Animal wrangling on film sets can be a real zoo

Jul 8, 2011

Animals in movies are adorable and exciting – think of Dr. Doolittle, Babe, Free Willy and Water for Elephants. But this week, the animal activist organization PETA organized a rally at the premiere of the film Zookeeper to protest the fact that a giraffe named Tweet collapsed and died the day after wrapping his scenes for the film in 2009. While a necropsy did not support the group’s claims that Tweet died as the result of mistreatment on the set, they have raised the question of how the film’s many wild animals – including elephants, lions and monkeys — were handled during filming. The treatment of animals on Hollywood sets has been carefully monitored by the American Humane Association since 1939, when a horse was forced to jump off a cliff to its death during the filming of Jesse James. Representatives of AHA are on set to ensure humane care and maintain safety standards, and films that follow their guidelines earn that familiar and reassuring “No Animals Were Harmed” end credit disclaimer. But animals, as we know, can be scared, confused, unpredictable and even dangerous in a strange environment. So, just how do professional animal wranglers get their exotic actors to cooperate – and even emote — on film? What do they do to make sure animals are comfortable and stress-free? What are the guidelines for animal filming, and are they strict enough? Is any use of wild animals in films humane?

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