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Zoo‘s Season 2 premiere was wild, but could animals have died during filming?

Let me start by saying I thoroughly enjoyed the Season 2 premiere of CBS’ animal-centric summer series, Zoo. As if no time had passed, we picked right back up where we left off with Jackson, Mitch, Abraham and Nora rushing to rescue Jamie and quite possibly a leopard cub containing a cure.

But while the premiere riveted me for the most part, I must confess I couldn’t help but wonder if the rumors I’d read earlier were true: Did animals really die to film it?

More: Zoo cracked SheKnows‘ list of most highly anticipated shows

Anyone who knows me (or reads my bio, for that matter) knows I have this thing for creature features — I can’t help it. If it’s got animals and a moderate level of suspense, no matter how campy, I’m all in. So you can imagine how pumped I was last year when CBS added Zoo to its roster.

An entire series devoted to a global animal uprising? Be still, my heart. I devoured (ha, ya see what I did there?) Season 1 and have been nerdily anticipating tonight’s Season 2 premiere, especially when I learned it would be a glorious two hours long.

The episode did not disappoint on the creature feature-ish front. It was exhilarating and packed full of action, as well as tons of rich scenery and shots of — you guessed it — wild animals. Some were clearly CGI, but others were clearly not. This was not only evident to the naked eye, but also confirmed by actor James Wolk (aka Jackson) when he told The Post the show uses a mix of real animals and computer-generated ones. He cited a polar bear and a sloth as some of the real-life beasts on the set this season.

While I think the mix certainly contributes to the realism of the series, it does pose some ethical and environmental concerns. And these were fresh on my mind from an article I’d run across prior to the premiere which detailed former Price is Right host (and longtime animal advocate) Bob Barker’s petition to CBS to change their practices where wild animals are concerned.

“As former host of the longest-running TV show on CBS, I am writing to you after hearing from my friends at PETA that your network continues to allow wild animals to be used on Zoo, despite learning that, when used for entertainment, big cats and other animals are torn away from their mothers, subjected to abusive training methods, and locked inside tiny cages. I urge you to end this exploitation and adopt a network-wide policy banning the use of wild animals in future CBS programming,” Barker wrote the TV network.

Barker went on to say that he was relieved to learn CBS dropped plans to use animal trainer Michael Hackenberger this season after PETA pointed out to producers he’d been caught on camera viciously whipping a tiger (charges are currently pending).

More: PETA wants CBS’ Zoo canceled

He also cited productions that successfully relied on CGI for the majority of their animal depictions, such as The Jungle Book, Noah and The Legend of Tarzan.

For their part, CBS responded to Barker’s impassioned plea with a statement of their own: “We have the greatest respect for PETA and its cause. The health, safety and welfare of animals in our care during filming continues to be our highest priority.”

Well then, all’s well that ends well, right?

Wrong. Either PETA wasn’t buying CBS’ response, or they have intel that leads them to believe the live animals used to film Zoo are in very real danger. Exhibits A through G? The heated tweets the animal welfare organization directed toward tonight’s premiere.

Yikes. Some of that info is pretty damning, particularly if CBS was aware of the allegations against its animal experts when they hired them.

As much as I love Zoo and enjoyed the Season 2 premiere, I shudder to think that wild animals could have been harmed or quite possibly even killed due to mistreatment during filming. Sure, live animals look beautiful onscreen — but I’m perfectly fine with watching CGI versions if it means protecting wildlife. I can’t condone animals being abused for the sake of our entertainment.

Is there a right way to do this with wild animals, though? I’m not sure. PETA clearly believes the only option is to go all CGI and/or return the animals to the wild.

If CBS simply refuses to play ball with PETA, it would be nice to at least see the network take some steps to reassure fans. A solid step in the right direction, I would think, would be firing any animal experts who have been accused of any sort of impropriety or abuse where animals are concerned.

More: CBS’ Zoo doesn’t have the bite we hoped for

Perhaps CBS could create profiles on its site for the wild animals it does use. I’ve read stories of animals who were trained to work in TV and film after sustaining some sort of injury, were orphaned at an extremely young age or had some other reason they couldn’t be returned to the wild.

If that is the case and they really are being treated as well as CBS insists they are, maybe giving them their own “cast” bios could ease some of the tension between the network and animal welfare organizations and advocates — not to mention, put fans’ minds at ease.

I’d definitely be interested to learn more about the wild animals on the set. How about you?

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