The truth about cats and dogs (in the film industry)

CPA insights into the new Performing Animals Protection Amendment Act.

By Bobby Amm, Executive Officer, the Commercial Producers Association 

The cliché that filming with animals is a challenge came sharply into focus at the end of July, with the passing of the new Performing Animals Protection Amendment Act 4 of 2016 (PAPA). This is because the amended Act has implications for everyone involved, including animal owners, their handlers, and the broader film and entertainment industries.

What exactly are the implications and how can you manage them? Here’s some insight:

Important changes

The issuing of annual licences to animal handlers will now be centrally overseen by the State Veterinarian. This is under the authority of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries (DAFF), rather than local magistrates, as was previously the case.

The State Veterinarian will inspect performing animals and the conditions in which they’re kept before issuing licenses, which means that animal owners and handlers will be under greater scrutiny than ever before.

Previously, it was only optional (though recommended) to bring a welfare inspector to set. Under the new Act, however, it’s compulsory for a DAFF-approved officer to be involved; not just when the animal is in front of the camera, but also when it’s being transported to and from the location, and while it’s accommodated on the shoot.

How this affects you

Although the new requirement for welfare inspectors to be compulsory is controversial, the up-side is that a credible and independent party can vouch for the fact that animals have been humanely treated. This, in turn, protects the reputations of all stakeholders, and prevents the inconvenience and burden of dealing with potential prosecution by the NSPCA.

However, there’s pressure on all sides. For instance, the industry’s animal handlers are caught in the middle of an increased regulatory framework, and are the subjects of ongoing interference from animal rights groups.

Where to from here

Despite a two-year wait, the amended Act has taken the film industry by surprise. Meetings are currently underway to address how best to implement the changes and to ensure that there are enough inspectors available to meet the demand.

In the interim, the CPA encourages all production companies and agencies to familiarise themselves with the new legal requirements. The subject of filming with animals is an increasingly emotive one, to which careful attention must be paid. To support you through it, these are the CPA’s 10 Tips for Shooting with Animals:

  1. Do your research beforehand.
    Many of the larger trained animals, like apes and elephants, are no longer available in South Africa. There is, of course, the option to create computer-generated animals, but this can be expensive and inauthentic.
  2. Check the ASA Code.
    Make sure that the animal action required is in line with the ASA Code, and remember that all animals (even little ones), are protected under PAPA.
  3. Get experienced insight.
    Use a professional production company that’s familiar with the legal requirements.
  4. Only use licensed pros.
    Use the services of a properly licensed and reputable animal handler (licences are renewed annually and must be valid on the day of the shoot).
  5. Confirm that the handler matches the animal.
    Check that the animal handler is licensed to work with the animal you need. This will be noted on his/her documentation.
  6. Check that the animal is responsibly sourced. 
    Ideally, it will be provided by the animal handler.
  7. Find an animal welfare officer.
    Ensure that an animal welfare inspector (who is recognised and approved by DAFF) is available to oversee your shoot.
  8. Keep communication open.
    Provide the handler and inspector with all relevant information well in advance, and communicate with them constantly. This will prevent problems arising on the day.
  9. File all relevant documentation.
    Keep a copy of the animal handler’s and inspector’s authorisations, and other relevant documentation, on file.
  10. Keep all reports secure.
    Ensure that you get your welfare report from the inspector and keep it on file in case a query or complaint arises, as it’s not possible to obtain one later.

The new Act may be a contentious subject (and an inconvenient change to manage), but its aim is positive and it’s here to stay. Assimilation is both necessary and inevitable.

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