Paintball guns are pneumatic firearms driven by compressed gas. While it is clear that under no circumstances should a paintball gun be used on an animal for recreational or malicious purposes, they are used in Australia and overseas to mark or identify wildlife and livestock for research and management purposes. However, there are several welfare risks associated with their use.
Potential effects of paintball guns on animals
There appears to be little scientific research on the effects of paintball guns on animals, but based on available information, several potential advantages and risks exist.
If used responsibly, hands-off remote marking may have some advantages compared to hands-on marking if it reduces the stress that animals experience in association with mustering, confinement, capture, handling and marking individuals manually. In addition, hands-off remote marking may facilitate animal monitoring and humane management.
Animal welfare risks associated with paintball guns include pain, bruising, serious injury, potentially lethal paint poisoning, behaviour changes, noise aversion and altered predation risk. These effects may vary depending on operator, equipment, animal and environmental factors.
The RSPCA believes that the identification of farm animals must not occur using methods which may cause pain or distress.
Where applicable, safe and humane alternatives to paintball gun marking should be considered but if paintball guns are to be used to mark animals there must be:
- appropriate firearm licensing by state/territory government
- adequate justification for their use and where appropriate alternatives are unable to be used
- clear Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) including:
- operator factors (e.g. competency, distance to target, target area)
- equipment factors (e.g. muzzle velocity, type of rounds)
- animal factors (e.g. species, size, age, reproductive status)
- environmental factors (e.g. weather conditions)
- evaluation of animal outcomes (e.g. pain, injury, stress).
Where adverse effects occur (such as fear, pain, bruising, injuries, poisoning etc.), the use of paintball guns must cease or where appropriate, procedures modified to prevent adverse effects.
Any person who intends to use a paintball gun on or around animals must be aware of their obligations under relevant legislation including animal welfare laws.