PETA has joined with the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), Hollywood celebrities, national animal-protection organizations, conservationists, and elephant sanctuaries in an open letter condemning film company FJ Productions for its use of a live elephant in the upcoming movie Saving Flora.
The movie is about a teenage girl who kidnaps an elephant who can no longer perform and is about to be euthanized, in the hope of taking her to a nature preserve. Ironically, in real life, Tai—the elephant used in the film—has been subjected to the same abusive training methods used in circuses.
Video evidence shows handlers with Have Trunk Will Travel (HTWT), the California-based company that exhibits Tai, forcefully striking and jabbing elephants with a bullhook—a weapon resembling a fireplace poker with a sharpened metal tip and hook—to force them to perform tricks during training sessions. Tai’s owners have publicly defended the practice.
All elephants used for TV and film are trained through domination and painful techniques, including the use of bullhooks and electric prods, as you can see in the video. Many elephants become unhealthy, depressed, or aggressive as a result of the mistreatment that they experience. Kari Johnson, co-owner of HTWT, acknowledged under oath that her company chains elephants for more than 12 hours a day. Of the four elephants born at HTWT’s facility, all but one died before reaching their fourth birthday. Elephants from HTWT have also been involved in dangerous incidents, and numerous fairs that had previously hired HTWT have now cut ties with them.
“It adds insult to injury to use an elephant who was stolen from her family in the wild and trained to perform with inhumane circus-style methods to tell the story of an elephant escaping an abusive circus,” PAWS President Ed Stewart says. “This is an affront to anyone who cares about these self-aware, highly intelligent, and sensitive animals.”
A petition on Change.org, led by Emmy Award–winning television host Bob Barker, is calling for FJ Productions to reconsider the use of Tai and instead employ a computer-generated elephant. The film is currently in production.
“There is no place for animal cruelty in entertainment,” Barker says. “Today we have the technology to replace live animals in film productions, so there is no excuse for using live elephants or other wild animals, who are cruelly trained to perform.”
What You Can Do
Never buy a ticket to a movie, circus, or any other performance that forces animals to act or perform tricks. Highly intelligent, sensitive animals like Tai deserve better than to be treated like props for our amusement.