Guidelines for the Safe Use of Animals in Filmed Media
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2006:
Guidelines for the Safe Use of Animals in Filmed Media
American Humane Association Film & TV Unit.
Free download, from www.americanhumane.org/film.
Nominated for eight Oscars, Brokeback Mountain collected
three on March 5, 2006 from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts &
Sciences. For making Brokeback Mountain, Ang Lee was named best
director, after winning the Independent Spirit award a few days
earlier for producing the best non-studio film of the year.
But March opened with an embarrassment for Lee when American
Humane Association president Marie Belew Wheatley complained that he
had apparently ignored the AHA Guidelines for the Safe Use of Animals
in Filmed Media while filming in Canada.
“The excessively rough handling of the sheep and horses
leaves viewers questioning whether anyone was looking out for the
safety of those animals,” Wheatley wrote. “Many also wonder how the
filmmakers got the elk to lose its footing and crumple to the ground
‘on cue’ after being shot. They ask if our safety protocols were in
place to protect the animals during filming. The answer is: They
Contrary to the Guidelines, Wheatley alleged, the elk was
“Using anesthesia to facilitate filming has been prohibited
since 1997, after causing several animal deaths during a
production,” explained AHA Film & TV Unit chief Karen Rosa. “We
require production companies to find alternatives–like humane
training or digital enhancement–that create the same effect without
jeopardizing the animal’s safety.
“Filming abroad may be a cost-cutting measure,” Rosa added,
“but the animals shouldn’t have to pay the price,” Rosa said.
By contract with the Screen Actors Guild, the AHA has
monitored animal use on the sets of U.S.-made commercial films since
1940. Those that observe the Guidelines carry the AHA’s “No animals
were harmed” end disclaimer. But the Screen Actors Guild has no
jurisdiction over foreign film productions.
Some nations, notably India and Great Britain, have laws
that protects animals in film making. Canada does not. The AHA has
long sought to extend humane supervision to Canadian productions by
partnering with Canadian humane societies, but suffered a setback in
1998 when a Canadian representative authorized a scene in which a
horse was injured during production of The 13th Warrior in British
Columbia. The ensuing acrimony continued into mid-2001.
The AHA often takes flak from animal advocates who do not
recognize the limits of the authority conveyed by the Screen Actors
Guild, and typically do not realize, either, that the Guidelines
are as comprehensive as they are. Until recently the Guidelines were
not readily available to people working outside the screen industry
and/or not employed by the AHA as set supervisors. That left others
imagining that the Guidelines were just a few sheets of paper, while
people actually on set thumbed through looseleaf binders of
directives and explanatory notes.
Making the complete Guidelines for the Safe Use of Animals in
Filmed Media available as a free download from the AHA web site may
be among the most astute moves by the AHA in recent times. Now
anyone can see what is in them–and now any local humane society can
rapidly equip itself to recommend that the Guidelines be followed,
even in productions over which the AHA has no direct jurisdiction.
Of course local humane societies trying to monitor non-Screen
Actors Guild productions will have no more actual authority than the
AHA itself, but merely having guidelines to cite will help in
explaining to directors, news media, and the public why better
practices should be followed.
“No reel apes”
Guidelines does not go far enough to satisfy those who
believe animals should never be used in film making, or at least
that certain species should never be used, such as supporters of the
“No Reel Apes” campaign, waged by The Chimpanzee Collaboratory.
Formed in 2000 with funding from the Glaser Progress
Foundation of Seattle, more recently backed by the Arcus Foundation,
the Chimpanzee Collaboratory seeks to end all screen use of captive
apes. Members include the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Ape Alliance
of North America, Born Free USA, the Center for Captive Chimpanzee
Care, the Doris Day Animal Foundation, Friends of Washoe, the
Great Ape Project, and the Jane Goodall Institute.
Three members have roots in the film industry. Virginia
McKenna founded the global string of Born Free groups after playing
Kenyan conservationist Joy Adamson in Born Free (1966). The Doris
Day Animal Foundat-ion and parallel Doris Day Animal League owe
relatively little to the use of animals in film, as none of Day’s
hits integrally involved animals, but Jane Goodall has been featured
in at least 13 documentaries since 1963.
In 2003 “No Reel Apes” criticized the Animal Actors Guild
animal retirement program in terms obliging the Chimpanzee
Collaboratory to publish an apology and clarification–but the
amended statement that resulted from the legal discussion still draws
a hard line between fundraising by animal advocates and fundraising
for superficially similar projects undertaken by animal use
“The Animal Actors Guild is providing trainers with the
opportunity to have the public assist financially with the retirement
of the very animals on whom the trainers make a profit,” the
“The Animal Actors Guild asks the concerned public to
contribute to the retirement of former ape actors with their own
limited charitable dollars, in clear competition with charities
which seek only to protect animals and which do not condone continued
use and exploitation of great apes in entertainment.
“While the goal of providing retirement for great apes is
laudable and mutual to our own,” the collaboratory acknowledged,
“the mechanism of providing animal trainers with a publicly
subsidized system of disposing of great apes once their economic
value has declined will not help, but rather hurt, our ultimate
goal of ending the use of great apes in entertainment.”
Representatives of “No Reel Apes” are now sharply critical of the
AHA for approving of any films that use apes.
“Studios hide behind the fact that they have animal welfare
monitors on site,” alleged Chimpanzee Collaboratory primatologist
Sara Beckley in a March 2006 interview with Megan McCloskey of
Associated Press. “The only way to give these endangered species the
protection they need is to simply not use them.”
However, neither the Screen Actors Guild nor the AHA has the
authority to tell film makers that they cannot make any use of
animals that is legal. “Rather than sign on that apes can’t be used
in entertainment,” as a philosophical position lacking any means of
enforcement, “we can protect their safety,” Wheatley told
McCloskey. “To walk away from that would leave producers to use apes
and chimps with no oversight.”
Guidelines now includes a request that film makers consider
the effects of separating infant non-human primates from their
mothers, and recommends that plans be made for post-screen career
retirement. These statements precede all other recommendations
pertaining to non-human primates.
Guidelines does not include a recommendation that retirement
should be made only to sanctuaries meeting the definitions accepted
by the Chimpanzee Collaboratory, or accredited by either the
Association of Sanctuaries or American Sanctuary Association. This
may be a weakness, since historically non-human primates used in
film have often been “retired” to roadside zoos, severely
substandard quasi-sanctuaries, and even laboratories.
On the other hand, retirement options have also included
some privately funded facilities and some American Zoo
Association-accredited institutions that may provide better housing
and care than even the best-reputed sanctuaries can afford.
Further discussion of retirement, for all ex-performing
animals, might be worth adding to Guidelines–while pointing out
that though the AHA can lead the horses et al of the screen industry
to water, it cannot make them drink.