Born Free Foundation - Keep Wildlife in the Wild

Zebra exploited by circus used in upcoming Benedict Cumberbatch film

15 May 2017

Categories: Homepage News, Circus Campaign News

In the first few days of February 2017, the famous Brighton Pavilions site in Brighton, East Sussex, was closed to the public amid much fanfare as filming for a new production starring Sherlock actor, Benedict Cumberbatch, took place. The local press was filled with reports of the upcoming film, The Current War, and many reported on the somewhat confusing sighting of both a zebra and a llama on the film set during the days that the Pavilions were being used.

Unfortunately, the use of performing wild animals in films and television does not seem to attract the level of public concern as the use of the same species of animals in circuses. What many members of the public will not be aware of, however, is that life for wild animals used in the film industry is not just similar to the life of animals used in travelling circuses, but that often the same animals are used in both industries.

A Freedom of Information request released to the Born Free Foundation in the last few days has revealed that the zebra used in the Cumberbatch production belongs to, and forms part of the show at, Peter Jolly’s Circus. Jolly’s is one of two travelling circuses with wild animals remaining in England. Until recent years, Jolly’s show included big cats and the business continues to tour with a fox, raccoons, zebra and reindeer, amongst other animals.

A similar situation arose during filming of the BBC drama, The Zoo, which told the story of Chester Zoo and was discontinued after just one season. The show hired company, Amazing Animals, to provide the wild animals used in the series. While Amazing Animals is known for renting animals to the television and film industry, the company also provides wild animals to circuses. In fact, an investigation carried out by the Captive Animal Protection Society (CAPS) and Lion Aid in 2012 revealed that Amazing Animals had sent lion cubs born at West Midlands Safari Park to a circus in Japan after training them to perform circus tricks at their site in Oxfordshire.

It seems that, at present, many people are unaware that there is little to distinguish the practices of using performing animals in circuses and using them in films. Both activities compromise the welfare of the animals through a life of exploitation, repeated transport and close confinement. This becomes all the more important in cases like The Current War, where the animals already being exploited daily in the circus are then subjected to additional exploitation as “animal actors”.

Chris Draper, Born Free’s Associate Director for Animal Welfare, said: “It is vital that television and film production companies understand and acknowledge that the use of “animal actors” not only compromises animal welfare but can serve to support industries, such as travelling circuses with wild animals, which are considered so unacceptable that the Government has promised to outlaw them. Thankfully, more progressive companies are utilising modern techniques, such as CGI, in place of live animals in their work to great effect: we will continue to put pressure on those who still use live animals until this archaic practice is consigned to the history books”.

Born Free Foundation
Broadlands Business Campus, Langhurstwood Road
, Horsham, RH12 4QP, UK - Charity Reg. No. 1070906

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