Thursday, 14 March 2013


Water For Elephants
No Animals Were Harmed In The Making Of This Film

Seems like a promising message at the beginning of modern films, right?
The problem is that this message only applies to when the animals are on the set. It doesn't monitor how they are housed or treated beforehand. This is when the majority of abuse happens.
Not only that, the American Humane Association doesn't have the proper authority to enforce, or deal with problems that come up.

Pat Derby was an animal trainer that worked in many films, including the ever-popular Lassie and Flipper. I say "was" because she recently, and tragically-especially for the animals-passed.
She became well-versed on how animals are handled in the entertainment industry. In 1976, she wrote an autobiography titled, The Lady And Her Tiger. She  became a passionate advocate for these animal actors having worked with them first-hand. In 1984, she and her companion, Ed Stewart opened a sanctuary for these performing animals in California called Performing Animals Welfare Society(PAWS). The link is also included on the Sanctuaries page.

The problems with using elephants in film are the very same problems as using them in zoos, circuses, tourism and logging. They suffer from the same training tools and methods, and from the isolation inherent in each of these systems. As I researched, I found very intimate connections between the circus, zoo, and film industries. Zoos often sell undesirable elephants to circuses, and vice versa.

The film, Water For Elephants, addresses circus cruelty to elephants. The sick irony is that the elephant named Tai, whom played the star of the movie, was caught on camera being beaten during training before the movie was filmed. Tai is owned and trained by an entertainment elephant company called, Have Trunk Will Travel.

Interestingly, Have Trunk Will Travel owned the father of the baby elephant, Lily, at The Oregon Zoo that was born in November 2012. Until very recently, that is. After much uproar from the animal-rights community, including Animal Defenders International, The Oregon Zoo secured ownership of both Lily and her father, Tusko, in February 2013. They purchased the two for $400,000.

The good, and promising news is that films are beginning to use computer generated images(CGI) of animals in movies, rather than animal actors. The benefits of this, is that CGI animals can do essentially anything you want, and there's no forcible treatment of the animal actors.



Elephants kept in zoos is problematic.
In the wild, they travel as much as 48 kilometers a day. Zoos cannot recreate that space.
There are many health problems caused by zoos' lack of space. Muscular-skeletal ailments, arthritis, foot and joint diseases, reproductive problems, high infant mortality rates, and psychological distress(neurotic repetitive swaying, head-bobbing, and pacing) are common. Captive elephants are dying, sometimes decades before their wild counterparts, because of these captivity-induced health problems.
Zoos sell different elephants to one another, causing riffs in the established social groups. This adds more stress to these already stressed animals. There are even instances where zoos have a solitary elephant living a lonely life for a naturally very social animal.

An excellent example is relatively local to me. At the Edmonton Valley Zoo, there is a single female Asian elephant named Lucy. There is much more information about her situation at
There are several arguments or reasons people say that zoos have elephants. The two most prevalent are:

  1. Conservation
  2. Education
Breeding programs have been both unsuccessful and cruel.

The manipulative artificial insemination often results in miscarriages and dead babies. Pregnant mothers will continue to carry the dead fetus, until she, herself dies either during, or shortly after giving birth. Or the zoo will euthanize the mother because the decomposing fetus causes internal infections in her. The babies that do, miraculously, make it, often die from the herpes virus.
The male elephants are also more dangerous to keep than the females because of the musth periods. The females living in captivity often don't have a normal estrous(reproductive) cycle. Some don't have one at all.

Elephants in captivity have a much shorter life expectancy than their wild relatives.
To continue making money, zoos
have to replace elephants in their facilities. Since their breeding programs often don't work, zoos go into the wild and remove elephants from everything they know. Taken from their families and homelands, elephants in zoos suffer from chronic physical ailments, social deprivation, emotional trauma, and premature death. Zoos have had captive elephants for 200 years. Elephant numbers in the wild are still dwindling. The biggest reasons are poaching and loss of habitat, but zoos still pay for wild elephants to be captured and brought into captivity.
Seems like conservation is not really their aim.
It isn't likely that these captive-bred elephants can be 'turned loose' in their natural environments. They haven't learned the necessary survival skills.

I'm always confused when people give this reason for attending zoos.
What are we really learning?
We're learning how animals behave in an enclosure, sure. But not the natural behaviour of the animal.
We learn that animals pace along the side of their dwelling, and how they behave when they're socially deprived, yes. But not how their family members interact with one another and navigate life.
We learn their anatomy and physical functions, okay. But can't we learn that from the found-and-already-dead animals' bodies? We have a lot of information on how dinosaurs functioned anatomically. We don't even have recent body tissue of theirs.

When you break it down, seeing elephants in a zoo satisfies our own selfish curiosity.

Seems we(and especially the elephants) might be better off we focus our time, energy, and money on stopping the biggest dangers of elephants.

Poaching, and habitat loss.



On Parade: The Hidden World of Animals In Entertainment by Rob Laidlaw

The Ankus or Bullhook
This is a book for children, but never-the-less, is a compelling look at the animal entertainment industry.

There are many places in the world(list found here) that have outright banned animal circuses because of the cruelty inherent in making wild animals perform unnatural, unnecessary, and often dangerous tricks.

For example, making an elephant stand on their hind legs.
Elephants only stand on their hind legs when bulls mate. Otherwise, this is an uncomfortable position for the elephant. The two-armed and the one-armed handstand don't happen in nature.

The travel between shows is hard on the animals. They're transported in tiny boxes that they can barely turn around in, for thousands of miles, up to 100 hours with no break, at a time. Imagine being trapped in one spot from Monday night to Thursday night. They must eat, sleep, and defecate in these small spaces. Sometimes, in poor weather conditions where they're not protected from the extremes, hot or cold.

In 1997, a King Royal Circus trailer was found with 3 elephants, one of them had already died, and 8 llamas crammed inside the filthy and sweltering space. The temperature inside the trailer was 49 degrees Celcius.

In the wild, elephants often travel 25 miles, 20 hours a day. In the circus, while not in training or performing, they are kept chained by their one of their front and one of their back legs in the space of one or two parking spots. They develop a neurotic sway, and bob their heads up and down to deal with the confinement, loneliness, boredom, and stress.

Training often is not nice. The bullhook is a common tool of the trade. There are countless videos on YouTube of elephants being hit in the face, their ears pulled, jabbed, and shouted at. It's terribly cruel and abusive to the sensitive animals.

Most people are led to believe that circus training is humane now. There may a humane trainers out there, but growing evidence suggests these trainers and methods are the exception, and not the rule.


Saturday, 9 March 2013


Tourism and elephants have gotten popular as the usual uses of elephants is slowly falling out of practice. Owners of such elephants have started to make money using them for trekking, also called elephant back riding, painting, football(or soccer in America), begging, in temples, jeep safaris, and 'sanctuaries'.
**Please note** There are few legitimate elephant sanctuaries, but actual sanctuaries don't allow a number of activities. Namely: riding, sitting on the neck, paid photo-ops or feeding, painting, or the exploitation of injured and/or babies.
Please see Sanctuaries for a list of reputable and respected organizations.

There are problems with tourism and elephants.
Training to get an elephant to work is often brutal and abusive.
Tourism impedes their natural familial behaviour in their family herds, the training often employs the use of bullhooks and other 'tools' of the trade. Trekking causes permanent spinal injuries, blisters from the work gear, foot infections and other foot maladies.


It's a common practice for elephants to be used in the logging industry. Burma is currently using approximately 4,000 elephants to drag chopped trees to rivers or roads to be transported out of the jungle. We've been using them for the purpose of moving felled timber for 200 years.

The problems with using elephants for this hard work is that it's often hard on the elephants. Their legs are sometimes mangled, they literally break their backs, and they step on sharp objects while maneuvering logs. They're put in risky circumstances that help can't always aide them in time.

A number of elephants at sanctuaries are 'retired' logging employees. Elephant Nature Park, a sanctuary in Thailand has a staggering number of residents that were seriously injured while logging.
Besides physical injury, elephants suffer an emotional toll as well. Sanctuary directors and staff speak about how elephants have to find trust and new companions when they are rescued. I was a bit surprised to learn that many elephants suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, on top of bodily harm.

Habitat Loss

Habitat loss is one of the major contributing factors to why elephants are facing extinction.
The name for this factor is rather irksome because elephants didn't misplace their homes, they didn't forget where they set it. Humans are taking the habitat away.

There are two main causes for this so-called 'loss': 

  1. Deforestation
  2. Animal Agriculture

     The human population continues to grow, and humans are clearing forests to grow more bananas, sugar cane, rubber, tea, lumber, palm oil, and crops for our livestock to consume. These crops are decimating the homes and food sources for many species of animals, including elephants. As this flora is destroyed, the elephants are pushed further and further into areas that poachers have easier access to. The human-elephant conflicts grow as elephants try to maintain their once home-spaces, and often eat the bananas or sugar cane we grow for human consumption.

    Most websites called the second cause, "Overgrazing". But let's call a spade a spade. It's animal agriculture.
    Again, land and food that elephants once used is being overtaken by livestock. Again, livestock for human consumption. Both reasons are very closely related.
    We need land to grow food for the animals we plan to eat, and cut down forest to grow it for them. Then we force elephants out, so our livestock  can use the elephants' space.

    These causes only address our food and resource needs as the human population grows. Humans need space to physically live, as well as resources. As elephants are pushed to smaller living spaces, the reproduction rates drop to levels to reflect the available food.

Friday, 8 March 2013


Elephants are herbivores and consume between 300 and 600 pounds of plants everyday. 

They'll eat a wide variety of plants. Grasses, leaves, roots dug up using their tusks, bark, and bamboo.

It's common for elephants to eat the crops of bananas and sugarcane grown by humans, resulting in a lot of human-elephant conflict.

They only use about 44% of the nutrients they eat(this is why their feces are so nutritious and the distribution of seeds is so dependent on these animals). Elephants consume about 10% of their body weight,  225 litres of water a day,
 and their trunk can hold between 4 and 8 litres.