Animal Performers: All You Need to Know

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The Performing Animals Protection Amendment Act 2016 was passed into law in July of this year. We unpack what it means for productions using animal performers, and what it means for handlers, too.

Filming with animals is no picnic in the park – although very rewarding. With the newly passed Performing Animals Protection Amendment Act 4 of 2016 (PAPA), things are set to become more challenging for filmmakers, animal owners and handlers. Having said that, this is great news for animals as more stringent laws mean more protection for our furry friends on set.

What the New Law Entails

By law, anyone using an animal for film, entertainment or exhibition has to use a licenced trainer, with onus on the trainer to supply details to the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) rather than magistrates as before. The State Veterinarian will inspect both the performing animals and the conditions in which they’re kept before issuing any licenses to handlers and owners.

In addition, it is now compulsory for a DAFF-approved welfare inspector or officer to be involved not only on set, but also when the animal is being transported to and from the location, and while it is accommodated on the shoot.

“The up-side is that a credible and independent party can vouch for the fact that animals have been humanely treated,” says Bobby Am, Executive Officer at the Commercial Producers Association. “This, in turn, protects the reputations of all stakeholders, and prevents the inconvenience and burden of dealing with potential prosecution by the NSPCA.”

The Word from an Animal Wrangler

Luke Cornell has been operating Union Pictures since 2007 where he lives on a 117-hectare farm an hour from Cape Town, “surrounded by my lions, cheetahs, caracal, hyena, ostriches, zebras, deer, you name it!” he says. As an animal wrangler and lead trainer, he’s been involved in the film industry since 1987 and brings 20-odd years of insight as former commercials 1st AD into the marriage of animals and camera, and only last year decided to only do animals. His farm even has a custom-built studio with in-house power, sloping floors for easy cleaning, and a psyche wall.

According to Luke, the law does not affect producers at all except to book a ‘nominated person’ through DAFF and a licensed trainer. “All producers have to do is hire a licensed trainer, check their license is valid for the species used, and to ensure a nominated officer or person is present for filming – we will know soon who those people will be, whether AACL, AIM, ECO’s or an actual State Vet,” he explains. “In the past, some producers have relied upon the art department to supply animals as this was cheapest method, however this is now prosecutable. To date, the State Vets Department has been very open to hearing how best to manage this change. If you need animals, call a known supplier, ask for their license, check they can provide the species required and contact the State Vet.”

For an animal handler, however, things are different. “Being on set with an animal means you are being exposed to the most critical assessment publically. Crew will not tolerate abuse, and often we are even in public spaces. The fact is I own and raised most of my animals and would sooner abuse a director than one of my animals as they need to work again for me, and not me for some director.”

In addition to the scrutiny, he says that he can work and move easily around the Western Cape as he has his own specialised transportation trailers, carry mobile pens, and animals are always accompanied by a licensed handler who knows their specific needs. When it comes to other provinces, however, he then has to apply for inter-provincial permits required from the various conservation authorities.

“It would be great if producers actually realised the effort, time, money, and passion involved in having animals on call for the Industry,” Cornell says, “Our animals don’t just magically behave the day they are needed – it’s a 365-days-a-year job.”

Read the rest of the story below where we bring you more on the future of PAPA and  tips from the Commercial Producers Association of South Africa. 

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