Film industry animal safety guidance notes

Use of animals

Also refer to State legislation regarding treatment of animals.

State and territory legislation generally makes it an offence to be cruel to animals. The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (NSW 1979) is typical, making it a criminal offence to commit acts of cruelty or aggravated cruelty (as defined, but including killing) to any animal or to be a party to such offences.

Companies and persons using animals in film and television productions are advised to familiarise themselves with the relevant act in each state and territory.

  • Legislation which covers the acquisition and disposal of animals must be followed and accurate records kept. Quarantine requirements may apply where interstate or overseas travel is involved.
  • An appropriately experienced animal supervisor must be employed whenever animals are being used.
  • Adequate pre-production must be allowed for training and familiarisation of animals and performers for the particular sequence involved.
  • The wranglers department must consist of sufficient appropriately skilled and experienced crew to cover the number of animals involved and the complexity of the sequence.
  • The facilities for animals during pre-production and production should be consistent with maintaining the animals in good health. This applies to the size and cleanliness of the housing which should be adequate for comfort, and to the food and water which should be clean and unspoilt.
  • The same conditions should apply to holding areas on set which should also be sufficient to prevent the escape of animals. In both cases only authorised crew should handle the animals.
  • Stress, including stress arising from restraint or being held in confined areas for longer than necessary, should be avoided, especially for animals known to be very prone to stress. Animals kept under confined conditions should be able to exercise at least once a day.
  • Adequate precautions to ensure the general safety of animals, including safety from their predators, should be taken. Clause 37 of the Safety Code which deals with firearms and ammunition shall be observed.
  • The animal supervisor should ascertain (with veterinary advice if required) that all animals are disease-free and whether special hygiene precautions are needed.
  • A qualified veterinarian is the only person able to prescribe drugs, including tranquillisers. S/he should examine all animals prior to use to ensure their good health and that they have received all appropriate inoculations and medication. Some animals such as reptiles should not be sedated.
  • Sedation or tranquillisation of animals to alter behaviour of performance may only occur if supervised by a veterinarian and after discussion has made it clear that the same effect cannot be achieved with a fake or trained animal. Undue pressure for heavy or lengthy sedation of animals should not be placed on veterinarians.
  • The use of venomous reptiles should appear on the call sheet, together with the location of the appropriate antidote, name of doctor and medical facility.
  • Pre-production time must be allowed for any actor required to ride or drive a horse. The route to be ridden or driven by the actor should be surveyed by the safety supervisor or other appropriate person who should walk and ride it first and advise the actor after consultation with the animal master.
  • An experienced pick-up rider nominated after consultation between the stunt coordinator and animal supervisor must be in attendance at all times when horses are working on set.
  • All harnesses, saddlery and other animal-related accessories must be in good condition and of a high safety standard.
  • As a general rule animals should be pre-conditioned to any unusual behaviour they are likely to experience, even to the extent of familiarisation with clapper boards, boom poles or strange noises likely to occur during the take.
  • Only extremely well trained animals should be used in stunts or special effects (SFX) or stunt/SFX sequences. The animal supervisor, stunt/SFX coordinator and safety supervisor must have sufficient pre-production time with key stunt and SFX personnel.
  • When animals are on set, the animal supervisor should have direct liaison with the first AD and the stunt and or special effects coordinators.
  • Free running animals such as cattle and brumbies can present special hazards. Sequences involving them should be carefully planned in regard to camera and cast positions and there should be sufficient experienced and skilful handlers to ensure safety.
  • Horse falls should not be achieved by trip-wires or pitfalls.
  • No shod or hard hoofed animal should be led, ridden, drafted or driven over mains/electrical cables.
  • Animals should be preconditioned to fire and their coats and tails protected from it with fireproofing solutions or water.
  • Squibs should never be close enough to animals to frighten them. Action and breakaway props should be of safe materials such as sugar glass, balsa-wood, rubber etc.
  • The animal supervisor and safety supervisor should satisfy themselves concerning the precautions taken to protect the safety of people applying make-up or prosthetics to animals, and of course the animals themselves.
  • The precautions taken for the movement of actors during SFX sequences should apply equally when animals are on set.
  • Horse-drawn vehicles may only be used when operated by, or under the instruction of, a qualified driver whose decisions regarding the capabilities or limitations of the rig is final.
  • A receipt of purchase should be held by the production office for any dead animals acquired for use in scenes. Such animals should not have been killed expressly for the production.

Use of 'free living' animals

Also refer to State legislation regarding treatment of animals and wildlife.

State and territory legislation generally makes it an offence to be cruel to animals.  The Prevention of Cruelty to Animal Act (NSW 1979) is typical, making it a criminal offence to commit acts of cruelty or aggravated cruelty (as defined but including killing) to any animal or to be a party to such offences.

Companies and persons using animals in film and television productions are advised to familiarise themselves with the relevant act in each state and territory.

Other legal considerations

  • Protected native fauna - Part IX of the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 (NSW) prohibits the taking or holding of most native fauna except under licence. Additionally, no animal may be released in New South Wales that is not native to New South Wales except under licence. Animals that are native to New South Wales may only be released in the locality of their capture.
  • Non-native fauna and unprotected native fauna - the taking of these animals may be subject to legislative provisions, especially those concerned with land tenure and the method of taking.


'Free-living' animals are defined as animals not routinely under human control, including those that have been captured but are intended for return to the wild within ten days of capture.

General considerations

A person competent in the handling of the particular species concerned should supervise all activities. This will ensure that a full knowledge of normal species behaviour and its likely responses to captivity will be available to reduce stress.


  • Free-living animals are likely to be distressed by capture. This should be minimised by the use of skilled operators and suitable techniques.
  • Particular care should be taken to limit disruption to the animal’s social structure and breeding activity. Regular monitoring for traumatic or metabolic injury is necessary and remedial steps should be taken whenever found.
  • Where traps are used they should be checked regularly to minimise stress. Trapped animals should be protected from predators, exposure and lack of food and water.
  • If a large or unknown number of animals is likely to be caught, then an estimate should be made of the likely reasonable maximum number, and sufficient competent persons provided to ensure they are caught and processed with the minimum of stress.


  • Transport methods should be varied to suit the species and number of animals to be transported.
  • Transport containers should be constructed to prevent escape and injury.
  • Transport containers should be constructed so as to minimise stress, and designed and constructed to provide adequate shelter, noise reduction, inner shelters where necessary, ventilation, tranquillisation, even temperature and humidity, motion support and space to lie. The animals' need for separation should be considered, regular food and water provided and suitable release areas prepared for arrival.

Handling and restraint

  • Methods of handling and restraint should take into account that captured free-living animals are usually apprehensive and therefore prone to injury or stress induced diseases.
  • To reduce the risk of such injuries and diseases, there should always be sufficient competent persons to allow for firm and quiet handling, minimum times of restraint and prevention of injury to both handlers and animals.
  • Chemical restraints, including tranquillisation to induce calm or for the animal's best protection, may be used where appropriate and under the supervision of a veterinarian.


  • Holding areas must be safe and quiet and free of sharp objects or material likely to injure the animals. They should be free of badly placed solid objects which restrict movement such as fence posts and feeding and watering containers.
  • There should be adequate shade, access to drinkable water for those species which require it, and appropriate cover.
  • Because the animals are outside their normal environment, steps to provide protection from predators must be taken at all times.

Release of free-living animals

The requirements of state legislation in this matter should be followed. For example, the relevant NSW legislation requires that animals must be released in the locality of their capture. Some reasons for this are:

  • Animals should be assisted to find their way to 'safe' areas.
  • Human perception of suitable alternatives might not be correct.
  • The animal may introduce disease or unsuitable genetic material into a new community.
  • The animal may be stressed by or cause stress to a new community.

NB: The extract quoted below, from NSW legislation, should be noted.

Animals should not be released unless they can move freely and unaided and the area they are entering is as free as possible from potential hazard and injury. Prior to their release, animals should be handled quietly and firmly

The points made in Use of Animals (see over) in Safety Guidance Notes, also apply during production to 'free-living' animals.

Reprinted with the kind permission of the Australian Film Commission and the Australian Film Television and Radio School.