “If we’d been running a videotape the whole time you were here, and you did a 45 second montage of the times I struck this animal, PETA would burn this place to the ground.”

Perhaps this last quote will make you believe in karma. Does anyone else smell smoke? The Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA) viewed PETA’s footage and began to investigate Hackenberger.

“The videos of Mr. Hackenberger interacting with Uno, the Siberian tiger, provides a basis on which to lay charges,” OSPCA Senior Inspector Jennifer Bluhm said in a press release. “Animal cruelty is a serious offense. Our investigative unit has spent significant time reviewing the facility and interviewing all involved. Our priority is always the health and welfare of the animals.”

Based on what it saw in the PETA video footage, an inspection of the zoo and its independent interviews of zoo personnel, the OSPCA brought these charges against Hackenberger in April 2016:

  • Causing an animal to be in distress by striking the animal with a whip handle;
  • Causing an animal to be in distress by repeatedly striking the animal with a whip;
  • Causing an animal to be in distress by striking the animal in the face with a whip;
  • Causing an animal distress by pushing his thumb into the animal’s eye and;
  • Being the person who fails to comply with the prescribed standards of care for such an animal and thereby failing to provide the necessary care for its general welfare.

Hackenberger, of course, denies he treated Uno in a cruel manner. That’s obvious, he told NBC News, because “a tiger will not lay on the ground and allow itself to be struck, as this videotape suggests. They’ll turn around and they’ll try to kill you. That’s not what we’re about.”

He also asserts he did not hit Uno repeatedly. “I got him twice,” he told NBC News. “But after that, every whip of the whip you see, I do not strike the animal.”

Oh, that makes it better, then. If Hackenberger’s version is true, he whipped Uno twice and then proceeded to make the poor tiger fear — over and over again — that he was going to get more punishment. Remind me again why we allow people to do this to animals?

PETA has produced additional video footage of a man whose face we cannot see, but whom it says is Hackenberger.  The man describes his training techniques:

If you just don’t want to watch, here are some of the salient quotes:

  • “I can throw out a lash whip and I can have it caress the animal. Or I can carve my initials in their side.”
  • “At the end of the day, it’s only through disincentives that you can absolutely force an animal to do something.”
  • On training a wolf: “You smack ‘em and they generally fold like a house of cards. And that’s the beauty.”
  • Off-camera person identified as a zoo administrator says: “You throw them down on the ground so they know who’s boss. That’s basically Michael’s way of working all animals.”

Not surprisingly, the Bowmanville Zoo stands by Hackenberger, who until recently served as its director. On its Facebook page, the zoo stated, in part, “We find these charges to be completely unwarranted and unsupported by the actual facts surrounding the allegations against Mr. Hackenberger…. The Bowmanville Zoo will continue to believe in and support Mr. Hackenberger while these politically driven charges are defended.”

“Politically driven” charges, they say. Wanting people to stop beating and frightening animals in order to force them to perform for our amusement is a “politically driven” position, apparently. I always thought taking this position simply meant someone was a decent, kind person. Silly me.

Hackenberger has posted a You Tube video response to PETA’s video, which you can watch here:

Hackenberger shows his technique from another angle than we see in the PETA video, explaining that the whipping noises we heard were not all strikes to the tiger, they were strikes to the ground. Perhaps that’s true. Perhaps it isn’t. Even if it’s 100 percent accurate, I wonder why that whip instills fear and prompts obedience from a wild animal. Are you wondering too?

The fallout from all this negative publicity is taking its toll. Hackenberger has resigned as Director of the Bowmanville Zoo. Canada’s Accredited Zoos and Aquariums has revoked his professional membership in that organization. CBS just decided not to hire Hackenberger to work on its TV show Zoo.

Finally, of course, there are those pesky animal cruelty charges still left to deal with. They could result a maximum sentence of two years in jail, a $66,000 fine and a lifetime ban on owning an animal, OSPCA spokeswoman Alison Cross told NBC News.

However this turns out, PETA has once again directed a white hot spotlight on those who use and mistreat animals for monetary gain and human amusement. If we don’t continue to voice our objections to this sort of treatment, it will just go on.

Spend your money elsewhere, not at events or movies that use performing animals. Here’s a thought: Go see the new live action Disney movie The Jungle Book.  Yes, it’s loaded with animals — and they’re all gorgeously computer generated. Thanks to director Jon Favreau for understanding that animals should not be performers.

Photo credit: Thinkstock


JoAnn Paris
JoAnn P9 months ago

Thank you for this very interesting article.

Christine Stewart
Christine Stewart9 months ago

how horrible to have a man like abuse animals and get paid for it, just to make movies...

Chrissie R
Chrissie R9 months ago

Thank you for posting.

Camilla Vaga
Camilla Vaga9 months ago

poor tiger should be in a sanctuary if he cant be free

Camilla Vaga
Camilla Vaga9 months ago

how can anyone harm an animal is beyond me

Glennis W
Glennis W9 months ago

So sad and horrible Thank you for caring and sharing

Glennis W
Glennis W9 months ago

Rotten mongeral Whip him Thank you for caring and sharing

Glennis W
Glennis W9 months ago

Cruel BASTARD Thank you for caring and sharing

Ruth S
Ruth S9 months ago

Whew, hard to watch. Thanks.

Danuta W
Danuta W9 months ago

thank you for posting