Hollywood Grins And Bears It

Tank The Bear Makes $5,000 A Day

As part of his job, Doug Seus has been bitten and tossed around. He’s a personal trainer to a bunch of high-maintenance, high-energy bears. 48 Hours Correspondent Harold Dow reports.

"That’s what I love about them," he says. "They’re robust, playful, physical. You know, wild animal."

Doug recently coached his 750-pound grizzly bear, Tank, through a scene in the new Eddie Murphy comedy “Doctor Doolittle II.” It was Tank’s big first feature. He did most of his scenes in one or two takes, which is very good for a bear. Tank, who is five, makes $5,000 a day.

Doug's first star bear was Bart. He appeared in dozens of Hollywood movies, starring with big names like Brad Pitt, Alec Baldwin and Anthony Hopkins.

Bart was a full-grown Kodiak grizzly, standing more than 9 feet tall and weighing nearly 1,500 pounds. Doug Seus, Bart's owner and trainer, is only 6 feet and 190 pounds. But that doesn't stop him from interacting with grizzlies.

"Grizzly bears are, well - they're just magic," says the trainer. "They're magnificent; they're intelligent; they're as intelligent as the ape. They project into the future; they think abstractly. Bart is by nature an extremely intelligent bear."

"Bart and I learn together. We came up together. He made my living. He's been my friend for 23 years," he said in 1999. Bart died last year at the age of 23.

Bart was Seus' star pupil. He was so ferocious on cue that he's paid an average of $10,000 a day. He earned about $6 million, making him the highest paid animal in Hollywood - quite an impressive return for an initial investment of $30.

Doug Seus and his wife, Lynne, bought Bart from a zoo when he was just 5 weeks old. They raised him in their Utah home.

"I know that bear," says Lynne Seus. "I've held him in my arms, when he was 5 pounds. I fed him a bottle."

And the contact continued through the years.

"Interaction, every day," explains Doug Seus. "You don't go on vacations when you're working with bears. With Bart, I was with him eight hours a day, easily, for five years."

And while you can whisper to horses, that won't get you far with a 1,500-pound bear. Doug Seus says he communicates with his grizzlies via touch, actually muscle tension. "Sometimes he'll come up to me and he'll lean his shoulder, and he'll keep putting all his weight on me. And I'll just go, 'Easy, easy. You're getting too rough,' and all I have to do is take a deep breath and expand my chest and...[say]'Easy.'"

How intelligent are other bears in the wild? Professor Barrie Gilbert, a biologist at Utah State University, considers bears great learners. "Some people refer to them as learning machines," says Gilbert.

"The bear is capable of doing many things - learning hundreds of foods and where they are and [in] what season," he says. "They have a ery large brain; they have one of the biggest brains to body size," Gilbert notes.

In 1977 Gilbert was attacked by a grizzly in the wilds of Yellowstone National Park. "I spun around and the bear was on me and bit the back of my head and then I was on the ground," he says. "I can remember this pick-ax feeling as the bone in my skull was broken up. It made one bite and took off the side of my face."

A student trailing Gilbert chased the bear off, and doctors saved his life applying nearly 1,000 stitches to his face alone.

One surprising thing about Bart is that when he opened his jaws, no sound came out.

"If a bear is working audibly with a roar, he's actually angry, and I would not reinforce real anger," Doug Seus said in 1999. "So I teach him to open his mouth; they add the sound."

Hopkins and other films stars were so taken with Doug Seus and Bart that they are spreading the word about The Vital Ground Foundation, a nonprofit group created by the Seuses to preserve thousands of acres for grizzly bears in the wild.

Doug Seus says he misses Bart: "We had fun together. It was amazing, an amazing life together." But he is not looking back - he’s too busy trying to make Tank a star.

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