Santa Ana Zoo Urged to Cut Ties with Elephant Ride Contractor in Wake of Abuse Alleged in Video

An animal rights group is urging the city of Santa Ana to break ties with the supplier of elephants for a Santa Ana Zoo ride after allegations the same company abused a mammal that appears in the recent film Water for Elephants starring Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) made the demand after video posted online by Animal Defenders International (ADI) was said to show Tai, a 42-year-old Asian elephant, being shocked with a taser and beaten with bull hooks in 2005.

My colleague

Dennis Romero

posted the following video earlier today on

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In the story, Tai is abused with bull hooks by an evil circus owner. But the stars, producers and trainers on Water for Elephants claimed in real life "Tai was trained with kindness, marshmallows, and positive reinforcement," an ADI statement notes.

"Tai was never hit in any way at all," Gary Johnson of Have Trunk Will Travel, the Perris company that provided Tai to the moviemakers and has other elephants in use at Santa Ana Zoo, is also quoted as saying in the film production notes.

Jan Creamer of ADI says his group felt duty-bound to show what Tai has really gone through, believing Witherspoon and Pattinson "will be horrified to learn" of the past abuse.

Romero's post includes this from PETA:

PETA, Animal Protection and Rescue League (APRL) and Orange County People for Animals (OCPA) has sent an urgent letter to Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido and other Santa Ana officials calling on them to end the rides once and for all.

Tracy Reiman, PETA's executive vice president, is also quoted:

Video footage reveals that Have Trunk Will Travel beats elephants with what is essentially a fireplace poker, clearly showing that 'training' to the company means beating and shocking these gentle elephants until they scream. Mayor Pulido needs to stop supporting such wanton abuse and stop the pathetic old-fashioned elephant rides at the zoo.

Contacted by OC Weekly in October, Santa Ana Zoo Manager Kent Yamaguchi defended the city-owned attraction's elephant rides, singling out the care for elephants practiced by contractor Have Trunk Will Travel (HTWT).

"I have worked with the elephant company for over 20 years and have seen first-hand how they care for their elephants," Yamaguchi wrote in an email to our Milena Enguidanos, going on to claim HTWT did not use bull hooks to intimidate their animals like other elephant handlers had.

"They treat their elephants like they are part of their family," Yamaguchi wrote. "Some of my staff have even worked with the elephants and lived with them while they were on the road and no one has ever reported any staff abuse toward the elephants. That is why I believe that HTWT does not do the things purported by PETA."

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