About a month ago, PETA wrote to the cast and producers of The Zookeeper, a movie being filmed at the Franklin Park Zoo in Boston, to inform them that Birds & Animals Unlimited, the company that was hired to supply animals for the film, has a long list of USDA violations. PETA urged the production company to use computer-generated imagery, animatronics, and other technology instead of trained animals in the film, and to record footage of animals already housed at the zoo.
Had they listened, Tweet, an 18-year old giraffe, who was also forced to perform in Ace Ventura and numerous Toys “R” Us commercials, might still be alive today.
Tweet recently collapsed in his pen while being fed. Necropsy results haven’t been released yet, but according to a whistleblower, the giraffe had been eating pieces of the blue tarp that covered his enclosure. The whistleblower alleges that Tweet’s “owner” and trainers were notified that the giraffe had been eating the tarp, but claims they did nothing about it.
Of course, the whole situation could have been avoided if Tweet weren’t forced to live in captivity and appear in movies in the first place.
At least he is at peace now. According to the whistleblower, Tweet spent the last few months of his life in a 20-foot-by-20-foot stall, which was barely large enough for an 18-foot-tall giraffe to stand up or lie down in. Along with other animals on the set, Tweet was reportedly kept up all night during filming, which would disrupt a giraffe’s normal sleep schedule.
In their natural habitat, giraffes can live for 25 years and roam up to 400 square miles. They don’t act, promote toys, or interact with humans. In captivity, trainers often beat them, shock them with electric prods, drug them, deprive them of food, and use other cruel methods to coerce them into performing stressful, unnatural, and even painful acts to amuse humans.
The Zookeeper producers claim that American Humane Association (AHA) representatives were on the set, but this doesn’t guarantee that animals are safe. The AHA does not monitor the training of animals or their living and transport conditions. The AHA’s film-monitoring unit is even funded by the Screen Actors Guild–the very industry that it is monitoring.
PETA is calling on the USDA to investigate Tweet’s death, and it is asking other people involved with the production of the movie to come forward with information about animal neglect or abuse on the set. It is just as important, however, for caring people not to patronize films that feature animals. The animals may be irresistible and the movie may look amusing, but what happens behind the scenes is seldom as innocuous as one might hope.