1. News & Issues

Elephant from Water for Elephants Movie Abused

Tai the elephant was abused with beatings and electric shocks.


Tai the Elephant

Tai the elephant is shocked with an electric prod by Gary Johnson while she is doing a headstand.

Animal Defenders International
Updated May 12, 2011

A 2005 video from Animal Defenders International allegedly shows elephants being abused with beatings and electric shocks, including Tai, the elephant who stars with Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson in the 2011 film "Water for Elephants."

According to ADI, Tai is owned by a company called Have Trunk Will Travel, and one of its founders, Gary Johnson, is also one of the trainers who can be seen beating Tai in the video. Throughout the video, several elephants, including a baby elephant, appear to be hit with bullhooks and shocked with electric prods to perform tricks like headstands and other unnatural poses. In a second, longer video, a trainer can be heard at the 2:15 mark saying, "Don't you be takin' pictures of me hooking on them!"

The animal action for "Water for Elephants" was monitored by the American Humane Association, which certified that no animals were harmed in the making of the film.

Before the video was released, the people around Tai claimed she was treated well and not abused. AHA stated, "To get the huge animal to obey, Tai's trainer gave her constant positive reinforcement. Whether it was a food treat or play time, the continual rewards motivated Tai to perform for the camera - without any need for threats or violence, ever." Tai's veterinarian, Linda Reeve Preddie, stated, "Because Tai has never known mistreatment, she does not view the flailing as anything more than some imbecile beating the air." Kari Johnson, another founder of Have Trunk Will Travel, said, "Have Trunk Will Travel has never issued a written endorsement, nor does it condone using electrical devices to discipline and control elephants except in situations where elephant or human safety is at risk."

Regarding the ADI video, AHA told TMZ:

We were not present when this video was shot in 2005. We are not clear about all of the content of this video . . . We hope with all our heart that the disturbing images on it are not what they appear to be. We know Tai, have worked with Tai, care about Tai and we have never witnessed any mistreatment of Tai.

20th Century Fox told Inside Edition, "This video was NOT taken during the training for, or production of, our film, and neither Tai nor any other animal performer in the film was harmed in any way during the making of this film."

According to AHA, depictions of animal cruelty in the film were done through computer generated imaging.

As Jan Creamer, Chief Executive of ADI, points out, the beatings and electric shocks are easy to hide:

We were uncomfortable with the message of this film, but the more we saw the repeated assertions that this elephant has been treated with love and affection and never been abused, we realized that we had to get the truth out . . . I believe that Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson will be horrified to learn what Tai went through . . . There is only so much that can be monitored on set or by visits to suppliers, as we have shown before the actual training goes on in secret. But, as this video shows, the reality is that this elephant was taught the tricks seen in the film by being given electric shocks.

The original ADI video can be viewed here. The second, longer video is here.

Have a question or comment? Discuss in the Forum.

  1. About.com
  2. News & Issues
  3. Animal Rights
  4. Animals in Entertainment
  5. Elephant from Water for Elephants Abused - The Abuse of Tai the Elephant from Water for Elephants

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.