Are the Animals in We Bought a Zoo Real or CGI?

Cameron Crowe’s 2011 drama film ‘We Bought a Zoo’ features several animals that live at Rosemoor Wildlife Park, which becomes Rosemoor Animal Park after Benjamin Mee takes over the operation of the place. Together with his family and Kelly Foster, the head zookeeper, Ben looks after these animals with utmost care and dedication. He gets captivated by the joy the creatures spread among the residents of the establishment, especially his daughter Rosie Mee. The animals in the film, which range from several tigers to a camel, are real. The cast and crew worked with over 70 exotic animals to make the film!

The Real Animals in We Bought a Zoo

‘We Bought a Zoo’ was primarily filmed at Greenfield Ranch in Hidden Valley, Southern California, where a zoo structure was built for shooting purposes. Along with the cast and crew members, over seventy animals were brought to the property to feature in the movie, whenever they were required. The set was built following the instructions of animal coordinator Mark Forbes and his company Birds & Animals Unlimited provided the creatures that feature in the film. Forbes is a veteran coordinator in the industry, whose recent credits include Tom Hanks-starrer ‘Finch,’ Emma Stone-starrer ‘Cruella,’ and ‘Strays.’

Forbes and a team of thirty specialized animal trainers worked in the film to deal with the animals. The stars of the lot were an African lion, several Bengal tigers, North American grizzly bears, Indian blue peacocks, a leopard, a red fox, a scarlet macaw, dromedary camels, etc. Forbes made sure that the tigers were not placed near the bears and the lion never saw the tigers. He also asked the production department to not let the lion, the tigers, and the bears see any of the hoofed animals. Production designer Clay Griffith built each enclosure following Forbes’ instructions to avoid conflicts between any two species.

The animals that were required to shoot a particular set of scenes were brought to the set daily rather than housing over seventy creatures in the makeshift zoo built by the production department. Forbes’ company coordinated the delivery of these animals, who were housed with their respective owners or trainers. Griffith and his team visited several zoos and talked to the officials of these places to correctly build the enclosures required to house animals temporarily. Staff members from the Los Angeles County Zoo, the Orange County Zoo, and the Tucson Zoo helped Griffith’s team extensively.

For Cameron Crowe, the confidence to deal with animals was integral to the film authentically. “I think it [shooting with animals] happened just out of pure belief that we could do it. We were able to do it with a lot of help and the cast being so super-pro. I think it always was a movie about characters, to me – human characters and animal characters that weren’t talking,” the filmmaker told Collider. “So, if I kept my head down and focused on the relationships, I knew I wouldn’t get overwhelmed with where the trainer was going to bring the lion in the enclosures. But, we built a zoo and had 70 animals and a slew of trainers, and made a personal movie out of it,” he added.

Read More: We Bought a Zoo’s True Story: What Happened in Real Life?