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Animal Defenders International

ADI’s Undercover Investigation of Animal Trainers Have Trunk Will Travel

Posted: 29 March 2013. Updated: 12 June 2014

Wildlife vet describes training at elephant suppliers Have Trunk Will Travel: “Nothing rivals the cruelty I have witnessed over the last few days.”

Animal Defenders International has released shocking footage from our 8-week undercover investigation of Have Trunk Will Travel, where elephants used in the movies Water for Elephants, Zookeeper, Britney Spears’ circus video and many other ads and shows, were trained.

The footage below shows the animals being beaten and electric shocked with stun guns, to perform the tricks seen in the movies and other performances, including:

  • Have Trunk Will Travel owners and trainers using stun guns and beating animals with bull hooks
  • Have Trunk Will Travel boss Kari Johnson viciously striking an elephant
  • A baby elephant being hit over the head and dragged by the trunk
  • Elephants chained by the legs barely able to take one step back and forward (the elephants were being chained from 6.30pm to 6.30am, 12 hours a day)




The suffering at Have Trunk Will Travel has received universal condemnation around the world from vets, elephant experts, zoo industry insiders, and the public.

Dr Mel Richardson, captive wildlife vet: “As a veterinarian with 40 years of expertise caring for elephants and other captive wildlife, I can assure you these videos depict animal cruelty and unnecessary suffering. These people are tormenting their elephants. The aggressiveness and vengeance with which the handlers beat and punish the elephants is unconscionable. There appears to be no purpose other than to torment the elephants. As a veterinarian in 1982-84, I worked for an animal dealer who imported 44 baby African elephants to train for the performing animal industry. I have witnessed and treated the wounds of elephants traumatized by severe training techniques. And nothing rivals the cruelty I have witnessed over the last few days from the videos from Have Trunk Will Travel.”

Dr. Joyce Poole, world renown elephant biologist, Co-Director of Elephant Voices, lead author of The Elephant Charter, world-renowned elephant biologist, with 40 years studying elephants: "What we see is systematic abuse of fearful and terrorized 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.”

Pat Derby former TV and movie animal trainer and founder of the Performing Animal Welfare Society, Ark2000 elephant sanctuary: “The actions I viewed on this video could only be characterized as needless suffering and unnecessary cruelty. In the early 70s, when I was working with animals on film sets I hated the way elephants were trained. Elephants bring out a fury in many men as no other creature does, a rage to dominate and to hurt.

“Although Have Trunk Will Travel states that their elephants are trained with food reward and positive reinforcement, no treats are visible anywhere in this video, and the bull hooks and electricity are used aggressively and angrily. The elephant actor in Water For Elephants, and the other elephants at Have Trunk Will Travel, have paid a high price for a few mediocre moments of entertainment.”

Peter Stroud, former curator of elephants at Melbourne Zoo, has said there was little doubt Tai has been subjected to cruel training methods at some point:

“Getting an elephant to do what it’s told really requires the elephant to be dominated. If you want to see an elephant behaving in the way this elephant probably does in this movie, where it’s in and around people and performing circus tricks, it’s a near certainty that it’s been trained using punishment, using pain, using very traditional methods that have been with us for a long time but are not at all elephant friendly. They’re basically cruel.’’

Have Trunk Will Travel have not denied the treatment of the elephants, instead claiming “The video shows heavily edited and very short snippets,” and that they: “...stand by our care and training methods.”

ADI asks the public to judge for themselves.

ADI President Jan Creamer: “Full length clips of the footage were made available to the media as soon as we released them. You can see what happens before and after the elephants get hit or electric shocked, but they still get hit or electric shocked.”

“We released the video evidence because of very misleading claims being spread around the world during the launch of Water for Elephants. Claims which went well beyond what had occurred on set and even claimed kindness during the entirety of their training.”

Video footage for broadcast and photographs are available to download

  • Learn more about the claims about the Water for Elephants training and the reality
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