The problem is that everyone is running for cover now, making it very difficult to find out exactly what happened. The problem here, is that film makers and American Humane only look at what happens to the animals on the set. What needs to be checked, is the whole life experience of the animals, and that is what ADI does. We go and film and photograph where the animals live, when they are not on set or in public view. That is the reality of day-to-day life for the animals, not when you see them on set.
Animal rights activism and entertainment seem to go hand in hand. Every week, it seems another actor goes vegan for political reasons. Just before Halloween, Jan Creamer of Animal Defenders International awarded Bob Barker, the original Hollywood vegan activist, for his animal rights work. Understanding the fact that many people flip over the newspaper page when they see “animal rights” in bold text – hello, Fox News fans! – I wanted to conduct an e-mail discussion with Creamer so we could all understand this issue better from her world. Right or wrong in your book, everyone needs to know what is going on before reaching a decision.
Obviously, people spend a lot of time training animal actors. It cannot be that every animal has its freedom and rights abused. Where do you draw the line on using animals in films and photography? How do you suggest preventing animal abuse on set? And if people don’t use animals, what then? Special effects can only take it so far and then you run into issues like for example, still needing the lions for sound recordings, which then could be in itself, an issue of continuing to employ lions for entertainment?
Animals used in movies, especially wild and exotic animals, are deprived of their natural family groups and lifestyle and this causes psychological and behavioral problems, which indicates that they are suffering. However, domestic animals like horses and dogs can suffer, too, because they are often warehoused, waiting to be used. Audiences tend to believe the film fantasy, for example that the animals live an idealised existence when not on set – they don’t, they are working animals and are treated as a working product. Obviously, there are some exceptions with individual animals, but mainly it’s important to bear in mind that this is a business and a trained performing animal is a product. CGI (computer generated images) can replace animals completely, and recordings of animal sounds can be taken from other sources – there is never any need or justification for live animals to be used in entertainment – they pay a huge price in pain, suffering and a deprived existence, for a few minutes of entertainment.
What do you think happened with The Hobbit? That caused a lot of controversy.
Please talk about what happened while filming your documentary.
The circus lions that we brought to the U.S. from Bolivia were seized by the Bolivian government following their ban on the use of animals in traveling circuses. Government wildlife officials wanted all of the animals seized from the circuses that were defying the law, so we rescued domestic animals, native wild animals (they went back into a protected wild area) and the lions. We always work with governments – when we campaign to end the suffering of animals in traveling circuses, we always offer governments our help in rehoming any animals that need to be rescued.
Not everyone lives in liberal cities like Los Angeles or Manhattan. Can you run over basic fundamentals of animal rights activism for people who have never once read about it, or promote your work in a way that may speak to people who don’t see your side?
I think this goes right to our sense of justice and of responsibility – I was brought up to care about the community, care about people and issues, then, when I found out about the way that humans make animals suffer for ignorant and selfish reasons, I realized that I had to do something about it because animals cannot speak for themselves. Only we can defend them. But not only that, it is also very important for the human race to start taking account of the needs of the other species that share our planet, this is their home too. If we carry on exploiting the other species and destroying habitats, we are actually hurting ourselves because the planet and all species that inhabit it are interlinked, we depend on the food chain and the links between ourselves and other species, to survive. This awareness of the destructive actions of humans actually starts on our doorsteps, with the animals that are in front of us, for example in the circus. If we shut our eyes to their suffering because it is convenient for us, then we can never make the world a better place for animals or humans.
Journalists do not perform the same types of work – like not disclosing their real names – when researching subjects and are open when they talk to people. Why is what you do different than journalism regarding the rules?
No, we are not advocating that people on their own try to work undercover to expose animal abuse. We have developed expertise in undercover investigations and we are conscious of the limitations involved. Our undercover film has been used by courts in prosecutions because there is no other way to gather the necessary evidence, especially of illegal activities. Some journalists do work undercover, but that is not the same as a journalist covering a story and interviewing the subject – it’s a completely different thing and so handled differently.
What is like speaking with Congress?
It is always very exciting when we go to Congress, or to a City Council, and start discussing new legislation; we get to hear about the things that are important to the elected representatives and we get to talk to them about the concerns of our supporters, the public. We do a lot of research beforehand – researching the scientific papers published on animals and, for example, the effects of captivity and transport; legal and economic research to look at all of the key issues on the subject. All of these considerations are drawn together with our evidence of how the animals suffer, so that we can answer any question. In each country, we work with partner organizations and our own team in that country, so that we are addressing the things that are important locally.
What are you doing nowadays?
The important campaigns right now are in Congress, H.R. 3359, the Traveling Exotic Animal Protection Act (TEAPA), which calls for an end to the use of wild animals in traveling circuses (not the static and permanent shows where the animals live in one place, but the ones that travel around the country for most of the year). We are also talking to city and county councils about introducing prohibitions on the use of wild animals in traveling circuses in their jurisdiction – the largest campaign right now is the City of Los Angeles, which is considering a ban on elephants in traveling shows. Then another important campaign is about elephant rides in county fairs and shows, especially the use of elephants provided by Have Trunk Will Travel. We have released video evidence of how these elephants were hit with bull hooks and given electric shocks with stun guns, to make them do tricks to entertain people – in my experience, when people know the reality of the suffering for the animals, they don’t approve and they don’t want to see these animals used in circuses or for rides.
Nicole Russin, also known as Richárde, is a bestselling chef, print journalist and beauty/editorial model.