Bear wrestling, animal exploitation and death by asphyxiation: The strange story of Sam Mazzola



Sam Mazzola owned World Animal Studios, Columbia Station, OH. He was known for exploiting exotic animals at fairs and shopping malls and using his bears for bear wrestling events. His USDA license was revoked in 2009 and he was fined $21,000 for his violations, but he was allowed to keep his animals.


In 2010, a 24-year-old man who worked for Mazzola was brutally attacked by a 500lb black bear at the facility. The bear inflicted more than 600 wounds on the employee’s body and the employee did not survive. The bear who attacked the man was euthanized.


In 2011, Mazzola paid one of his 17-year-old male employees to handcuff and chain him to his bed with a mask on and a sex toy in his mouth attached to a gag. When the teen returned the next day, he found Mazzola dead. According to the coroner, Mazzola choked to death on the sex toy.


After his death, Mazzola’s exotic animals were sent to various individuals and facilities across the United States. Roadside Zoo News obtained an interview with one of Mazzola’s former employees. This is what she had to say:


Sam Mazzola was a friend of mine but he was an animal exploiter. I took care of his big cats for years until I couldn't handle it anymore.


Don't ask me why I helped him for so long. I think one of the main reasons was because he was housing a couple of my tigers for me.


At the time we had no other choice; we had just come from Texas. We were renting a house and I didn't have anywhere to keep the cats. So I helped Sam because he let me keep my tigers there.


Sam did these fairs and he was doing photo ops with cubs and big cats. When Sam would shift the cats into a trailer to go to a fair, he would put the two young cats on a dolly and roll them to the trailer. They weren’t in a cage or anything; there was just a chain around the cat’s neck.

When I was helping load the cats one day, the tiger saw a rabbit and bolted. I had my hand around the collar and I wouldn't let go and everyone that was supposed to be helping was fumbling around and the cat went down to the ground and chomped on my leg! I was yelling, “Help me you assholes!” It was crazy.


We did a lot of setup for Sam at these fairs when we worked for him, and we were never paid for any of it. It was the love for the animals; we had to make sure that they were okay at these events. Even though it wasn't okay, I did the best I could to make those animals comfortable at those events and Sam would yell at me for doing it.


Sam also had a store in Midway Mall in Ohio that I worked at. He had all these cages in the store which had big cats and other exotic animals in them. He had partnered up with a man named Larry Wallach to open this store and they were bringing in cubs—like a baby white lion and a baby tiger—and Larry was drugging the babies! I caught him.


After I saw him drug the cub I grabbed the baby and stuck my finger down its throat to get it to vomit the drugs up. I confronted Larry about it but he was one of the bosses. I’m pretty sure they kept drugging the cubs after that. I think they did that so that the animals would do photo ops without resistance; but the baby animals don't need to be drugged. All Sam and Larry cared about was collecting the money that they were charging people to come in to see those animals.


Sam also did events where people paid him to wrestle with his bears. He would let teenagers come to his farm to wrestle with the bears in their cages. It was incredibly irresponsible.


Those bears had no lockdowns. They were in eight cages in the barn and it was so difficult to feed and clean and water them. The cages were small and the bears never saw the outdoors—ever.


I personally never saw Sam beat an animal with a bat, but all he had to do was show them the bat and the animals ran. There was one bear, Lakota, that he did all of the fairs with, and Lakota just had about enough of Sam when they were at the Toledo Fair one year.


I received a phone call from Sam telling me that he was in the hospital. Lakota had attacked him and Sam got 130 stitches in his face. I guess Lakota got tired of getting beaten with the stick every time he got off the box that he was supposed to be sitting on.


One day I walked into the barn and there was a bear running around in there that had busted out of his cage! The door to the barn was similar to one of those garage doors that goes up by themselves and once I entered the barn and saw the loose bear coming towards me I quickly hit the button to close the door, not thinking that I couldn't get out! I was more worried about the bear getting out; but then I was in there alone with the bear and oh my God I almost had a freaking heart attack.


Sam had a bread rack in the barn so I pushed the bread rack towards the bear and pushed the bear towards a horse stall that was empty and pushed the bread rack inside with the bear and quickly closed the door and put a lock on it. The bear smacked into the door and broke the lock right in half! Luckily there was a secondary wooden door that I closed after that, so the bear couldn’t get out.


My heart was in my throat the entire time and I called Sam to tell him what happened and he laughed. He thought that was so funny! I was so angry that I quit.


It was so scary, and when I think about Brent, the guy who got killed by one of Sam’s bears, I think to myself, “that could have been me.”


A week before Sam died he came out to my place to pick up food for his cats because he was broke, and I was not going to have his animals starving, and I had the food to give. The next thing I knew, Sam was dead.


Sam died in a strange way—with a sex toy in his mouth, bound in chains, right in his own bed. After he died, I was given possession of his two white tigers.


Let me tell you, going to Sam’s place and getting those two white tigers was the biggest fright of my life. There must have been 100 people there! It was the most dangerous situation I have ever seen. Sam had no lockdowns and we did not tranquilize any of the cats.


The guy in charge of Sam’s estate was there and I told him not to feed those cats, but the ass had to do it to show off to the people who were there, and the tip of his finger got bit off by one of the tigers!


I was a nervous wreck with all these people there, and all the animals—the bears, coyotes, wolves, foxes, lions, tigers—it was crazy.


It was an unbelievable experience for me and I was alone at the time—my husband couldn't be there. I was filmed leaving the facility with those tigers on the back of my trailer, covered up. I beat it out of there like a bat out of hell; I didn't need anyone following me. Those cats had been through enough as it was.


Those white tigers were so traumatized. One was nearly starved to death because she was in a cage with a dominant male that was just huge and you could tell he was eating all of the food. He would attack her if she tried to eat. The other one was just traumatized because Sam beat her with a baseball bat and the sight of a man would put her into orbit.


Once the state laws passed here in Ohio that banned exotics, I knew the best decision I could make for the cats I had at that time was to give them up to accredited sanctuaries. One of Sam’s white tigers went to The Wildcat Sanctuary in Minnesota, and the other went to Wildcat Ridge Sanctuary in Oregon. We had eight big cats and they all went to accredited sanctuaries in the United States.


All I ever did was try to help animals. I couldn't get into the breeding and selling and ripping babies from their mothers; it's horrible. And people lying about where the animals came from. People need to see what’s really going on at roadside zoos and stop supporting these places.