A blog by spcaLA president, Madeline Bernstein

May 10, 2011

The Electric Shocking and Beating of an Animal Actor

TMZ  has reported that there is video depicting, the electric shocking and beating of the elephant actor, Tai, who stars in the new film "Water for Elephants".  Animal Defenders International (ADI) has just released a very disturbing training video of Tai and other elephants being shocked with a stun gun and beaten with bull hooks while "learning" tricks and having tusks sawed down. Tai is seen crying out in pain from the stun gun shock while being "taught" to perform a headstand. Ironically, the film, among other things, is about the physical abuse and cruelty endured by animals, specifically an elephant, living as part of a traveling circus.

When an animal, actor is required, the stated policy is that they must be humanely treated on set and, production companies fund an inspection process through American Humane (AH) so that they can have a "no animal was hurt during the making of this film" statement in the credits. In fact, AH, on set during the filming of "Water for Elephants" said no animals were hurt and that special effects were used to depict the abuse of the elephant called for in the script. According to TMZ, AH has now seen the video and "will comment shortly". Therein, lies the rub. Notwithstanding the obvious conflict of interest of the producers paying the inspectors, savvy personnel either film in a country where no animal treatment restrictions apply, or the prohibited behavior occurs off set and after hours. Clearly, as abusing an animal is a crime, one can hardly expect the conduct to occur in plain view. Additionally, when the part calls for a "trained animal" an animal actor is brought in with no inquiry as to the training, husbandry or daily treatment of the animal. There is no curiosity as to how one can make an elephant stand on her head. The suppliers assure the crew that all is fine and everyone has a clear conscience. According to ADI while one of the co-founders of "Have Trunk Will Travel", the suppliers, was asserting that the elephant was trained with kindness and marshmallows, another co-founder is seen in the video shocking the elephant.

This debate is not new to Hollywood. Silent film cowboy star and director William Hart fought for the humane treatment of animals in show business, and was the first to insist that his horse be addressed by his name "Fritz". Bob Barker took up the cause of the treatment of chimps in the film "Project X", spcaLA stopped the poor treatment of horses on the set of the television series "Dr.  Quinn Medicine Woman", and Betty White declined a role in "As Good As It Gets" because she didn't like a scene in which a dog appeared, (a real dog was not used) to be thrown down a laundry chute. Ms. White was afraid people, often confusing reality and art,  would emulate the conduct!

In the age of special effects, digital simulations, and robot technology there is a question as to the need to use an actual animal to play the part of an animal in a film, television show or stage play. In the "old days" groups of horses stumbling during a conflict between cowboys and Indians was not the product of love and reward training, but rather actual falls caused by trip wire. Many horses were killed during the heyday of the western movie genre. Now there are so many ways to create the illusions of animal activity that there is no need to force animals to behave unnaturally for our entertainment.

To a real elephant getting cut with a bull hook, there is no movie magic - just pain and despair.

Article first published as The Electric Shocking and Beating of an Animal Actor on Technorati.

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