Animal Defenders International


Animal Defenders International

Movie Star Electric Shocked and Water for Elephants

Posted: 1 February 2012. Updated: 16 March 2013


Water for Elephants.... and electric shocks and bullhooks....

Water for Elephants is a romantic drama set in a 1930s animal circus in the USA, starring Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson. The biggest star of the film is 45-year-old Asian elephant Tai, who plays Rosie, provided by the performing animal supplier Have Trunk Will Travel, of California.

Pictured, Gary Johnson, co-founder of Have Trunk Will Travel, electric shocks Tai while she performs a headstand.

In the film the elephant is brutally attacked by the circus owner who beats her with a bullhook. However the producers, stars, and trainers were at pains to stress that Tai was trained with kindness, marshmallows, and positive reinforcement. We felt that this was not just big screen romanticising of the circus – depicting the exception of those few cruel, bad apples – but a worldwide promotion of elephant training.

Gary Johnson, co-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.”

As the film opened across the world ADI released undercover footage from inside Have Trunk Will Travel showing the elephants being repeatedly betean and electric shocked. Tai cried out as she was shocked with a stun gun to force her to do the very tricks that would later appear in the film. The horrifying images shot around the world and ADI launched a legal action.


ADI puts the behind-the-scenes animal abuse in the spotlight

Our investigations of the use of animals in the entertainent industry in the US eventually brought us to Have Trunk Will Travel (HTWT), a supplier of performing elephants for movies, advertising and public appearances. The work was unpublished, as the project was ongoing.

Pictured, ADI Chief Executive Jan Creamer talks live on US television about the exposé.

However, when ‘Water For Elephants’ was released - a film featuring Tai, an elephant supplied by HTWT and bundled up with a ‘American Humane Association Approved’ certificate, together with strong assurances that the animals had been trained “fairly and humanely”, having “never known mistreatment”, we were outraged and knew that our evidence simply had to be released.

The elephants were not trained with love: they were forced to perform their tricks with electric shock devices and beatings. The public – and quite possibly the filmmakers themselves – were being duped by the elephant trainers. And we weren’t about to let them get away with it.

So we released footage showing the very same elephant, Tai, who played ‘Rosie’ in ‘Water For Elephants’ being electric shocked and beaten with bullhooks.

We also began an all-out battle to shut down the lies being churned out by Have Trunk Will Travel, and show the world that animals like Tai are trained with cruelty, not kindness.


Shortly after the release of Water for Elephants, another movie, Zookeeper, featured another of the HTWT elephants called Rosie.

We produced leaflets for audiences about both Water for Elephants and Zookeeper. We’ve sent our footage to actors, directors, producers, studios and distributors, requesting meetings. We’ve written to the American Humane Association and asked them to reconsider their position.

We’re now lobbying other companies that have been hiring animals from HTWT, including zoos and towns who’ve used them for parades and county fairs.

ADI has launched a legal suit against HTWT for misleading business practices – as they claimed the elephants were unharmed during training.

Forced to perform unnatural tricks

Our investivations into the circus and entertainment industries have shown time and time again that animals used for entertainment are trained with force.

ADI’s shocking video shows:

  • Elephants repeatedly given electric shocks with handheld stun guns.
  • Elephants crying out when being shocked into performing a headstand.
  • Elephants beaten about the body and legs with bullhooks.
  • A baby elephant is hooked in the mouth and cries out.
  • An elephant is pinned with bullhooks while her tusks are sawn down, close to the bone.
  • Have Trunk Will Travel co-founder Kari Johnson viciously striking an elephant.
  • A baby elephant being hit over the head and dragged by the trunk.
  • Elephants being hit and jabbed with bullhooks.
  • Elephants chained by the legs only able to make one step backwards or forwards, for 12 hours a day.

It is clear from our evidence that there is no love in this relationship between elephant and trainer.

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Have Trunk Will Travel elephant training
Have Trunk Will Travel elephants

Click here to see video of movie elephant suffering

Some film makers are making a stand against animal cruelty. The makers of Rise of the Planet of the Apes refused to use any performing chimpanzees. Instead they used computer generated images. Support those films!

Don’t pay to see, rent or buy films that use performing animals.

Films featuring elephants supplied by Have Trunk Will Travel, who train with bullhooks and stun guns, include:

  • Ace Ventura When Nature Calls
  • Evan Almighty
  • George of the Jungle
  • Jungle Book
  • Larger Than Life
  • Operation Dumbo Drop
  • Vanity Fair
  • Water For Elephants
  • Zookeeper
  • Britney Spears: Circus

Support films that don’t use performing animals

Most films don’t use performing animals – there are lots to choose from!

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