11/29/2013 12:07 pm ET Updated Jan 29, 2014

Hollywood Must Protect Animals

The Hollywood Reporter's scathing investigation of the American Humane Association (AHA) this week supports and expands upon what PETA US has been reporting for years: AHA monitoring is woefully inadequate, and as a result, animals used in film and television are sometimes put in dangerous situations and injured or killed. Last year, PETA US presented the AHA with a list of recommendations for making film and television productions safer for animals, but the suggestions were ignored, and the situation for animals appears to be worsening.

Following PETA US' release of shocking, behind-the-scenes information about the treatment of horses on the set of Luck, whistleblowers on both TV and film sets, including animal trainers and even AHA insiders, sent in a burgeoning number of reports alleging mistreatment of animals during production. Around this time last year, PETA US received five separate reports from whistleblowers who worked on Peter Jackson's blockbuster The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey stating that dozens of animals had died or were severely injured. Horses fell to their deaths off cliffs, sheep and goats broke their legs and chickens were torn apart by dogs. All the deaths were avoidable and were reported to have occurred despite the fact that wranglers had expressed their concerns to the production team and even though this film was "monitored" by the AHA.

It has been alleged that AHA management has looked the other way or even been complicit in arranging for the filming of sequences that were clearly potentially dangerous for animals. The AHA management has also reportedly ignored the concerns of animal trainers, who, in the past, have relied on AHA representatives to take their concerns to production teams rather than raising objections themselves. Over the years, some AHA monitors with good intentions have done their best to keep animals safe. But their complaints have routinely been ignored on set and swept cavalierly aside by their own organisation, the AHA.

The AHA currently has plans to begin charging producers for the films that it monitors, which is a conflict of interest, given that films in which animals were revealed to have been harmed have been stamped "no animals harmed." If this new policy goes into effect, the AHA would seem even less likely to wish to jeopardise its funding, which comes largely from the Screen Actors Guild, by protecting animals, and surely more animals will be put at risk.

While millions of dollars go into making films, animals who are used as living props and unpaid "talent" are often not even provided with basic care to ensure their safety. And it's not just the danger on set that's an issue. Wild animals used in entertainment are subjected to abusive training methods such as beatings, electric shocks, psychological torment and food deprivation. Many are taken away from their loving mothers when they are just babies, forced to live their entire lives in extreme confinement and punished if they "disobey." When they are no longer profitable to their owners or become too difficult to handle, usually at puberty, they are frequently discarded and forced to live alone in small cages at seedy roadside zoos or perform in sleazy travelling shows.

Rather than paying AHA representatives to be on set, filmmakers can easily protect animals by leaving them out of their stories or modernising their techniques and opting for computer-generated imagery, animatronics and blue-screen technology. It's high time that Hollywood left the acting to human actors and left animals out of it.