The popular HBO show Westworld is in hot water with animal rights activists after airing an episode showing elephants being used to carry two people hunting Bengal tigers. Training elephants to perform in TV shows, movies, and circuses is rigorous and very often abusive. In this case, the activists say they believe the elephants were abused.
Were The Elephants In The HBO Series Abused?
The California-based business Have Trunk Will Travel (HTWT) owns the elephants who appeared in Westworld, The Dodo reports. The company trains elephants. They rent them out to perform in movies, TV shows, and for other kinds of performances. HTWT’s elephants have performed in several popular movies like “Water for Elephants,” and “The Zookeeper.” They also performed in music videos and commercials for companies such as Visa, Cadillac, and Oreo cookies.
The bullhook and the stun gun
There has been controversy surrounding HTWT and how the company treats its elephants. Since 2005 when an investigator for Animal Defenders International (ADI) went undercover and obtained horrifying footage of trainers brutally abusing the huge mammals. Trainers are seen beating the elephants with bullhooks, striking them with an audible “whack!” and shocking them with stun guns in order to get them to perform tricks.
And the video clearly shows elephants are abused
The investigation, which lasted eight weeks also shows the elephants shackled. They remain that way for up to 12 hours every day, with almost no room to move backward or forwards. A baby elephant is abused with sharp whacks to the head with a bullhook. These whacks are so harsh you can hear them. Trainers grab the little elephant’s trunk in an attempt to force it to do what they want. It struggles nervously and appears upset.
And the footage has elephant biologist Toni Frohoff really upset.
“Have Trunk Will Travel has exhibited some of the most vicious and sadistic treatment of elephants, including babies, that I have ever seen on film in my over 30 years as a wildlife behavioral biologist,” Frohoff, who works for IDA, told The Dodo. “There is no excuse or justification for abusing elephants like this, nor for mishandling a helpless baby’s sensitive trunk, as is shown.”
But really, who needs to see an elephant stand on its head?
Or standing on this stupid gadget?
The Dodo requested a comment from HTWT but the organization didn’t respond. HBO did respond, however. Further, the spokesperson said the ADI footage “does not in any way reflect practices on our sets.”
The spokesperson also said this:
“All of the animals on HBO series are treated with the utmost care and respect for their health, safety, and well-being. A certified animal safety representative from American Humane is present at all times during any animal action on the set of ‘Westworld.’ The AHA has confirmed that the animals were well-treated, and the production received the designation of ‘No Animals Were Harmed.'”
But as The Dodo notes, what happens behind the scenes and on the set are two very different things; furthermore, the AHA has sometimes given its approval rating to productions that used abusive methods to train animals.
One such instance:
The AHA gave its nod of approval to productions that used animals that were trained by Sidney Yost, who has subsequently been fined and had his license revoked for abusing animals. Violation citations were handed out to Yost by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for a number of violations of the Animal Welfare Act. Among the violations were instances of Yost using physical abuse to control wolves and other animals, and this included hitting a monkey, lion, and tiger with sticks.
ADI is pushing for HBO and other studios to stop using live animals on set.
“With no way to guarantee the welfare of the animals off set, we urge HBO and other studios to end their use of live animals,” said ADI president Jan Creamer, in a statement. “There is no excuse for using the real thing when technology provides a realistic, humane alternative.”
Elephants need kindness and respect
Elephants are sensitive creatures. They are not tools. They are highly intelligent beings capable of empathy who build lasting bonds with their family members and others in their herds. Captivity destroys families.
How people can do these kinds of things to elephants and sleep at night is beyond me.
Be a voice for abused elephants
PETA has a few suggestions:
- If you learn that elephants will visit your hometown, you can contact PETA at ActionTeam@peta.org. The organization tracks most circuses that use animals. It also relies on members of the public for information.
- Talk to animal control. Ask them to monitor exhibits. You can order PETA’s “Basic Tips for Inspecting Elephants in Circuses guide. It’s meant to be used by animal control officers, and it’s free.
- You can order factsheets from PETA on circuses and other animal exhibitors that keep a tally of Animal Welfare Act violations. If one of the exhibitors is coming to town, you can alert friends and family and take to the social media to let people know why they should avoid this act.
- You can protest or contact your local lawmakers. Some major U.S. cities have passed laws banning bullhooks. Two states, California and Rhode Island have completely banned traveling exhibitors from using them. To find out more about that, go here.
In the videos below, trainers strike elephants with bullhooks and shock them with stun guns and clearly demonstrate why this abuse needs to stop NOW.
Featured image by Animal Defenders International via YouTube video