Guest blog from Born Free CEO Adam Roberts.
“Penned by a journalist as part of the UK Newspaper, The Guardian’s, “Action and Adventure Film” section, an article published in the last few days highlighted the career of former US-based entrepreneur, Randy Miller, who now makes a living out of using live wild animals in “attack scenes” in major Hollywood productions. Written in such a manner so as Mr Miller is presented as something of a charismatic daredevil, the article highlights how he began collecting wild animals, such as big cats, in the days when his business was flourishing. When he was later declared bankrupt in the mid-nineties, he established a company that hired out the animals for use in films.
Miller recounts the time he “took a bite from a tiger for Russell Crowe” during filming for ‘Gladiator’ and was viciously attacked by a bear during filming for ‘Semi-Pro’ in 2008, when he stood in for actor, Will Ferrell. Miller survived these attacks. The article recounts the tragic story of his cousin, Stevie, who was killed by one of Miller’s bears as he attempted to film a TV commercial with the wild animal. The article suggests, in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek manner “this seems like madness” but goes on to conclude “it’s clear how much he loves his animals and lives for them”.
What is particularly interesting about the piece is that Miller appears to relish the danger of the role and so, unlike many other animal trainers who work with wild animals and insist that the practice is completely safe, Miller lays bare the reality; these remain dangerous wild animals who can injure and kill at will. This begs the question: why on earth is this practice still permitted around the world?
While there were always be people who want the supposed thrill and excitement of “wrangling” a wild animal, when things go wrong, both people and animals pay. Had the tiger who (predictably) attacked Miller during the scene for Gladiator continued to attack, in all likelihood he (and potentially Miller, too) would have lost his life. If the bear had not loosed his grip, he too would have been stopped by potentially lethal force. Miller’s cousin paid with his life for the desire to have a bear in his company’s advert. If the people, both those working with animals and in the companies employing them, refuse to heed the very clear warning signs, then does it not stand to reason that the decision be taken out of their hands and this use of animals be prohibited? No film, television advert or programme is worth losing a life over; animal or human.
And this is in addition to the wider animal welfare concerns surrounding the use of these animals in this way. A lifetime of captivity, separated from their families usually before weaning, transported from place to place and subjected to the chaos of a film set; these animals simply deserve better.
Miller admits in the piece that work is becoming scarce as more companies wisely turn to computer generated imagery (CGI) to create lifelike animals to great effect; just look at the Planet of the Apes films or the recent epic “Noah” for examples of animal-free productions. But can we really stand by and simply wait for this outdated, dangerous and cruel industry to die a natural death? I believe not. It is time that wild animals were recognised and respected for what they are. It is time we got them out of the studios and film sets and it is time that we stop celebrating the people who continue to exploit them. It is not brave to wrestle a wild animal. It is, at best, extremely ill-advised and, at worst, a very dangerous form of animal exploitation.
You can help to bring an end to the use of wild animals in entertainment by contacting Born Free if you see a production that uses live wild animals so that we can reach out to the production companies and urge compassionate change. You can also choose to avoid films and other productions which exploit animals in this way. If you work in the media industry then you can ensure that you only work on productions which commit to a “no wild animals” policy. Together we can help to bring the exploitation of wild animal “actors” to an end.