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Elephants: The Good News and the Bad

The following message was sent to the producers of Water for Elephants to condemn the violence inflicted on Tai, the elephant, during the making of this film.

Ruth Eisenbud

18 May 2011

To the Producers of 'Water for Elephants';

This is to inform you that I will not see Water for Elephants, as it tortures elephants to capitalize on incidents of elephant torture. If this irony evades you, there is sufficient evidence to indicate that Tai, the elephant featured in this movie was viciously beaten with a bull hook and prodded with electric shock to insure she would perform according to the dictates of her sadistic trainers.

As those making this film, most likely adhere to the biblical mandate which grants man dominion over the animals, the suffering of Tai, means little compared to the profit obtained from an audience who would not tolerate the kind of violence inflicted on her to make this film. It is therefore the goal of those who defend animals to make sure that the truth of Tai's suffering be revealed to the public, so that they will not help you to profit from such cruelty. The British press has documented the suffering of Tai. This information will be passed on to the American press.

I have enclosed information on the treatment of elephants in two cultures: the dominion based culture of the judeo.christian tradition and the more compassionate model of India, called ahimsa and practiced by the Jain religion, which grants all beings: human and animal the same right to protection from harm. As you will see, the outcome for animals differs markedly with these two models of compassion.

Ruth Eisenbud

"For there is nothing inaccessible for death.
All beings are fond of life, hate pain, like pleasure,
shun destruction, like life, long to live. To all life
is dear." Jain Acharanga Sutra.

Elephants: The Good News and the Bad
Animal legislation in India is based on the religious concept of Ahimsa, which equates the value of human and animal lives. Recent legislation and events as well as cultural traditions of cooperation with elephants reflect this tradition. In predominantly judeo.christian nations, animal legislation is based on the concept of dominion, which allows for their exploitation to benefit man. In keeping with this view brutal incidents towards elephants as well as animal legislation reflect the needs of those who abuse and exploit them, as animals are viewed as a commodity, with no recognition that their lives have intrinsic worth. The following indicates the ramifications of dominion on elephants:

A recent incident of brutality towards elephants reveals vicious beatings of Tai to make the movie Water for Elephants: According to an article in the Daily Mail Reporter Tai was Given electric shocks and beaten with hooks during the making of this film. In secret footage, released by charity Animal Defenders International (ADI), Tai is seen being given electric shocks with hand held stun guns and being beaten: Read more:

Good News for Elephants from India:
A number of laws have recently been passed in India to protect elephants:
The most significant and broad sweeping of these laws benefitting elephants frees ALL elephants them from their bondage in circuses and zoos: "All elephants living in Indian zoos and circuses will be moved to wildlife parks and game sanctuaries where the animals can graze more freely, officials at Indian's Central Zoo Authority announced earlier this month." November 2009 (see website: )

This means that every elephant in every state of India has been liberated from incarceration in circuses and zoos:

Another provision to protect elephants grants them the status of a 'national heritage animal'. This provides a high level of awareness to insure their safety: "Indian authorities have now decided to declare the elephant its "national heritage animal" and to afford it the same level of protection as bestowed upon the mighty tiger. "We need to give the same degree of importance to the elephant as is given to the tiger in order to protect the big animal," said the Environment minister, Jairam Ramesh." Independent, UK see:

Yet another measure to protects elephants, this one, from illness, was enacted in Tamil Nadu. Though the measure will result in less income for human beneficiaries, the health of the elephants was valued above the right of those who would exploit them: "Forest officials in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu have asked temple custodians to stop their elephants from blessing Hindu pilgrims. Their concern is that the practice could be damaging the more than 50 elephants kept in Hindu temples. The elephants are routinely forced to touch the heads of pilgrims with their trunks as a form of blessing. But officials say the practice could be putting the animals at risk of tuberculosis." BBC News:

mahoots: a tradition of cooperation:
In addition to effective legislation, there is an indian tradition which respects the human-elephant bond. In this tradition a person, called a mahoot, works and lives with an elephant on a one to one basis. Often they bond for life. Their relationship is based on mutual trust and respect. If the bond is broken it can be devastating for both. Though there may be some mahoots who violate this trust, this does not negate the value of this institution as a valid and humane way of working with elephants. For the majority this relationship is, based on mutual respect. not domination. As such it is a profound reflection of ahimsa:

"Elephants have been domesticated in the N.E. India since time immemorial and both the elephant and the mahout have become a part of the folklore and the folksongs. Stories of brave and expert phandis (noosers) and mahouts are passed on from generation to generation. In the rural Assam mahouts are looked upon with awe and admiration. Once a captive elephant is weaned at the about the age of three, it begins life as a domesticated elephant under the care of its keeper or mahout. Other than its mother, the mahout is the next most important influence in the elephant's life. A mahout traditionally is a highly experienced and knowledgeable individual with excellent elephant rearing skills. A mahout must have an intimate understanding of his particular elephant and develop a bond of trust and affection that allows him to control the animal with simple verbal commands and touch. A family that has kept elephants for generations passes the critical knowledge and skills needed from one generation to the next. An elephants is treated as part of the family. Just as children are born into a family, so too are elephants. A young boy will grow up with a baby elephant and together they will develop a lifetime bond based on trust and affection. Elephants are very loyal to their mahouts and they are often associated with supernatural powers because they control such a big animal. Ideally, this relationship will not end until either the elephant is sold or the mahout dies. Many mahouts will spend up to 26 days out of the month with their elephant and the remainder with his family." (see: )

a mahoot bathing his elephant
Rather than kill rogue elephants, who number in the thousands and have destroyed villages and human lives, a method has been developed which uses tame elephants to intercept their rogue cousins. Because there is a foundation and a precedent for cooperation with elephants in India, this new technique for controlling free roaming rogue elephants has been implemented. They are not shot or incarcerated and disciplined with bull hooks or electric shock. It is understood that the elephant is an intelligent being who communicates with others of his/her kind. Based on this understanding they have enlisted domesticated, tame elephants (kunkis) to coach their rogue cousins on how to behave more responsibly: 

In India's north-eastern state of Assam, groups of tame elephants, called kunkis, are being used to control the excesses of their wild cousins

villagers and ahimsa
The following is an example of poor Indian villagers rescuing an elephant from a well: newsid_4511700/4511795.stm

Villagers have battled to save a baby elephant which fell down a well.
The baby had slipped off soaked fields in the small Indian village of Illithodu, and fell down a 10-metre deep well and couldn't get out.

Locals heard its mother running around at night, frantically calling for other elephants to help her. Many animals did come but they couldn't rescue it.
Villagers eventually saved the little beast by digging a slope into the well and helping the baby walk out.

Elephants in America:
In dominion based nations, such as the USA, there is no tradition of mahoots, who live and bond with their elephants, instead virtually any one in the west who works with captive elephants habitually uses violent means of control. Recent incidents of extreme brutality involving dominion over elephants.

bull hooks
All performing elephants and those in zoos are routinely trained and disciplined with bull hooks, which are as vicious as they sound. Elephants are trained to perform acts they would not do of their own accord by the use of a 'bull hook', which is a 2-3 foot long club or stick with a sharp metal hook attached to the top. It is repeatedly used to beat, hit and poke the animals, often leaving permanent scars. There are numerous undercover videos and testimony from past circus employees corroborating this information.

Attempts to criminalize the use of bull hooks on elephants in the USA have failed: "Most California zoos do not condone this type of training, but the national organization, AZA, still allows chaining and use of the bull hook as an acceptable form of elephant management, and supports Have Trunk Will Travel as a Certified Related Facility" IDA alert

A bill was introduced in the Connecticut legislature to ban the use of bull hooks and other harmful devices, but the bill was not passed: "Bill Description: If passed, this bill would make it unlawful for a person who owns or travels with elephants to engage in inhumane or abusive treatment toward them. Specifically, this bill bans the use of any implement that may reasonably result in harm to an elephant. These implements include an electric prod, bull hook, ankus, or similar device. Update: Sadly, this bill failed to make its way through the legislative process in compliance with legislative deadlines." Born Free USA

There have been a number of reported disturbing incidents of abuse of captive circus elephants. These elephants are viewed by their trainers as objects to be managed, dominated and beaten into submission, so that the may be exploited for human greed. There is no recognition that elephants are sensitive beings with feelings, capable of experiencing pain and sorrow. These trainers are well versed in the biblical intention of dominion, which does not recognize the intrinsic worth of an animals life. These trainers do not work with the elephants, rather they seek power over. These trainers do not have the understanding or appreciation of the true value of an elephant. Nor do they have the compassion, empathy or skill of a mahoot. All they are capable of understanding is the profit to be gained, no matter how great the violence inflicted. The following shows how a baby elephant is trained with a bull hook by his/her dominion-based handlers:

baby elephant trained with a bull hook for Ringling Bros Circus

Does this trainer really have to use a bull hook to protect himself from this harmless toddler. Rather it would seem he has to establish his dominion over this helpless creature. Simply put, this is child abuse, but in the language of dominion it is training. With dominion there is no attempt to communicate or form a relationship with the elephant, just to instill biblical fear and dread:

"God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them: 'Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. The fear and dread of you shall rest on every animal of the earth, and on every bird of the air, on everything that creeps on the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; into your hand they are delivered. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and just as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.' genesis

dominion over elephants:
Recently released video shows shocking scenes of elephant abuse by the owner and a trainer at Have Trunk Will Travel, a company that hires out elephants for films, TV, print and rides. In the video, elephants are 'trained' with electric shock devices and struck with steel bullhooks, and a baby elephant is cruelly hooked in the mouth. One of the abuse victims shown in the video is Tai, who screams after being shocked with a powerful hand-held electric device. She appears in the recently released film Water for Elephants, in which she undergoes a vicious staged 'beating.'

The public was repeatedly and falsely assured that Tai was never mistreated. The American humane societies have given their seal of approval that "no animal was harmed in the making of this film" Indeed, by the standards of dominion these elephants are props to be manipulated for human profit, so that any wounds inflicted are deemed trivial and a necessary part of training and production.

This is not the first encounter of accusations of elephant abuse for Have Trunk will Travel. Newly released video footage from Animal Defenders International shows the trainers with Have Trunk Will Travel (HTWT)--the company that provides elephants for rides at the Santa Ana Zoo--as they strike elephants with sharp metal-tipped bull hooks and shock them with electric prods while the elephants scream in pain: 

The sorrowful soul pictured on the right is a product of man's dominion over the elephant. S/he is kept in chains, beaten and prodded into submission and isolated from his/her companions. Should such a traumatized and psychologically wounded elephant protest his/her torment, s/he is deemed a rogue and shot, as s/he no longer complies with the dictates of dominion.

lack of legislation, protection and compassion
There has not been any legislation proposed in the USA to liberate elephants from ALL zoos and circuses in the USA, as the divine mandate granted to man in the Old Testament sanctions their bondage and submission to human endeavors. Bull hooks are still the preferred method of training and the elephants are still in chains. Despite the effort of so many dedicated activists, the prospect for the well-being of elephants remains bleak in the USA. The religious leaders of the judeo.christian tradition have shown themselves to be impervious to ending man's dominion over the animals. Their power and dominion over their followers is contingent on granting man exploitation/property rights over animals. As long as we pay lip-service to the notion that compassion can be derived from dominion by supporting these religious institutions or animal welfare organizations that comply with dominion, we perpetuate the system which thwarts the best efforts for ending animal suffering.

Elephants and ahimsa:
Compare the poor captive elephant, held by his/her American captors to one living in India with a mahoot. The majestic elephant pictured below with his mahoot is not in chains, the mahoot does not have a bull hook and both look at ease. While it is best for elephants to remain free and live in herds, when they do work with humans, they should be treated with the same respect and consideration given to humans. such is the nature of ahimsa and of a civilized nation:

an elephant and his mahout at the Guruvayoor Anakotta - Guruvayur Devaswom elephant sanctuary at Punnathur Kotta. Punnathur Kotta is about 5 Km south of Guruvayoor temple.

The items presented on the respect and compassion shown towards elephants in India gives hope that they would not have to languish in captivity with the brutality currently inflicted on them in dominion based nations. Religion really does make a difference. It would be very different, if religions didn't sanctify animal abuse.

Ruth Eisenbud

"All things breathing, all things existing, all living beings whatever, would not be slain or treated with violence, or insulted, or tortured or driven away. This is the pure unchanging eternal law, which the wise ones who know the world have proclaimed..." Jain Acharanga Sutra

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