WANTED: ELEPHANT ABUSER. $10K REWARD.
Following reports and video footage allegedly showing that Tai, the elephant featured in “Water For Elephants,” was abused while training for movies, outraged viewers and animal rights activists wanted justice. While the law may not be on their side for Tai, whose abuse was documented six years ago (now beyond the statute of limitations), the national non-profit Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) is seeking justice for any elephant recently abused in California.
While certain acts are legal, the state of California has laws prohibiting specific types of animal cruelty. ALDF representative Lisa Franzetta directed The Huffington Post toward the specific illegal acts described in Cal. Pen. Code § 596.5:
It shall be a misdemeanor for any owner or manager of an elephant to engage in abusive behavior towards the elephant, which behavior shall include the discipline of the elephant by any of the following methods:
(a) Deprivation of food, water, or rest.
(b) Use of electricity.
(c) Physical punishment resulting in damage, scarring, or breakage of skin.
(d) Insertion of any instrument into any bodily orifice.
(e) Use of martingales.
(f) Use of block and tackle.
In keeping with this law, the ALDF is offering a $10,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of a person who abused an elephant during the production of a film or television show.
At the same time, Animal Defenders International (ADI) filed a suit on Monday against Have Trunk Will Travel, claiming the organization "duped" the public into believing Tai was humanely treated during "Water for Elephants" training. According to the animal rights group, Tai is next expected to appear in "Zookeeper."
As ALDF Executive Director Stephen Wells said, “The glamour of the big screen and television productions belies the suffering of elephants forced to perform on Hollywood sets. Elephants are wild animals, not actors, and the barbaric techniques routinely used to force elephants to learn tricks can qualify as abuse under California law.”
This brings up a much larger underlying issue –- the use of wild animals as performers. Franzetta cites CGI and other advanced forms of technology as entertainment alternatives, and yet, “Countless animals are forced into unnatural captivity and deprived of the ability to engage in their most innate behaviors in pathetic roadside attractions, circuses, and other sad, exploitative industries—including the Hollywood film industry.”
The training team that allegedly abused Tai, Have Trunk Will Travel, issued a statement following the release of the video footage, saying that they stood by their training methods, and their company "does not condone using electrical devices to discipline and control elephants except in situations where elephant or human safety is at risk."
According to The Los Angeles Times, when the Ringling Bros. faced trial for the mistreatment of circus elephants, the defendants claimed that bull hooks were no more cruel than a dog's leash or a horse's bridle. A former Hollywood elephant trainer told The Chicago Tribune, "You cannot train an elephant without force or fear and have them perform consistently, all the time." The trainer later quit her job due to the mistreatment conducted during training.
Certain acts of abuse are illegal under California law, and perhaps these criminals may even be caught and put to justice. But what about animals undergoing forms of abuse not included under California law? And what about animals in states and countries that have no such law at all?
If you have witnessed any abuse of an elephant on a California set, ALDF asks that you contact them (anonymity optional) at 707-795-2533, x1035, or e-mail ElephantAbuse@aldf.org.
WATCH ADI's graphic footage of the alleged abuse of Tai: