Magical Harry Potter tour branded 'cruel'
as terrified owls are kept in cages
By Lydia Willgress - Mail Online
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A Harry Potter tour that keeps owls in cages and allows fans to touch them has been labelled 'cruel' and 'demeaning' by animal rights campaigners.
The Making of Harry Potter tour allows visitors to pay to see animals used in the franchise.
Owls are lined up in cages and tethered on posts as part of the experience, which promises to 'showcase iconic props, costumes and sets so that Harry Potter fans [can] experience the magic of filmmaking first-hand'.
But secret footage obtained by the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) at the end of February showed visitors were also allowed to touch the owls and use flash photography as the birds performed tricks.
A handler in the footage told crowds that the owls are kept in the cages all day before being moved in the evening.
The tour, at Leavesden, Hertfordshire, costs £33 for an adult ticket and is visited by approximately 5,000 people every day.
The findings have prompted PETA to send a letter to Warner Brothers, which runs the tour, calling on the company to commit to a ban on using live animals.
Mimi Bekhechi, director of PETA, added: 'Confining frightened owls to tiny cages where they can only chew at their tethers in frustration goes against every message of respect and kindness that JK Rowling's wonderful books taught us.
'PETA are calling on Warner Bros Studio Tour London to make sure that the Harry Potter tour stays magical – and not cruel – by keeping live animals out of it.'
Dr Manilal Valliyate, director of veterinary affairs at PETA India, said: 'Owls are wild, solitary, nocturnal predators, and it is completely against their nature to be tethered inside tiny cages, exposed to crowds, flash photography, loud noises and forced to perform "tricks".
'These conditions have the potential to cause them tremendous stress. They don't enjoy the company of humans or like to be touched by them, and they need to sleep during the day, not be harassed by visitors.'
A tour spokesman said: 'The owls' welfare is of paramount importance to us and they are exclusively handled by the experts at Birds & Animals which owns and trains them.'
A Birds & Animals spokesman insisted that the owls are given regular breaks, are checked by vets and are not exposed to any distressing situations, Laurie Hanna from the Sunday People reported.
They added: 'The welfare of our birds and animals is our number one priority and we take every measure to ensure they stay healthy and stress-free.'
In JK Rowling's best-selling books wizards use owls to carry their post. The author has previously warned readers against keeping owls and stated that the birds should not be shut in small cages and kept in houses.
She told fans: 'If your owl-mania seeks concrete expression, why not sponsor an owl at a bird-sanctuary where you can visit and know that you have secured him or her a happy, healthy life.