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Saturday, April 17, 2010

Animal trainer was noted for knack with bears

Animal trainer was noted for knack with bears
By Anthony Cormier
Published: Friday, April 16, 2010
SARASOTA COUNTY - He was nearly as big as the bears he so famously trained and certainly as rough-and-tumble.
So when Derrick Rosaire Jr. went on tour with his sons and "The Big Bear Show" recently, he thought nothing of the sharp pain in his back or the aches that swept through his body.
"He thought it was the flu and refused to go to the hospital," says his sister, Ellian.
His condition worsened, physicians found tumors on his brain, liver and spleen and, by Thursday, Rosaire was dead from melanoma -- a cancer that neither he nor his family knew he had.
Rosaire, who lived on Palmer Boulevard in East Sarasota County, was 55.
He was born into a family of animal trainers whose patriarch immigrated from Britain in the 1960s.
Derrick watched as his father famously worked on "The Tonight Show" and hit TV programs such as "Daktari."
Rosaire grew up alongside horses, chimpanzees and tigers, but his knack was always for bears.
As a child, he and his father handled the 650-pound American black bear that starred on the TV show "Gentle Ben."
Later in life, he trained his two sons, Derrick III and Frederick, to handle the giant beasts and traveled the country to do what his sister called "edutainment."
"We all grew up around animals," Ellian Rosaire said by telephone Thursday. "But Derrick always had a certain affinity for bears."
Their shows were part comedy act and part science lesson. While the animals clapped, gave kisses and rode motorbikes, Rosaire gushed about their keen sense of smell and how they walked on their hind legs to get a better vantage point in the wild.
Rosaire dressed the part of mountain man in his shows and earned the animals' respect, remarking in a documentary about the Rosaire family:
"If you can't handle a bear without a muzzle, you shouldn't handle him."
Recently, as circuses stopped touring and zoos began closing, Rosaire was known to take in and nurture bears at the family's sanctuary in east Sarasota County.
He is survived by his wife, Kay, and two sons.
The family has asked that well-wishers make a donation to the Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary, a rescue operation run by the Rosaire family.
from: The Sarasota Herald-Tribune

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