For Immediate Release:
May 13, 2021
Moira Colley 202-483-7382
Norfolk, Va. – PETA has just learned of the death of Tai, an elephant who was taken from her natural home as a young calf and forced to appear in films and TV shows, including Westworld and Water for Elephants. She was beaten with weapons called bullhooks and electrically shocked by Hollywood animal exhibitors Kari and Gary Johnson of Have Trunk Will Travel (HTWT), as this video shows. Now, to stop Tai’s abusers from having the last word, PETA has released an obituary written from her perspective looking back on a life of misery.
“[They] poked, prodded, and punished me with sharp, metal weapons … to keep me from harming a hair on Reese Witherspoon’s head,” it reads. “There was finally hope when CGI started replacing live animals, but HBO’s Westworld deserves a special shout-out for forcing me onto yet another set, even though a CGI tiger was created for the same episode. That’s right—HBO exploited a real elephant to depict a robot one.”
For years, HTWT carted Tai and other elephants around the country, forcing them to perform tricks and give rides under the threat of violent punishment. Kari even acknowledged under oath that her company had chained elephants for more than 12 hours a day. When California banned the use of bullhooks, the Johnsons moved their operation to Texas and rebranded it as “The Preserve,” where Tai’s friends now still languish. “In lieu of flowers,” readers are urged to call for an end to the use of real wild animals in Hollywood.
PETA—whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to use for entertainment”—opposes speciesism, a human-supremacist worldview. For more information, please visit PETA.org or follow the group on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.
Tai’s obituary follows.
I died at the age of 53 after leading a miserable life that I never chose for myself. That’s Hollywood for animals like me.
My time “in the biz” began in 1978 after I was taken from my mother in Asia and eventually sold to Kari and Gary Johnson—owners of Have Trunk Will Travel (HTWT), an elephant supplier for movies and TV shows.
W.C. Fields said never to work with animals. Trust me—the feeling’s mutual. I could’ve enjoyed living out my years with my family in nature, but instead I got a one-way ticket to a life of exploitation. Where was the Screen Actors Guild when I was being trucked to and from film sets, chained and standing in my own waste, or trucked around to state fairs when film jobs were scarce?
The Johnsons poked, prodded, and punished me with sharp, metal weapons—whatever it took to create the illusion that I was theirs to control and to keep me from harming a hair on Reese Witherspoon’s head.
I was hoping someone would catch all this on camera, and they finally did, but it didn’t faze the industry. My suffering went ignored for years.
There was finally hope when CGI started replacing live animals, but HBO’s Westworld deserves a special shout-out for forcing me onto yet another set, even though a CGI tiger was created for the same episode. That’s right—HBO exploited a real elephant to depict a robot one.
In lieu of flowers, send e-mails, tweets, voicemails—do anything you can to urge production companies never to use real wild animals. I’m survived by Kitty, Rosie, and Becky, who are still trapped at the HTWT hellhole, and I know they’d appreciate your help. You know us elephants—we never forget.