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Harry Potter tour accused of mistreating animals

Since opening its doors in March 2012, the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London, The Making of Harry Potter, has seen thousands of fans rushing to take a glimpse of the movie magic that made the eight fantasy films such a hit.

However, the tour could lose some of its enchanted appeal after after an investigator from animal rights group, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), revealed video footage of "inexcusable mistreatment of sensitive wild animals."

Trötschel/ullstein bild | ullstein bild | Getty Images

According to the PETA footage, one of the owls used in the tour appears "distressed" by the large, noisy crowds and by being touched. In the video, an trainer appears to encourage visitors to touch the owl, while saying "please don't touch the owl. I have to say that."

The investigation was initiated after the rights group received a number of complaints about the welfare of the owls at the popular attraction.

Along with the footage, the investigator and PETA reported that the owls suspended in cages were "clearly distressed" and "repeatedly forced to perform demeaning tricks."

Other findings at the tour showed that there was an encouragement of flash photography, and that the signs telling people "not to touch the birds" were not only ignored, but "cajoled" by the trainer.

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After the footage was released, PETA released a statement online, claiming that they had sent a letter to Warner Brothers requesting them to "commit to a ban on using live animals on tours."

In the statement, Mimi Bekhechi, Director at PETA, said that they wanted the studios to ensure that "Harry Potter tour stays magical – and not cruel – by keeping live animals out of it."

"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", Ms. Bekhechi added.

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In light of the footage, a statement was made by Warner Bros. Studio Tour London, which said in an email to CNBC that the owls from the Harry potter film series "occasionally come to the Studio Tour" and "appear for short periods and are exclusively handled" by experts from Birds and Animals, the company that trains the animals.

The Warner Bros. statement added that they have Birds and Animals "to review this matter. It is essential to us all that the welfare of the birds and animals in their care is of the highest standard."

Birds and Animals responded to the footage too. In a statement, the company said "now that we have had the opportunity to see the footage, we have instigated a review of the issues raised. We will take appropriate action to ensure that the birds and animals always receive the very best care."

Carl Court | AFP | Getty Images

Despite this statement, Elisa Allen, Associate Director at PETA UK, told CNBC in an email today, that Warner Brothers has "so far failed to acknowledge the cruel treatment of the animals captured by our investigator."

"We responded to Warner Brothers as the statement does not address any of the cruelty depicted in the footage – nor does it address the need to implement a ban on using live animals. To this we have yet to receive a reply but will let you know once/if we do," Ms. Allen added.

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This isn't the only owl-related incident that has recently been in the firing line recently.

A temporary owl cocktail bar that was set to open over the past week in Soho, London, was forced to drop the drinks and postpone the event until April, after an online petition triggered backlash towards the event.

More than 28,900 people signed the petition saying they were concerned about the welfare of the owls; despite the fact that the bar was a "sit-down" event with trained professionals.

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