Wild Care

Guidelines for filming & handling animals

The Wild Care policy is a set of guidelines laid down and accepted by the world’s natural history and documentary filmmakers.Filmmakers who adhere to these guidelines in their filmmaking, may, and are encouraged to, expose the Wild Care name and logo © on any of their films, videos or printed material. Policing of these guidelines should be in the interest of all other filmmakers who have voted to accept them. Violations should be reported to fora of peers, or in case of illegal activities to the appropriate authorities.
These guidelines apply to all people involved in natural history and documentary filmmaking. The responsibility to make sure the guidelines are adhered to rests with each and everyone in a film project. But it is noted that the responsibility of directors, producers, executive producers and commissioning editors is especially substantial, as they make pivotal decisions on the content and execution of film projects. It is also the responsibility of experienced and executive film workers to educate and inform new talent of the existence and meaning of these guidelines.
Major production companies and television companies, should amend these guidelines with applicable national legislation, and the guidelines should be amended to any contract for the production of natural history, documentary films or any other productions involving the use of animals. A breach of rules appended to a contract should be seen as a breach of contract.
Wild Care policy
Never to be involved in any filming activity that could reasonably be considered cruel. that is, not to cause physical harm, cruel anxiety, consequential predation or lessened reproductive success.
The welfare of the subject is more important than the sequence.
Wild Care “animal handling” guidelines apply regardless of the law in the country in which you are filming.
Animal welfare is controlled by specific acts of law which must be followed to the letter.

Wild Care aims:

  • To portray authentic natural behaviour of animals
  • To always enlist the assistance of qualified experts
  • To expose the inhumane and illegal handling of animals

The law
Film work is covered by LEGAL documents and can be different from country to country. Some international laws and conventions apply. Each country will normally have their own laws for the protection of endangered species and habitats, for animal welfare and for the handling of animals in captivity. A successful prosecution under any of these acts will result in a CRIMINAL CONVICTION for the film maker/producers.
Wild Care guidelines apply to filming activities world wide, regardless of the existence of national legislation in the country where filming takes place. The guidelines define the minimum care and responsibilities to be exercised by every film worker.

Part I – General principles
1. Definitions
These guidelines are concerned with the ethics and legality of animal welfare. Other ethical matters regarding scientific integrity are not dealt with in this document.
These guidelines apply to vertebrates and cephalopods (any subject that has a developed central nervous system such as to be potentially aware of “pain” and “suffering”).
However invertebrate creatures are still entitled to humane treatment and individuals are expected to act responsibly in the use of these creatures for filming and not to act in a manner which would generally be considered cruel.
2. Welfare
Transportation & importation
Seek the advice of the supplier or expert involved. Always check the law when considering the importation of animals for filming.

Capture of wild animals
Taking small mammals for filming is acceptable (if not on the protected list or protected by other legislation) provided they are not breeding and are released with a minimum delay, into their original habitats and only if the sequence can not be achieved in the wild.
The capture of even non-breeding birds for filming under controlled conditions is not acceptable & ILLEGAL in many countries.

This is only acceptable if adequate provision has been made for the animal once filming is over.

If a license is required for a parent animal you will also be required to license their offspring. You may need to increase the size of a licensed enclosure for the increased number.

Night filming
Filming wild animals at night is a very controversial subject. If visible light (rather than infrared) is used to illuminate the subject it can drastically change the animals’ behavior and result in unnatural incidents occurring. This could result in animals being killed or maimed by predators in “unnatural” and unethical circumstances. The Wild Care policy is to avoid this at all costs.
Filming activities and events that are inhumane or cruel
Subjects such badger baiting, whaling, bird trafficking. This is only acceptable if it is in the “public’s interest” and it is filmed “actuality”.

Part II -Working with Animals
This gives specific advice for production activities involving animals, in a studio, on stage or on location, with or without an audience. The work may involve putting animals in unaccustomed situations, getting them to do things for the purposes of the production, or simply recording what they do in nature.
The aim of these guidelines is to ensure the welfare of the participating animals and to reduce risks of injury to production, performers and crew.

Basic principles
The welfare of the subject must be more important than the film.
Ensure that subjects are not caused physical harm, anxiety, consequential predation or lessened reproductive success through film projects activity or presence. This applies, regardless of the law in the country in which you are filming.
Always research the subject prior to filming. Study its biology, ecology, behavior, history and management. Whenever possible, spend time with or maintain a biologist or subject expert during filming and follow the experts advice.
Abandon filming immediately if the subject shows signs of distress or adverse behavioral change. Never ignore the advice of a trained expert in this regard.
The use of captive and tame animals is often necessary to our craft. We have a responsibility to the animals concerned and must only carry out filming of this nature if we have made adequate provision for their care during and after filming is complete.
For all shooting with animals

Seek expert advice.

  • The best source of advice is the owner, handler, trainer, keeper or expert scientist, since that person will understand the biology and the personality of the animals that are to be used. If there is no one directly responsible for the animals, advice can be obtained for veterinary surgeons, zoos or university departments. Using expert advice, you should make an assessment of the risks and welfare problems. The main points to consider are:
  • What influence will you have on the animal? – filming quietly from a hidden position is less dangerous and distressing than filming a stunt in which the animal is required to do something it does not like.
  • How much contact will there be? – getting very close to wild or large animals requires detailed assessment of risks. For trained animals filming from a distance is safer than holding an animal in the hand.
  • What hazards do the animal present?
  • Who is exposed? – a fit and healthy and experienced crew may be able to escape when children or elderly presenters cannot. Some animals are more likely to attack small children.
  • Do any of those involved have allergies or phobias?
  • What could go wrong? – it is possible that the tame rat will bite the presenter? If the wild animals you are filming turn on you, can you defend yourself? Could the animal escape into the studio and hurt itself or others? Could the animal die?
  • How long can the animal be filmed for without causing distress?
  • Is it the right species for the story?


Untrained animals in the field
Always place the welfare of the subject and its young above all else, including filming. Abandon filming if the subject shows signs of distress or behavioral change.
Interference to subject’s natural habitat should always be minimal, if at all.
Never expose the subject to predators, people or adverse weather conditions, tie back rather than cut off vegetation and always restore the site to as natural a condition as possible after each filming session.
Try not to give away the location of a site – it could attract public interest which may put the animal at risk.
Work at sites and colonies which are subjects of special study should be co-ordinated with the people concerned.
Keep filming equipment and crewmembers at a distance sufficient to avoid site or subject disturbance.
Be prepared to handle unexpected conditions without damaging the environment or subject. Be especially prepared for additional human presence to be attracted by your activities.
Minimize disturbances of nest or den sites. Restore all sites to the original state after filming, including replacement of vegetation, removal of litter, etc.
Never film nest or den sites if such activity will attract predators or other humans to the site.
If manipulating untrained animals you should consider:
Is the action natural behavior? No matter how hard you try, the story you are trying to film will never happen and to continue may be cruel.
How much manipulation is acceptable? For example, changing day/night regimes or feeding patterns or using higher light levels than natural. Some creatures can be persuaded to behave in different conditions to help filming, but some can’t – seek advice and follow it. Monitor the animal. If there is any sign of distress stop and think again.
Where did the animal come from and what will happen to it after filming? To acquire some creatures needs a license, some are illegal to remove from the wild, all must be either returned to exactly the same location in the wild or to a responsible breeder or zoo.
Filming animals at night
The following guidelines should be followed to ensure that natural behaviour occurs when filming at night.
Use of Lights in General
In the majority of cases animals tolerate lights well and no harm is done by using them. However you should check that the animal’s normal behavior is not being disturbed and whether or not you are stopping essential activities e.g. feeding, looking after young, etc. If this is happening or the animal is obviously disturbed by the light do not continue.
Try using either a low light video camera with reduced illumination, image intensifiers or infrared.

Predation at Night
In some cases animals will tolerate lights and behave normally but the use of lights may make them very vulnerable to predation.
If lights dazzle an animal they may: a) immobilize it b) stop it from seeing the approach of a predator “hidden” outside the pool of light. In such circumstances the light is effectively tethering the animal. This is absolutely unacceptable. Predators quickly take advantage of such situations and learn to hunt using the benefits of the lights. Lights can also badly effect predators, if you illuminate them during a hunt you may ruin their chances of feeding. Both predators and prey can be filmed using light, just take care if you see a hunt developing that you do not effect the outcome. Use other night filming techniques if possible or abandon filming.

Aggressive Behaviour at Night
The social lives of animals can be very turbulent, sometimes resulting in fights. If this happens at night and you are illuminating the event with bright lights consider carefully the effects of the lights on this behavior.
The “light pool” can effectively trap an “underdog” and make it very difficult for it to defend itself or escape from its enemies. If you think this is happening switch the lights off and, if available, opt for an alternative technique.

Planning Night Shoots
It is very worthwhile experimenting with a variety of night filming techniques before starting a shoot so that you select the most suitable for the job. It is always worth remembering that the most natural behavioral sequence will result from the least interference by artificial visible light.

Reconstruction of predation

Feeding of live prey to captive animals

It is ILLEGAL in many countries to feed live vertebrate prey to any other animal.

What can be done in sets? To make hard and fast rules to cover every scenario is difficult. Simply placing a predator and a prey animal in a captive situation where the outcome is the inevitable capture and, or death of the prey is unacceptable.
Placing prey and predators together is possible if the set-up can be constructed in sufficiently large enclosures where natural behavior can occur. For example filming portraits of predator and prey together or behavior not ending with predation.
Independent feeding of the predator will reduce the risk of predatory activity. Predation in captivity may be acceptable in certain circumstances when the subjects are so called cold-blooded animals. For example a predatory fish in a very large tank with shoals of potential prey species and the provision of adequate cover could allow acceptable interactions to occur. The important criteria to apply is could the set-up be reasonably considered cruel. This situation would never be acceptable for so-called warm-blooded animals (birds and mammals) or reptiles or amphibians.

It is unacceptable and ILLEGAL in many countries to tether or restrict a vertebrate by any means to attract a predator. The tethering of any invertebrate animal to attract prey should be avoided. Use of carcasses is acceptable only if the carcasses have been legally obtained and humanely killed.

Aggression & Threat Displays
The cruel goading of an animal to fury is ILLEGAL in many countries. For example, inducing a snake to strike at the lens by approaching with the camera once or twice might be acceptable but repeated attempts would be cruel.

Trainers and Handlers
Use the best trained animals available and employ an adequate number of competent animal trainers or handlers. Professionally trained animals will be safer and more economical in the long run. Provide trainers, in advance, with a script or specific information detailing action, camera positions, etc. Their guidance can help save time and money prior to and during actual shooting and prevent animal suffering. Trainers can read the signs that which express the mood of the animal and their advice and guidance should be requested and observed.

Health and safety

Animals can cause:

  • INFECTION or INFESTATION from microorganisms or parasites they carry.
  • ALLERGY in some people.
  • INJURY by bites, scratches, stings, kicking or crushing.
  • PHOBIAS, extreme irrational fears about, for example, spiders or snakes,

Two apparently similar animals can present very different risks – venomous and non-venomous snakes, for example, or domestic and feral cats. Distinguish between what animals can do and how they usually behave.
Tranquilizers and sedatives should not be used on animals in order to dramatize scenes, represent death, to restrain or otherwise alter behavior solely for the purposes of filming. Animals can cause infections that threaten pregnancy. In particular, those who are pregnant should not enter areas in which mammals have recently given birth.
Welfare & Working in Studios
All personnel
Everyone involved should be properly briefed on risks and control measures, including feeding arrangements or instructions not to feed, the need to avoid disturbance, and what to do in an emergency.

Know your animal – Try to avoid a miss-match between your expectation and reality.
Be well informed but flexible in your approach. Never be afraid to modify a situation if it isn’t working, or your animal subject is showing signs of distress.
When animals are working, maintain a CLOSED SET and post CLOSED SET notices.
Personnel present around the camera should be kept constant – Familiarity is more important than numbers. However, when using wild animals it is advisable to keep personnel to a minimum. Think about where to keep your animal on the set. Does it need a quiet place away from the bustle of production work or will it need to be accustomed to the set and its noises?
Schedule shooting relative to what is required of your animal. Fit in with the animal’s usual routine and take advice from handlers who know the animal, as to what is a reasonable expectation within that routine.
Control loud and unexpected noises such as clapperboards, whistles, bangs etc. and schedule shooting so that animals are not exposed for long periods to hot lights.

Some of the most dangerous animals are those that are ‘tame’ or ‘semi-tame – people expect them to be safe, and the animals have less fear of the people. But any animal can be a dangerous animal when taken out of its usual and familiar environment.
All animals used must have the necessary veterinary safeguards, inoculations and grooming, before they are brought onto a set.
Animals should be fed, watered and provided with adequate rest periods before and during production.
Provide an enclosure for the animals where no one can get to them except the handlers. Enforce this restriction as firmly a possible. Use signs and /or barricades.

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