The Truth About Animal Actors
A lot of people strive for their 15 minutes of fame. Unfortunately, animals who are forced to work in the entertainment industry have no say in the matter. Animals aren’t treated like rock stars when they’re famous, either. Instead, they face lives of abuse and confinement.
Primates, elephants, bears, big cats, and other wild animals used for film and television productions are born in captivity and typically taken away from their mothers at birth so that they become dependent on humans for survival. These animals are often abused and mistreated in order to get them to do exactly what their trainers want them to do on set, where time is money.
Wild-animal “performers” are sometimes subjected to abusive training methods like beatings,electric prods, psychological torment, and food deprivation so that they’ll perform on cue. When they reach adulthood and are no longer easily dominated, many animals are discarded at roadside zoos or other substandard facilities. Lions and tigers may even end up at “canned hunt” facilities, and sometimes they’re killed for their skin and organs.
Chimpanzees and other great apes used for film reach adolescence at around 7 or 8 years old, when they become aggressive and dangerous to work with. At that point, they’re discarded by trainers and may languish for decades in tiny cages at roadside zoos, sometimes isolated from other primates. For example, Chubbs, the chimpanzee who appeared in the Tim Burton film Planet of the Apes, currently lives in a decrepit roadside zoo in Texas called Amarillo Wildlife Refuge. PETA found him living in a filthy cage, surviving on dog food and rotten produce. We wrote to Burton and asked him to fund Chubbs’ release, but he didn’t respond. While people can lead lavish lives of luxury from making films, the animals they’re responsible for exploiting are cast off and forgotten.
Domesticated animals can suffer behind the scenes, also, and may even be killed during filming.
Twenty-seven animals died during the production of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Many whistle-blowers raised concerns not just once but repeatedly to both the film’s head wrangler and the head of production about unsafe housing conditions for animals, but their concerns were apparently ignored.
Most of the injuries and deaths occurred where the animals were housed. Goats and sheep died from worm infestations and from falling into sinkholes, two horses went over steep embankments and died, and another horse died after being placed in a paddock with other high-strung horses. Numerous chickens were also killed by unsupervised dogs or trampled by other animals when left unprotected.
The American Humane Association (AHA), which is funded in part by the Screen Actors Guild, does not look after the animals’ living conditions off set or monitor animal treatment during pre-production and training. AHA ratings are based only on the short period of time when animals are on the set—they don’t reveal anything about how the animals were trained or the conditions in which they live. So the next time you see the label “no animals were harmed” in a film or TV series, you’ll know what that REALLY means.
Today’s technology can save animals from a lifetime of misery by replacing them in films, TV shows, and commercials with animation or computer-generated imagery.
What You Can Do
When you see live animals on screen, think about what they experienced before and after their debut. Never buy tickets to see a film that uses live animals, and encourage your friends and family to do the same. Animals are NOT OURS to use for entertainment.