Animal Defenders International


Animal Defenders International

Movie Star Electric Shocked

Posted: 7 May 2011. Updated: 11 May 2011

Video released today by Animal Defenders International shows the elephant that appears alongside Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson in the new film Water for Elephants, being beaten and electric-shocked during training.

UPDATE: Click here to see new video evidence of movie elephant suffering

Water for Elephants, a romantic drama set in a 1930s animal circus in the USA, starring Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson, is premiering all over the world this month, with the London Premier last Tuesday. But the biggest star of the film is 45-year-old Asian elephant Tai, who plays Rosie, supplied by the performing animal supplier Have Trunk Will Travel, of California.

In the film Rosie, played by Tai, is brutally attacked by the circus owner who beats her with a bull hook. But the producers, stars, and trainers have been at pains to stress that Tai was trained with kindness, marshmallows, and positive reinforcement.

Gary Johnson, a founder of Have Trunk Will Travel claimed: “Tai was never hit in any way at all”.

American Humane observed the animal action during filming and said: “We’re here observing prep on Water for Elephants and so we’re here to make sure that everybody knows 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.”

However shocking video, filmed at Have Trunk Will Travel in 2005, has been posted online today by Animal Defenders International (ADI) after the London premier, that tells a different story.

You can view the video footage here

  • Elephants including Tai are repeatedly given electric shocks with hand held stun guns
  • Tai cries out when being shocked into performing a headstand
  • Elephants including Tai are beaten about the body and legs with bull hooks
  • A baby elephant is hooked in the lip and cries out
  • An elephant is pinned with bull hooks whilst her tusks are sawn down, close to the bone

Find out more about the timing of the release of footage exposing cruel training of elephants.

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.”

Kari Johnson, another of the founders of Have Trunk Will Travel has previously stated: “Have Trunk Will Travel has never issued a written endorsement, nor does it condone using electrical devices to discipline and control elephants except in situations where elephant or human safety is at risk.”

Gary Johnson and trainer Joanne Smith appear in the video giving the elephants electric shocks.

ADI are sending copies of the DVD to the film’s stars and makers.

Jan said: “I believe that Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson will be horrified to learn what Tai went through.”

ADI has also contacted American Humane, urging them to re-evaluate how they assess the use of animals in films and the statements being made which effectively endorse the use of performing animals.

Jan said: “There is only so much that can be monitored on set or by visits to suppliers, as we have shown before the actual training goes on in secret. But, as this video shows, the reality is that this elephant was taught the tricks seen in the film by being given electric shocks.

“Animal suffering is never romantic and it is never entertainment. People need to think very carefully before they go and see films with performing animals, especially wild animals like elephants. Our message would have to be that if you care about animals, then don’t go to see films where performing animals appear.”

Last month Anne, the last elephant with a British circus, was removed from Bobby Roberts Circus after ADI filmed the horrific abuse of the old elephant in the circus winter quarters. It was one of a series of investigations by ADI of the systematic abuse of circus elephants, most recently the beating of elephants at the Great British Circus in 2009. Anne had also been hired out for television work.

You can view the video footage here



High resolution VNR footage and a time code index are available. Photographs are also available.

Phil Buckley, Media Relations Director, Animal Defenders International:
Mob: 07716 018250
Direct Line: 0207 630 3344

Agnes Huff,
Phone: 310-641-2525

The video was filmed in 2005 and features elephants, including Tai, being trained by the trainers who handled Tai on the set of ‘Water for Elephants’. The footage had not been released, as it was part of a wider investigation. However, ADI decided to release the footage because global promotion of the film was being used to spread misinformation about elephant training. ADI felt obligated to release the brutal reality behind the scenes.

It is disturbing that this movie features the beating of an elephant in circuses, while trying to give the impression that this is a “one off” event, yet ADI evidence has shown such treatment to be endemic during elephant training. ADI’s investigations over the past twenty years in the UK, Europe, South America and the US have shown that life for animals in circuses is one of day to day brutality, ranging from the quick kick or punch, to a full-blown beating. This treatment arises from the nature of the culture of animal management in circuses.

ADI is leading the campaign to end the suffering of animals in entertainment and currently has major campaigns running in Europe, South America and the USA. The organisation has just rescued a record breaking 25 circus lions from Bolivia to the US, having conducted undercover investigations in Bolivia which helped close down the circus industry in the country for good.

National measures to prohibit or limit the use of animals in circuses have already been adopted in Bolivia, Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Sweden, Singapore, Costa Rica, India and Israel and similar laws are being discussed in the UK, Brazil, Chile, Norway, Peru and Greece.

These are the claims made about the protection of animals during the making of ‘Water for Elephants’:

"Have Trunk Will Travel has never issued a written endorsement, nor does it condone using electrical devices to discipline and control elephants except in situations where elephant or human safety is at risk.”
Kari Johnson, Have Trunk Will Travel

“Tai was never hit in any way at all,”
Gary Johnson, Have Trunk Will Travel

"We had really mixed emotions about even doing this film because it’s pretty graphic with the elephant, and there’s some so-called beating scenes in there. We didn’t want to send a wrong message.”
Gary Johnson, the co-owner of Have Trunk Will Travel.

“She is the furthest thing from being an abused animal.”

Jone Bouman, Director of Communications for American Humane Film & TV Unit

“We’re here observing prep on Water for Elephants and so we’re here to make sure that everybody knows 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.”
Danielle Macdonald Wolcott-American Humane Safety Rep & Humane Officer

“To get the huge animal to obey, Tai’s trainer gave her constant positive reinforcement. Whether it was a food treat or play time, continual rewards motivated Tai to perform for the camera — without any need for threats or violence, ever.”
American Humane

“In fact, her trainer never had to raise his voice much above a whisper to get Tai to listen.” American Humane

“Because Tai has never known mistreatment, she does not view the flailing as anything more than some imbecile beating the air.”
Linda Reeve Preddie, Tai’s veterinarian

“And the reality is it is actually a trained behaviour for her to do something. She’s not reacting to the swing of the stick she’s reacting to the verbal cue and the training that she’s being asked to perform.”
Tonya Obeso- American Humane Safety Rep & Humane Officer

American Humane Association:
The American Humane Association (AHA) is a nonprofit corporation which works with the entertainment industry and has established humane filmmaking guidelines. AHA observes movie production on and off set when animals are being used in order for the movie to earn the “no animals were harmed” trademark symbol of approval. Applying this label to a film carries enormous responsibility, because it creates confidence that the compassionate movie-going public can ethically support any film with AHA’s endorsement.

Have Trunk Will Travel is owned by Gary and Kari Johnson and is based in Perris, California, USA. Their group of performing Asian elephants (with approximate ages) includes: Tai (45), Rosie (30), Dixie (46), Kitty (45), Becky (26), Tess (30, and her baby, seen at the time of the investigation, is Tucker: now on loan to Houston Zoo).

Movies with elephants supplied by Have Trunk Will Travel:
Water For Elephants, 2011 (Fox) (Tai), Evan Almighty, 2007 (Universal Studios), Vanity Fair, 2004 (Focus Features) (Tai), Larger Than Life, 1996 (United Artists MGM) (Tai), Jungle Book, 1994 (Walt Disney Pictures), George of the Jungle, 1997 (Disney Studios) (Tai), Ace Ventura When Nature Calls, 1995 (Morgan Creek Warner Brothers), Operation Dumbo Drop, 1995 (Walt Disney Pictures), Exit Through the Gift Shop, documentary, 2009 (Tai) – as well as the upcoming Zookeeper, Summer, 2011 (MGM and Sony Pictures).

Music Videos and TV commercials include:
The Britney Spears Music Video “Circus” 2008 (Tai). Commercials: Hewlett Packard, Visa, Oreo Cookies and with Ellen Degeneres in an advertisement for American Express.

Tai was the elephant whose body was painted by British artist Banksy; she was then placed on display in 2006, in Los Angeles, causing condemnation of cruelty.

Animal Defenders International (ADI) With offices in London, Los Angeles, and Bogota Animal Defenders International (ADI) is a major international campaigning group, lobbying to protect animals on issues such as animals in entertainment and their use in experiments; worldwide traffic in endangered species; vegetarianism; factory farming; pollution and conservation. ADI involves itself in international animal rescues as well as educational work on animals, conservation and environment. Founded in 1990, ADI has become a major force for animal protection and has succeeded through its undercover investigations in securing legal protection for animals. ADI opposes violence or intimidation whether directed at humans or other animals.

ADI’s Mission:
To educate, create awareness, and promote the interest of humanity in the cause of justice, and the suppression of all forms of cruelty to animals wherever possible to alleviate suffering, and to conserve and protect animals and the environment.

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