A new relationship with animals, nature and each other.

Lights, Camera, Safety!

Around the World

Gina Johnson and Laura Sweet at the filming of Prince of Persia in Morocco

For 70 years, highly qualified and trained animal safety reps have been dispatched to all corners of the world to monitor onscreen work that involves animals – from ants to elephants. This year alone, the 11 full-time and two dozen part-time reps will have monitored some 2,000 productions.

“We’re there to support animals on the frontline,” says Jone Bouman, the passionate AHA film and TV unit spokesperson. “We’re not starstruck. We do want the talent to be aware of safety issues when exotics and the like are on set. But we’re not fawning over film stars. We’re far more besotted with the chimp or chihuahua or elephant.”

Johnny Depp, Jennifer Aniston, Meryl Streep or even George Clooney might be the marquee name floating about the set on any given project, but the reps’ laser focus is on animals and maintaining safety guidelines.

Bouman is quick to point out that AHA is not responsible for what the final product might project. “You can show an animal in harm or in danger on screen. We don’t speak to content because we do respect our citizenry. We do, however, make sure no animals were harmed in the process.”

In next year’s release Water for Elephants, elephant cruelty is a crucial element of the storyline. While in the film it will appear that Tai (the preening pachyderm) is cruelly attacked, in reality as the foam piece headed her way she was trained to retreat. Her reward for pulling away on cue, which will translate to her wincing on screen? The artistic (yes, she paints) and musical elephant was given drums to play with. “She loves to make noise,” says Bouman. “She seemed so happy, like she was giggling or something.”

American Humane heartily endorses the use of animals in entertainment. “We believe very deeply that film and television is one of the most important tools in existence to be able to convey to society as a whole that we share this planet with other sentient beings,” says Bouman, “and it’s our responsibility to care for them.” Other animal protection groups would say that elephants do not belong in entertainment situations. But the fact is, as long as Hollywood wants them, then ensuring their safety and protection is critically important.