I'm A Celebrity: Will new season feature live animals - after RSPCA campaign and years of controversy
The RSPCA says the next few weeks will likely see many live animals on our TV screens put in situations that compromise their welfare "for a quick laugh"
The eagerly anticipated new season of I'm a Celebrity is just days away, but the show looks like it may continue the controversial practice of using live animals - despite years of concerns that animals were being dropped, thrown, handled roughly, crushed and scared.
The 2023 season of I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! premieres this weekend on ITV1 and ITVX. Some of the big names entering the Australian jungle include politician Nigel Farage, as well as Jamie Lynn Spears, Marvin Humes, and more. The show is perhaps best known for its 'Bushtucker Trials', which see the celebrity campmates complete physical challenges - frequently involving live insects, snakes, or spiders.
However, the use of live animals has attracted controversy over the show's 21-year run. Animal welfare advocates have frequently voiced concerns about insects being crushed or eaten alive, animals being hurt or frightened by their treatment, or even non-native species used in the show accidentally being introduced to new ecosystems.
But what does ITV say, and will there be live animals used in the new season? Here's everything you need to know:
Compromising welfare 'for a quick laugh'
The show has been the centre of a long-running RSPCA campaign pushing to end the use of live animals, called 'Unhappy Campers'. Since I'm a Celebrity was first aired, the charity says animals have been dropped, thrown, handled roughly, crushed, chased, overcrowded, scared by contestants, and prevented from escaping from stressful experiences.
Last season, the RSPCA told the Independent it received a record 17,000 complaints about the show’s treatment of animals. The RSPCA has written to I'm A Celebrity's producers on this before, particularly while the series was based in North Wales during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Chief Executive Chris Sherwood wrote at the time: "Sadly, we know the next few weeks will likely see many live animals on our TV screens put in situations that could compromise their welfare for a quick laugh. We've urged the production company behind 'I'm a Celebrity' to think again - and entertain the animal-loving UK public without resorting to anti-animal Bushtucker Trials."
While the series was being filmed in North Wales, he said: "we saw animals - including snakes, bearded dragons and toads - put in very concerning situations; while insects were routinely at risk of being crushed and killed.
"We are also concerned at the way the programme portrays animals, " he continued. "With people discussing how scared they are, and animals portrayed in such a negative light, this programme is a long way away from our vision of a world where all animals are respected and treated with kindness and compassion."
ITV has always maintained that welfare was a big concern for them while filming, and the station has said that while filming in Australia, the local RSPCA chapter has an open invitation to visit any of its sets.
ITV has, however, has changed how it uses animals on the show over the years. In 2019, ITV ended the use of live insects in eating trials - with contestants consuming live worms and spiders a frequent source of complaints. While insects and insect parts have been consumed in seasons since then, they were already dead before being eaten.
In 2021, ITV gave a statement regarding the ongoing use of animals in the series. They told Metro: “ITV Studios uses a ‘specialist licensed animal company’ throughout the programme’s run. The company has extensive and detailed experience of all animals that are featured and working with animals in film and television.”
The station told Sky News that same year that animals are kept in “temperature controlled” enclosures which meet the animal’s needs, and are monitored by a specialist animal team, who remain on set at all times. Whilst the insects used in trials are released using “grate systems”. After taking part in the trials, ITV said the insects are “donated to local wildlife sanctuaries, trusts and zoos for their exotic animal and bird feed after filming”.
The 2021 series saw additional concern that the show was using bugs that were not native to Wales, to which ITV responded: “all of the insects used on I’m A Celebrity are non-invasive species”.
Will the 2023 season feature live animals?
ITV, which produces the series, has not explicitly said whether live animals will be used in the upcoming series. However, a commercial for the new season, set in the Australian jungle, featured a bucket full of what appeared to be live mealworm grubs being poured into a bathtub - potentially hinting at live insects once again being involved in challenges.
Other promotional material for the show has shown contestants talking about their fear of spiders and other insects, while the show's Twitter bio features four emojis; the Australian flag, a snake, a spider, and a cockroach.