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Animals in Film and Television

wildlife_tigerThough the average American has seen hundreds of films and television shows in his or lifetime, most would have difficulty naming a film or show that does not feature an animal. In fact, many motion pictures such as “Flipper,” “Free Willy,” and “Beethoven,” – feature animals who occupy a leading role. Even in human-centric films and television, from historic Civil War films depicting Calvary soldiers on horses, to comedies featuring mischievous monkeys and dogs, animals remain an enormous part of entertainment media. Read the following FAQs to learn more about the use of animals on the silver screen.

Has an animal ever been injured or killed in the making of a film or tv show?

Yes. For example, the 1978 film, “Apocalypse Now,” depicts the real ritual sacrifice of a water buffalo. In the 2011 comedy, “Zookeeper,” a giraffe died as a result of eating a piece of tarp which covered his 20’ X 20’ stall. During filming of the 2012 Oscar-winning film, “The Life of Pi,” the tiger “King,” reportedly suffered a near-drowning during a scene which being filmed in a water tank. There are likewise countless other reports of animal suffering injury, abuse, and untimely death as a result of roles in motion pictures.

Who oversees the welfare of animals in television and film?
The nonprofit organization, The American Humane Association (AHA) has exclusive jurisdiction to oversee the use of animal actors in American-produced film and television productions. The AHA is most known by its “No animals were harmed” label. Some news outlets in recent years have pointed to incidents of death and injury to animals associated with films that feature the “No animals were harmed” label.

Where do animal actors come from?
Animal actors are obtained from a variety of sources. Ironically, the whale “Keiko,” made famous for her performance in the film “Free Willy,” was captured from the wild for use in the entertainment industry. Production companies may also work with zoos to obtain exotic animals. Many films and tv shows featuring exotic and domestic animal species have obtained animal actors via the private company Birds and Animals Unlimited based in California.

How do movies affect the lives of animals off-screen?
For better or worse, media depicting animals affect the public perception of those animals in real life. In some regards, this can contribute to positive outcomes. For instance, “The Cove” was instrumental in raising public awareness about sea mammals in captivity. Conversely, entertainment that features animals as lead characters can sometimes mold false ideas about animals in the minds of viewers. For instance, release of the movie “101 Dalmations” inadvertently sent droves of families  to purchase Dalmatian puppies. Later, an enormous number of these puppies were relinquished to animal shelters when families realized that the Dalmation is not a suitable breed for inexperienced owners.

How can I ensure my family’s media consumption does not support animal cruelty?

  • Avoid television shows and films that feature exotic animal performers.
  • If you have children, make sure they understand that animals depicted in movies and television are different than they are in real life.
  • Learn about the lives and histories of animal actors before purchasing movies and television shows.
  • Contact filmmakers and production companies and let them know that as a viewer, you care about the welfare of animals in film.
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