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Aug 14, 2006

Animals in Movies and Television

Since its inception, the movie and television industry has been inextricably tied to the animal trade and traffic. As with all businesses, the name of the game is to keep profits up and overhead down. That means that animal trainers don't even consider keeping every animal they use. In fact, they may get an animal for a single movie and never use that animal again. Furthermore, hundreds - perhaps thousands - of animals are bred for specific movies every year. Like the many mountain lion cubs bred specifically for Disney's film "Benji the Hunted," they are used once and then dumped.

The Hollywood animal "industry" had its beginning at places like Jungleland in Thousand Oaks, California. That facility, and others like it, were set up to facilitate the needs of Hollywood animal trainers and to capitalize on the increasing use of animals in movies. At places like Jungleland and Nature's Haven (later Africa USA), animals could be put on exhibition and the public could be charged admission to see them. Animal trainers could also do shows, thereby defraying some of the cost of keeping animal to rent to the film industry. Because no animal trainer could succeed unless he had a viable way of disposing of his surplus animals, an important sideline of Jungleland was breeding, dealing, and trading animals. Dealers with trucks would come through the facility, take animals that could be traded, and deal them across the country at other animal facilities. Animals that couldn't be "surplused" faced an even worse fate. Taxidermists would periodically follow dealers and clear out all the surplus that couldn't be disposed of in other ways. Taxidermists shot animals, often in their cages. They would then pay for the carcass and tote the animal away.1

Today, several major companies supply most animals to the film industry: Steve Martin's Working Wildlife; Animal Rentals Unlimited; Animals R Us; and Have Trunk Will Travel are among them. Companies like these will tell you that they "furnish" animals for movies and television shows. What they don't tell you is what happens to the animals when the movie is over or when the animals "outgrow" their parts.

"Any Which Way You Can:" The Death of Clyde

The orangutan name Clyde was born in a zoo but, in 1982, he became "surplus" when the zoo began a new program of orangutan breeding. Until the early 1980's, many zoos had maintained both Sumatran and Borneo orangutans and had interbred them. But when zoos became more purist about breeding, older hybrid orangutans were not suitable for Species Survival Programs (zoo programs to breed endangered species in captivity and to keep them genetically sound.) Clyde, a hybrid, did not fit in with the zoo's plans for the future. He and two other orangutans - CJ and Bubba - were about to find new careers in "show business."

Clint Eastwood had already starred in one film - "Any Which Way But Loose" - with an orangutan co-star trained by Las Vegas animal trainer Bobby Berosini. When a new Eastwood movie was announced, the largest supplier of animals for Hollywood films won the contract. The company did not own an orangutan so its owner scanned the industry papers for zoo surplus... and found Clyde.

Clyde became the "star" of "Any Which Way You Can." But, what most of Clyde's fans did not know was that Clyde barely survived the making of the film. In fact, he had been dead for nearly six months by the time he gained fame through the movie. The assistant to Gentle Jungle's head trainer told the media that the trainer beat Clyde to make him docile during the filming. He told reporters that one day before filming, the trainer ordered him and another trainer to help him take Clyde to an isolated spot because he wanted to "have a little talk with him."2 When Clyde became inattentive, the trainer repeatedly beat him with a cane and an ax handle. Clyde tried protecting himself with his arms and rolling in a circle, trying to avoid the blows which were ultimately fatal. He died of cardiac arrest a month after the beating.

Today, little has changed for animals in Hollywood. During the months of February and March, 1997, several individuals working on the set of Disney's "Jungle Book Two" called PAWS to inform us that a trainer was using a blackjack to beat an orangutan being used in that film. Fearing for their careers, these individuals would not reveal their identities. PAWS ran an ad in the Hollywood Reporter newspaper to address this emergency situation and to bring this issue of the attention of filmmakers.

While zoo officials around the country justify captive breeding as saving "endangered species," refugees from zoo breeding programs, such as Clyde, continue to turn up in the entertainment industry.

"Benji the Hunted:" Cubs Bred and Dumped

"Benji the Hunted," a film made by the Disney studio in 1987, is a classic example of a production during which animals were bred for short-term use and them dumped. The film's story-line concerned the popular character "Benji," who, in this particular film, rescues and saves a litter of mountain lion cubs whose mother has been shot by a hunter. Unfortunately, though, like all movies that depend on young or baby animals, it took not one but many litters of real animal "actors" to portray the litter of cubs supposedly rescued in the movie. The supplier of animals for the film actively advertised for litters of mountain lion cubs in magazines like Animal Finders' Guide. As one litter of animals grew, aged and changed, they were simply pulled out of the production and new cubs were substituted. When the film was completed, another ad was placed in Animal Finders' Guide, announcing that mountain lion cubs were available for sale.

It is important to remember that animal trainers charge not only for animal "stars" but also for back-up animals that are taken to the set. It benefits trainers to have as many animals on the set as possible. For example, a trainer may charge $1,000/day for a "lead" lion; $500/day for a backup lion; and $200 each for stand-ins that are kept ready on the set. A trainer can make the equivalent of a five-year salary from a movie like "Benji the Hunted." The animals who were bred for a few weeks use are dumped to the pet trade, to circuses, or to roadside zoos.

It is important to remember that even films like "Babe," which carried a positive vegetarian message, necessitated the breeding of approximately 900 animals. It is difficult to believe that all of these animals found good "homes" after the film was finished.

What You Can Do:
  1. Don't patronize any form of animals in entertainment. Write to sponsors and producers of these movies and television shows, telling them why you will not patronize them. See "Contact the Studios" on the resource section of PAWS' web site for contact information.
  2. Similarly, if movies/television shows use animatronics or computer technology instead of live animals, thank them!
  3. There is a recent upsurge in the use of animals in television commercials. Please don't forget to write to these offenders, telling them you will not buy their products or use their services. Key among them are: Dr. Pepper, Capital One, Voicestream and Earthlink.

1) Pat Derby, "The Lady and her Tiger," E.P. Dutton and Company, 1976.

2) Bill O'Neill and Reginald Fitz, "TV and Movie Animal Stars Beaten and Abused: Judge Slaps Cruel Trainers with Biggest Fine Ever," National Enquirer, March 7, 1985, p. 36.

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Posted: Aug 14, 2006 11:35pm


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M B.
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Lincoln, MA, USA
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