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'Water for Elephants' Elephant Tai's Violent Training Videos


LA-based KTLA News has investigated undercover video documenting the alleged abuse of Tai, the elephant featured in ‘Water for Elephants’ starring Reese Witherspoon and Robert attison. Tai and Reese Witherspoon also starred in an American Vogue fashion editorial ‘A Day at the Circus’, lensed by Peter Lindbergh.

Anne wrote in her post:

We would be irresponsible and fake to readers not to share the reality that PETA feels very strongly about the treatment of animals like elephants, bears and other animals in the Ringling Bros circus. This link will take you directly to their page on circuses.

We do not want to glamorize such an important issue, because Anne of Carversville loves elephants as much as bonobos and dolphins.

Reese Witherspoon | Peter Lindbergh | ‘A Day at the Circus’ | Vogue US May 2011 AOC Style

This KTLA video is among the toughest we’ve watched on the treatment and training of elephants. It was provided by Animal Defenders International (ADI) and it is heartbreaking, given our understanding of the high level of elephant consciousness.

The video shows the elephants allegedly being beaten by Have Trunk Will Travel with bull hooks — and that includes a baby elephant — and also receiving electric shocks. KTLA does an excellent job of keeping the news broadcast calm and factual.

By showing us the weapons used on the elephants and how they work near humans, we better understand what the elephants are experiencing, unless you believe that elephants are like flies, a metaphor used by trainer Gary Johnson in the Ringling Brothers Circus testimony.

The American Humane Association (AHA) has provided a video saying that absolutely no abuse occurred to Tai on the set of ‘Water for Elephants’. Reese Witherspoon says of AHA, “They’re very conscious of how the animals were treated. They’re on set everyday… They’re just the happiest animals. You can tell.”

Tai is abused in the movie, but not during the filming for real. The question is how was Tai trained before the film, which was shot in 2005. No one alleges that there was any violent treatment of Tai on the movie set, or that the movie crew knew about Tai’s allegedly violent and cruel prior training.

Jan Creamer, Chief Executive of ADI said: We were uncomfortable with the message of this film, but the more we saw the repeated assertions that this elephant has been treated with love and affection and never been abused, we realized that we had to get the truth out. The public, the stars and the filmmakers have been duped. This poor elephant was trained to do the very tricks you see in the film by being given electric shocks.”

ADI has contacted American Humane, asking them to become more involved in not only monitoring the treatment of animals like Tai on the set, but also in informing the actors and producers of a film how an animal is trained to do the things in a movie on command.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that in the promotional video on the American Humane Association website, Danielle Macdonald Wolcott explains that they are paid ’ … to make sure that … not only the action on-set, but also the prep is humanely done, all these animals have been treated fairly and humanely throughout the entire course of their training.’

Dr Joyce Poole, elephant field biologist and animal welfare expert, and lead author of The Elephant Charter watched the video footage, with these comments:

What we see is systematic abuse of fearful and terrorised elephants.

The brutality and aggressive attitude demonstrated by the handlers leaves no doubt in my mind about the trauma that has been inflicted on these poor elephants. The roars of pain and squeaks of alarm heard in the footage all confirm the same - elephants forced with violence to do painful tricks that are unnatural and harmful to them.

More video evidence of movie elephant suffering… from Animal Defenders on Vimeo.

Have Trunk Will Travel, the company responsible for training Tai has denied any mistreatment of the treatment the animals received from elephants in its care. To counteract that claim, ADI has released a second video — equally violent — showing how Tai was trained not with love and marshmallows as claimed but with electric shocks and bull hooks.

Karl Johnson, the ‘boss’ at Have Trunk Will Travel is very aggressive with the animals in this second video.

Banksy and Tai | Barely Legal

Artist Banksy painted Tai in 2006‘Water for Elephants’ is not the first entertainment group to use Tai. British guerilla artist Banksy painted Tai to match the wallpaper in his exhibit ‘Barely Legal’. The focus of the exhibit was on global poverty but PETA was furious.

On entering the exhibition, the guests — including Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt — were offered cards reading ‘There’s an elephant in the room. There’s a problem we never talk about’.

The paint used for Tai’s ‘make-up’ was non-toxic but city officials ordered Banksy to wash it off.

‘The paint they had been using, although non-toxic, according to government regulations was unsafe, and even illegal to use the way they had been using it’, the head of the Los Angeles Animal Service Department said. He then added: ‘I think it sends a very wrong message that abusing animals is not only OK, it’s an art form. We find it no longer acceptable to dye baby chicks at Easter, but it’s OK to dye an elephant. Permits will not be issued for such frivolous abuse of animals in the future’.

Britney Spears ‘Circus

Britney Speaks used Tai in the making of her ‘Circus’ video, also monitored by AHA.

The Bullhook As Fly Swatter

Testifying on behalf Ringling Brothers circus, charged with cruelty towards its animals by PETA, Gary Johnson described the use of the bullhook it in this way:

“It’s like a fly biting them or a horsefly, for instance, biting them. Does it hurt them? Probably not. Does it irritate them? Maybe. They try to get it off of them. So it’s basically the same principle, I believe.”

The lawyer then asked Mr Johnson: “If you could train a fly, then you wouldn’t need a hook?”

“Exactly, sir,” Mr Johnson replied.

The court found in favour of Ringling Brothers in that trial, agreeing in principle that elephants have the mind of a fly.

Elephant Consciousness

This issue is ultimately about educating the public of the practices we condone in the process of making pets of wild animals.

Without a paying audience, Tai and other elephants would not be subject to these practices. PETA argues — and we agree — that it is unethical to electrocute animals and treat them inhumanely, in the practice of subjugating them for our amusement. 

Because we study animal consciousness — which becomes more sophisticated with every new research report — it seems likely that elephants actually have a love/hate relationship with these practices.

Like dolphins, elephants do relate well to humans, in many cases. Unfortunately they probably show us far more respect than we show them.

In 2010 Karen McComb, an animal psychologist at the University of Sussex, UK, determined that the female elephants in charge of a her can recognize at least 100 other elephants responding to her call.

Reese Witherspoon by Peter Lingberg for Vogue US May 2011Dick Byrne, Professor of Evolutionary Psychology at St Andrew’s University has studied the cognitive abilities of primates and has been carrying out the experiments with elephants at Amboseli, using different scents to probe mental skills.

He said: “They’ve proved to have abilities which have only been found elsewhere in the great apes and humans.

“We are a bit limited by how little we know about elephants, but the odd glimmers we get seem to be rather remarkable.”

The collective unconscious memories of elephants are also well established.

Unfortunately, humans believe it’s out right to prod these magnificent creatures as if they are either beasts of burden of circus trick-makers. Whatever their role, elephants exist to make us happy. It’s man’s (not woman’s) dominion over nature. Anne

Reader Comments (1)

A few years back someone I knew remarked that all man's profit result from some form of exploitation of nature. This statement stuck with me because it was so simply true. Thanks for this article, it inspires me to change a little.
Superb website in anycase :)

July 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterShreeya Kurien

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