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Arts and Entertainment

Video: PETA Accuses 'Life Of Pi' Trainer Of 'Viciously' Whipping Tiger

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PETA is accusing a Hollywood animal trainer who's worked on movies like Life of Pi of abusing a Siberian tiger, and has released a video purportedly showing him whipping the tiger about 19 times.

In the nearly 2-minute video, PETA shows Michael Hackenberger, the animal trainer and director of Canada's Bowmanville Zoological Park, swearing at the tiger during a training session. At one point, it appears that Hackenberger is whipping the tiger repeatedly as the animal cowers and lies on its back. (PETA describes him as "viciously" whipping the animal.) Another trainer calls out to the tiger to get up and it goes back to training.

The video cuts to an interview with Hackenberger, where he says, "I like hitting him in the face. And the paws—which get the paws off. And the beauty of the paws being on the rock, when you hit him, it's like a vice. It stings more."

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The interview cuts to another comment by Hackenberger. "But, here's the problem at the end of the day," he says. "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."

On PETA's website, they wrote, "The young tiger was so traumatized that he involuntarily emptied his anal sacs, a fear response in big cats."

Hackenberger has since responded to PETA's video with an over 30-minute YouTube video of his own. He explains that a "plant for PETA" came to him last week to videotape the trainers' activities. "We feel that the images captured are misrepresented by PETA and I would go as far to say they're lying," Hackenberger says.

He addresses his constant swearing towards the animal, and apologizes for his "atrocious" language, and says it's a problem he has, that he just has "bad language" and he was frustrated with the tiger. As for the abuse allegations, he says he only whipped the tiger twice. Hackenberger claims the rest of the whipping was from him just striking the ground beside the tiger. "I do not strike this animal. I do not strike him. I strike the ground beside him," he says.

Hackenberger replays the PETA video and says that if he had been striking the animal, the tiger would not just be laying there passively. It's only when the other trainer gives an auditory command that moves the tiger, he says.

He also says that the PETA "plant" cut out 1.5 hours of footage recorded, and questions why they cut out the other footage. "For too long we've allowed PETA to interpret the actions of animals for us," Hackenberger says in the video.

PETA Foundation's deputy director of captive animal law enforcement, Brittany Peet, responded to Hackenberger's response. She told The Hollywood Reporter:

Michael Hackenberger was caught on camera repeatedly and viciously striking a young tiger who lay cowering on his back out of fear and discussing the most effective ways to hit animals, stating quite plainly, 'I like hitting him in the face' — yet Hackenberger lies even about having said this. Wild animals like Uno perform stressful and confusing tricks because they're terrified that they'll be beaten if they don't. There is no excuse for beating an animal, any more than there is for hitting a child.

Peet said PETA will be reporting the animal abuse to the Ontario SPCA, in addition to asking for an investigation as well as having the tiger confiscated from Hackenberger.

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This isn't the first time Hackenberger, who has also provided trained animals for films like The Interview, been in hot water. In August, he was on live TV for a news program, leading a baboon that was riding a pony in a circle. When the baboon jumped off of the pony, Hackenberger appeared angry and said, "No, no, no, you cocksucker. Get back up."

After a social media uproar, Hackenberger released a statement apologizing for his "offensive language." “No one has ever called me a saint, or likely ever will,” Hackenberger said. “But I love my animals and continue to try to do my best to make a difference in the world.”