"Tai was trained to do the very tricks you see in 'Water for Elephants' by being given electric shocks"
Phil Buckley is an activist from Animal Defenders International
, the animal rights group which aired the footage of Tai and her companions allegedly being mistreated by their handlers in 2005.
I’d like to draw attention to the statement released by Have Trunk Will Travel after we aired this video. First of all, they don’t deny the elephant featured in it is Tai, which clearly proves it is. Second of all, they don’t try to defend or justify the treatment seen in the video by saying that it isn’t painful to the elephants or that it’s just part of normal training methods.
Instead, their main defence consisted in attacking us as a group of extremist animal-lovers who want wild animals to be banned from the entertainment world altogether (which is absolutely right, by the way: we believe that animals like elephants or lions are not meant to be domesticated and taught “tricks” for the sole purpose of man’s entertainment). They also attacked the timing of the video: if it was shot in 2005, why wait six years to air it?
I can respond on that point: the clips weren’t aired immediately because they are part of an in-depth, exhaustive investigation we have been carrying out for years, to gather as much evidence as we can and to build a strong case proving our main argument: that wild animals simply cannot be trained into performing unnatural tricks using only “positive enforcement” methods. When the film Water for Elephants came out, the production crew and cast kept saying – no doubt in good faith – that the animals were treated only with love and gentleness and ‘fed marshmellows’ on set. At that point, we felt that we couldn’t just sit back and say nothing when we had proof that Tai’s docile behaviour had been moulded by years of heavy-handed training. She was trained to do the very tricks you see in Water for Elephants by being given electric shocks [at 0'30 minutes, the video shows Tai cry out when being shocked into performing a headstand].
“Wild animals simply cannot be trained into performing unnatural tricks using only ‘positive enforcement’ methods”
The fact is that absolutely no-one - not the film producers, not the cast, not even the training company itself – has come out to defend the footage divulged in our video, simply because it is indefensible. In fact, many animal trainers here in the UK have come out to condemn these methods and stress that they do not use them in any way. [FRANCE 24 talked to a spokesperson for the Gruss circus in France, which works with many animals. He condemned the treatment seen in the video and explained that Gruss circus trainers work patiently to teach their animals to respond to verbal cues. Nevertheless, when asked what happens if a recalcitrant elephant refuses to learn a trick, he balked at answering and ultimately refused to be quoted].
We are not saying that all the treatment you see in the video is illegal: unfortunately, brutal control methods are used on performing animals around the world. Nor are we saying that Tai was mistreated on the set of Water for Elephants. Her training was closely monitored throughout the entire production by the American Humane Association, and they reported only fair and humane treatment. Nevertheless, we believe American Humane should tighten its procedures and monitor the past training of Hollywood animals as well as their treatment on set. Not doing so is nothing short of hypocritical.”