Animal Defenders International


Animal Defenders International

Committee member who advises on humane care of wildlife caught on video shocking elephants

Posted: 8 February 2012. Updated: 8 February 2012

Committee member who advises California Dept. of Fish & Game on humane care of wildlife caught on video shocking elephants. Animal Defenders International will present video at meeting and deliver to Dept. Director.

DAVIS, CA, February 6, 2012—Animal Defenders International (ADI) will attend the California Department of Fish & Game (DFG) Advisory Committee on Humane Care and Treatment of Wild Animals today to deliver a video obtained by ADI during a 2005 investigation that shows elephants repeatedly given electric shocks during training sessions with a hand held stun gun and a baby elephant getting ‘hooked’ inside the sensitive roof of his mouth with a bullhook, both violations of California law. The video was shot secretly at the Perris, CA compound of licensed wild animal exhibitor, Have Trunk Will Travel (HTWT), whose co-owner, Kari Johnson, is also a current member of the Advisory Committee and is depicted in the video violently hitting elephants. The treatment of the elephants in the video caused universal condemnation and elephant experts were outraged. Their comments appear below.

Watch the video online here. (Broadcast quality video footage is available upon request.)

  • WHAT:ADI to present video evidence to DFG Committee on Care and Treatment of Wild Animals
  • WHEN: Monday, Feb. 6, 2012, Meeting 9:00 am - 12:00 pm (public forum scheduled for 11:30 am)
  • WHERE: Yolo Wildlife Area Conference Room, 45211 Country Rd. 32B (Chiles Rd.), Davis, CA, 95618

“Anyone caught violating state law by shocking elephants and other horrific abuses has no business advising the Dept. of Fish & Game about the humane care of captive wildlife,” said ADI’s Campaigns Director, Matt Rossell. “This is an extreme example of the fox watching the hen house and we are calling on Department Director Charlton Bonham to clear this committee of members with similar conflicts of interest.”

Trainers and owners of HTWT are seen on video engaged in behavior that is in violation of California Penal Code 596.5 which states:

“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.”

This video footage was first released in May of 2011, when the romantic drama, Water for Elephants, was in theaters worldwide because Tai, the movie’s co-star alongside Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson, is owned by HTWT and is shown in the undercover video being shocked and abused training for tricks that were featured in the film.

ADI’s ongoing research and undercover investigations reveal that similar abusive, circus-style training of wild animals—like depicted in this video—is commonplace within the entertainment industry, especially when potentially dangerous wild animals are being made to comply with unnatural behavior in close proximity to the public.

This raises the same question of conflict of interest with other members on this Committee. For example, Feld Entertainment, the parent company of Ringling Bros. Circus which has representation on this Committee, recently entered into a settlement with the USDA for alleged violations of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) and paid a $270,000 fine, the largest ever of its kind in the history of the AWA. Ringling Bros. has a long history of alleged AWA violations and abusive animal treatment from witnesses backed with photographic and video evidence.

For further information please contact: ADI Campaigns Director, Matt Rossell, Tel: 323-804-9920, email

The suffering at Have Trunk Will Travel is receiving 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 renowned 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. If you care about elephants, skip this movie.”

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.”

Animal Defenders International
With offices in Los Angeles, London and Bogota, ADI campaigns across the globe on animals in entertainment, providing technical advice to governments, securing progressive animal protection legislation, drafting regulations and rescuing animals in distress. ADI has a worldwide reputation for providing video and photographic evidence exposing the behind-the-scenes suffering in industry and supporting this evidence with scientific research on captive wildlife and transport. ADI rescues animals all over the world, educates the public on animals and environmental issues.

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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