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04/07/2011

Water for Elephants looks like some crazy elephant-exploiting bullshit  »


As soon as I saw the commercial for Water for Elephants, in which Robert Pattinson pretends to care about animals, I cringed something awful. How pathetic is that picture above? The smirk on Pattinson’s face? The chain around the elephant’s foot? Good grief. And really? A live elephant in a movie? Still? COME ON! Even if this particular elephant lived a lavish life of ecstasy, captive elephants promote abuse in the industry, and are not OK. But spoiler alert: I’m not so sure this elephant lives a lavish life of ecstasy!

The elephant in the movie’s name is Tai. I look for information on her and it turns out she’s part of a whole elephant troupe, Have Trunk Will Travel: serving all your circus, movie and wedding needs! Charming. Reading an interview with the trainer, he’s like, “Tai has so much fun acting!” Sounds super. I’m sure it beats roaming the plains free with your family (I mean, as long as Go Daddy isn’t on vacation).

But wait! There’s more! Turns out, Have Trunk Will Travel is BFF with notorious elephant-abusers the Ringling Brothers and even testified for them in the court case against Ringling not too far back. Because I am so dedicated, I read the crazy-ass transcript from their testimony for you and it is NUTSO.

The witness, Kari Johnson, who runs Have Trunk Will Travel with her husband Gary, is asked all these questions about elephants and her answers are totally bizarro. My absolute favorite part is when she’s testifying about the bullhook—or “guide” as she calls it—and the judge is like, “um, WTF?” and she’s all like, “uh…”:

THE COURT: Is the guide designed to penetrate the skin?
THE WITNESS: It can; it shouldn’t.
Q: And is the guide intended to cause pain to an elephant?
A: No.
Q: In your experience, do elephants fear the guide?
Q: The guide can penetrate the skin though?
A: Yes.
Q: And cause bleeding?
A: Yes, it can.
Q: That is not uncommon?
A: It’s—it’s—it shouldn’t be common, but it happens, yes.
Q: All right. I’m talking about that point, though. That point—does it have the potential of harming an elephant, that point?
A: I am sure it would have the potential, but that’s not what it is for. It’s—
Q: Why is it there, then?

Johnson then tells the judge that the elephant’s skin is so thick, it wouldn’t feel anything duller than the pointed hook. Then of course in the cross-examination, she states that elephants are super-sensitive and could feel a fly on their skin. Thanks, elephant queen, you are really clearing things up. The best part about these statements is that they are supposed to be in favor of Ringling. If you want a really good time, read the cross examination [pdf]. That shit is a bit brutal.

These people are disgusting. They actually fight for rights to exploit elephants. They are totally active in the animal incarceration community: “When there’s—well, any sort of elephant legislation, I go to wherever that might be, whatever state, or whatever town or city in California, wherever it might be, and advocate basically to be able to use the guides and tethers, and be able to manage the elephants in free contact like we do,” says Kari. Mind you, “be able to manage the elephants in free contact like we do” means BULLHOOK. Wow.

I’ve never read the book the movie is based on because I’m allergic to reading but it’s my understanding that the subplot is all about the suffering of this elephant in the circus. So I guess Tai is perfect for the role? Apparently Have Trunk Will Travel is really into method acting! Good morning, irony:

Q: As part of your husbandry expertise, have you provided food and water to elephants?
A: Yes.
Q: Is it necessary for elephants to have free access to water throughout the day?
A: No.

The moral of this story is: boycott this terrible movie and tell your friends and family to do the same. If you gotta see a movie about elephants (I know you!), check out The Elephant in the Living Room instead. Or even better, donate your ticket money to the The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee. Now, let’s look at the awesome elephants who live there and for the first time today, be happy.

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