In this article, I am going to take a look at the use of live-animals in Magic Shows.
Not so many magicians are using animals these days, compared to twenty years ago, and I wondered why?
So, I took the opportunity to see what some magicians had to say on the topic.
So what animals do magicians use? Magicians use the following animals in their magic shows:
- Guinea Pigs
Table of Contents
The Use of Live Animals
Kyle Kelly a magician from Philadelphia was a magician that previously used animals in his act but has now made a decision to no longer use them.
He recently changed the emphasis of his business to working outdoors at festivals and was concerned over the welfare of his animals in that environment.
He said, “I personally felt I would not be giving them everything I could in this environment.”
Regan, another entertainer from the USA, who is an animal lover still uses Dwarf Rabbits in his act, but he considers them as pets just as much as assistants.
He hates it when he loses an animal because they grow too big or die of old age.
Another reason real animals are no longer so popular with magicians is that to care for animals between gigs can be time-consuming and difficult.
Neale Bacon from British Colombia does not use real animals, for this reason, Neale uses fake animals and said, “I use a rabbit (fake) in a hat, a raccoon Fake), as well as a few other vent figures, so I still have plenty of animals in my act.”
Bill Nuvo, a magician from Canada tells a story about a magician who thought it would be cool to have Tigers in his act. “He didn’t own any tigers so he opted to rent tigers from a zoo. He had no relationship with the tigers. The last I heard was that the guy was prosecuted with animal neglect/abuse charges.”
Generally speaking, most magicians tend to be opposed to the use of animals, mainly on welfare concerns, but others for practical logistical reasons.
The attitude seems to be that the welfare of the animal should be foremost and it is better if the animal is a pet first before becoming part of the show.
Those of us that have pets will know how caring for them properly can be quite difficult, even without transporting them around to different venues.
Magician KC Cameron from North Carolina had a lot to say about animal welfare.
As a magician who used to work in a circus, he has seen both circuses and stage shows close up and he believes that magicians fail to think the issue of using animals through enough.
Animals require care:
- The correct diet
- Regular cleaning
- Regular stimulation
- They need adequate housing
- Vets bills can be expensive
- They need to socialize
- They will frequently defecate on guests
- They can bite
- They can be a problem when you have a vacation
Is an animal going to improve your act enough so that dealing with all of the above is worthwhile?
Many magicians do not think so.
Another consideration, not really animal welfare is the audience.
Ray Wong, a magician from Vancouver was performing at an outdoor birthday party when a nine-year-old girl came up and asked him if he had any animals in his act.
He thought she would be upset when he said no, but she turned around and said, “Cool, cos I’m allergic to them!”
These days many more children (and adults) seem to have allergies, more so in the past.
This is now a real matter to consider when thinking about animals.
Animals on Stage
Most tricks that involve animals rely on the animals being compressed into small spaces, before being magically produced.
There have been cases in the past where animals or birds have been injured by magicians not using enough care.
Producing a dead rabbit at a children’s party will NOT go down well.
Rabbits are not always trustworthy and will sometimes bite children who get too close, and rabbits may also pee on the children.
None of which is conducive to a successful show. Some adults may also have strong feelings about animal welfare and do not welcome the use of animals in magic shows.
Some of this is due to one particular movie.
Animals Used by Magicians
Let’s take a closer look at animals used by magicians and also reasons why they use them.
Rabbits were frequently used by magicians.
In fact, rabbits were so connected with magic that many posters featured cartoon rabbits to denote that they were advertising a magician.
Lovely “white bunnies” are certainly very cute and appealing to the audience, especially children.
There is also an element of tradition, as rabbits have been used back as far as ancient Greece.
However, the main reason for using rabbits is that they are silent and will not give away the trick by making a noise.
They also are compressible as much of their bulk is actually fur.
Hold a rabbit up by the back of its neck and it stretches quite tall and will appear much too big to be hidden. Rabbits are docile and will stay put when hidden.
Tricks involving doves have been a firm favorite for years, especially the classic Dove-Pan trick.
The main reason why doves are so popular is that they have little appreciation of danger and remain quite calm when more intelligent birds would be trying to escape.
The fact that doves are so calm makes them very easy to work with.
You can place a dove somewhere and they just sit there waiting, while other birds would be more afraid.
Just an aside here is that doves cost far more than you would expect and a pair of doves will set a magician back around $125 – $350, so they are quite an investment.
The following video contains quite an impressive routine involving doves – I recommend you to watch this till the very end to see the transformation of a dove to a rabbit:
You can also learn a few tricks from the video below:
There are quite a few magicians that use Parrots in their act, either to make them appear in place of a dove or to play other roles.
Andy Gladwin, a British magician uses his parrot in a card trick where he has taught the parrot to take a card from a pack he is offered.
Andy actually forces the card that the parrot selects but the parrot has learned to take the card that Andy pushes him to.
Part of training a parrot is called bagging, where you get the parrot to remain hidden.
Unfortunately, unless you have raised the parrot from a chick, it is a matter of luck whether or not the parrot will loudly protest and thus give the trick away.
There used to be a British magician called Johnny Hart who almost built his entire act around birds.
He used a lot of budgies in his act.
He built an amazing career that took him from London to Paris, China, and ultimately Las Vegas.
His popularity began in the 1960s and lasted until the 1980s when his act (which had not really changed) was overtaken by new acts and he moved back to England and retired.
Several magicians have used guinea pigs in their acts over the years.
One of them was Mac King who was quite popular in Las Vegas and appeared on the Penn and Teller show where he appeared to eat his pet guinea pig, called colonel Sanders.
Guinea pigs are surprisingly intelligent and according to Dakota Hills Veterinary Clinic can be trained to carry out a variety of tricks, like coming when called, pushing a ball, playing dead, begging, etc.
British magician Paul Daniels had one trick where he had the help of two chimpanzees (Fred and Betsy).
Talking of monkeys, there is a video on YouTube that shows an orangutan watching a magic trick.
You really should see this clip which shows the sheer delight expressed by the monkey, at seeing the trick.
Siegfried and Roy were two German-American magicians who were best known for the appearances with Tigers and lions (white ones).
Performing at Las Vegas they were at the top of their profession until October 3rd, 2003.
On that day, a seven-year-old white tiger attacked Roy after he had gone off-script.
The tiger bit him on the neck and severed his spine before the trainers were able to get to Roy.
Perhaps working with lions and tigers was not such a good idea after all, as the attack ended the duos magic career.
This 2006 movie, directed by Christopher Nolan was a story of two rival magicians.
Unfortunately, the movie depicted a number of birds dying as part of the magic tricks and gave the public the impression that stage magician animals were treated very badly.
It was certainly not good for the reputation of magicians and brought the topic of animal welfare for stage animals to the fore.
Portraying magicians as uncaring and unconcerned about the welfare of their animals, which judging by the quotes I have had from working magicians is far from the truth.
Having covered the background about the use of animals by stage magicians, it is now time to look at various types of animals that have been used in more detail.
Learn Magic Tricks!
If you’re interested in learning magic tricks, I put together lists of the best YouTube channels and websites where you can learn magic online:
I believe these lists will help you in finding the best online magic teachers!
Fake Animal, a final thought
Having looked at working with animals in magic acts it is clear that it is not as easy as you might think.
This is why some magicians now are turning to realistic fake animals (doves and rabbits) that can be purchased in magic shops.
They are certainly a lot more convenient and cheaper than live animals, and at the same time satisfies the desire to ensure animal welfare.