Perhaps it's sick irony that in a movie featuring animal abuse, the real behind-the-scenes story may be even worse than the fictitious version. Or maybe it's just plain sick.
KTLA's Lu Parker investigates undercover video documenting the alleged abuse of Tai, the elephant featured in the Reese Witherspoon/Robert Pattinson film, "Water For Elephants."
The footage, provided by Animal Defenders International (ADI), shows Tai and other elephants being abused by trainers from the company Have Trunk Will Travel. The footage reveals the elephants being beaten with bull hooks -- even a baby elephant is beaten over the head with a hook. The video also shows the elephants receiving electric shocks, and screaming out in pain.
In a very different version of how the animals were treated on the set of "Water For Elephants," the American Humane Association (AHA) has provided a video ensuring that no animals were harmed in the making of the film. 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."
AHA's Tonya Obeso discusses the elephant abuse that appears in the movie, "Throughout the movie she is supposed to be mistreated. Of course that's never going to be a reality on the set." Of course? It's doubtful that if the animals were abused, the actors or AHA representatives were aware of the abuse.
Perhaps Obeso actually reveals the unknown truth, when she states, "The reality is, it's actually a trained behavior for [the elephant] to do something."
That's the problem. This elephant was trained before the making of the film. As the KTLA report suggests, these elephants were abused during their training sessions, when trainers thought no one was watching. TMZ reports that after viewing the video, AHA stated, "We were not present when this video was shot in 2005. We are not clear about all of the content of this video."
According to KTLA, Have Trunk Will Travel issued a statement following the release of the video footage:
"We are unwavering in our commitment to elephants, we stand by our care and training methods."
They also released a statement during the filming of "Water For Elephants":
"Have Trunk Will Travel does not condone using electrical devices to discipline and control elephants except in situations where elephant or human safety is at risk." -Kari Johnson
There's a much larger underlying issue here. If these animals were in fact abused, what then? According to KTLA, the actions by the trainers were technically not illegal. As one anchor remarks, we see these kind of videos too often.
According to Parker's conversations with trainers and activists, "These animals would not be acting in this behavior unless they had been poked, shocked, or hit, because they're not going to learn that behavior any other way."
In other words, this type of abuse will continue until there is not an audience for it. But as long as there is a group who will pay to attend certain (not all) movies, circuses, and zoos, animals will continue to be abused. If we want the abuse to stop, we must stop paying for the entertainment.
This piece has been updated with a statement from the trainers, and to clarify that the alleged abuses captured on the video may not be against the law.
WATCH (warning -- graphic footage):