Greener pastures await animal stars of Olympic ceremony
SEVENTY SHEEP, 12 horses, 10 chickens, 10 ducks, nine geese, three cows, two goats and three sheepdogs will appear before an 80,000-strong crowd on Friday during the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
However, animal rights campaigners argue they are unlikely to enjoy their starring role in film director Danny Boyle’s Isles of Wonder pageant, which is costing £27 million (€34.6 million) to produce – twice its original budget.
Involvement, though, does bring considerable fringe benefits, with International Olympic Council chief Jacques Rogge guaranteeing all of the animals will be allowed to graze safely into their old age, free from the risk of slaughter.
“That is important. The animals will not be slaughtered. They are also trying to find measures to reduce stress, and that’s a proof that great care has been taken in the protection of the animals,” he said.
Meanwhile, the organisers have given pledges to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) that all of the animal cast will be removed from the stadium before a gigantic fireworks display begins.
The animals will only be used in the early bucolic scenes in Boyle’s Isles of Wonder, where men will be seen mowing specially laid grass as a game of cricket takes place on the village green.
However, the RSPCA is clearly less than pleased at Boyle’s ideas, even though the animals have spent much of their days over the last two months at the Olympic Park in east London during exhaustive rehearsals.
“London 2012 has taken a decision to use animals. Subsequent to this decision, the RSPCA was approached to give advice on the use of animals and whether their use complies with animal welfare legislation,” it said pointedly.
“Their use is under constant review as the rehearsals are implemented and assessments made as to how the animals react to the environment and other stimuli to which they will be exposed,” it went on.
Last month, Boyle was forced to respond to concerns raised by six animal rights groups, not including the RSPCA – Animal Aid, Animal Defenders International, Captive Animals Protection Society, Compassion in World Farming, Peta and Viva.
In a joint letter, they said the opening ceremony – held amid bright lights, flashing cameras and a billion-strong television audience – would be “a highly stressful and probably terrifying experience” for the animals.
Boyle said he had not considered the issue of the animals’ future after the Olympics until the animal rights groups became involved, but he and the IOC have since promised that all will head to animal sanctuaries – just as happened to the porcine cast of Babe in the 1990s.