The best part of Water for Elephants was the way the elephant never actually drank water, only whiskey and lemonade. But aside from that, a major thrust of the plot dealt with animal cruelty, with Christoph Waltz’ cruel circus headmaster trying to goad gentle veterinarian Robert Pattinson into whacking the titular elephant with a barbed stick called a bull hook, as was the traditional method of animal training (as well as wife training) at the time (Pattinson’s character found a way around this when he learned that elephants speak Polish, but that’s another story). A few days ago, a group called Animal Defenders International released a video (below) purporting to show Have Trunk Will Travel, the group that provided the elephants for the movie, training the animals with electric shocks and those same bull hooks. Oh the irony. What gives, Have Trunk Will Travel? No one over there speaks Polish?
Animal Defenders International has released an undercover video from 2005 showing an elephant it identifies as the same one that appeared in the movie apparently being beaten with hooks and shocked with stun guns.
The heavily edited videoclip contains a sequence of brief scenes backed by mournful music. In one scene, an elephant make a loud noise while performing a headstand as a trainer appears to deliver an electric shock.
Have Trunk Will Travel strongly defended itself in an emailed statement, describing Animal Defenders as an “extremist group” with “a history of using less than honest means to achieve their goals.”
“If there was truly any abuse going on why wait six minutes, much less six years?,” owners Gary and Kari Johnson said.
Gary Johnson told Reuters Television last month that Tai, the 42-year-old Asian elephant who stars in Water for Elephants, was very well treated.
The studio said a representative of the American Humane Association was on the set throughout production, but Animal Defenders said that was beside the point.
“I don’t think it’s good for anyone to say, ‘I didn’t see any abuse in my presence,’ because you’re not going to,” Animal Defenders president Jan Creamer told Reuters. “You have to look at the whole life experience of the animal.” [TelegraphUK]
You can see the video above. Now, keep in mind, my knowledge of elephants begins and ends with that joke where you ask if someone’s ever seen a one-eared elephant, and then you turn one pocket inside out and take out your wiener, but the video seems suspect. After the titles stop, the first footage it shows (at the 34-second mark) is what looks like the trainer simply adjusting the elephant with his hand accompanied by a loud, unidentifiable, scream-like sound that could’ve been added in post. The handlers do have hooked sticks, but the worst it seems to show is them whacking the elephant on the ankles with the non-hooked portion. It also shows them cutting off the elephant’s tusks with a hacksaw, which looks gnarly, but I’m not qualified to say whether it’s actually painful.
Were the elephants abused? It’s unclear. The larger question is why they felt the need to identify it as an Asian elephant. Why should that matter? Oh, I get it, you only wanted some intelligent, docile animal that would do tricks for you if you provided, is that it? Is that what you think of Asian elephants? That’s racist, man. You ought to take a look in the mirror.