An animal rights organization has pressed Huntington Beach to investigate how an elephant was used in a recent wedding ceremony at the Hyatt Regency Resort and Spa despite a city ordinance prohibiting wild animal performances.
Animal Defenders International (ADI) sent the Weekly photos from the Saturday, Oct. 18, wedding ceremony that extended from a public street to the resort property. The group also identified the elephant as Tai, who appeared in the film Water for Elephants starring Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon and is owned by Perris-based Have Trunk Will Travel.
In 2002, the Huntington Beach City Council passed Municipal Code Chapter 7.14 that states, "It shall be unlawful for any person to permit the performance of any wild and exotic animal for public entertainment, amusement or benefit on any public or private property within the City of Huntington Beach." Neighboring Fountain Valley has a similar ban.
""The city of Huntington Beach was not aware of this event, and will be speaking to the hotels about this issue," said Janeen Laudenback of the city's Community Services Department when contacted by the Weekly. "At this juncture we have nothing to add."
"Huntington Beach had the foresight to enact this important ordinance 12 years ago prohibiting wild animal performances to protect the public and wild animals, and we appreciate the attention they are taking now to get to the bottom of what went wrong and how to prevent it from happening again," said Jan Creamer, ADI's president.
The group believes the hotel and wedding party may have been unaware that Tai was among a group of elephants who made headlines around the time Water for Elephants was released in 2011. Undercover footage fell into the hands of ADI showing elephants being struck and electric shocked by Have Trunk Will Travel trainers. That prompted ADI to release photos to the media, including this one:
In a bit of life becoming art, Tai is brutally attacked by the circus owner with a bullhook in Water for Elephants, although the producers, stars, studio and trainers stressed that was make believe and the elephant was trained on set with kindness, marshmallows and positive reinforcement. (A trick I believe Witherspoon had used on Joaquin Phoenix on the Walk Like a Man set.)
It was also around this time, I seem to recall through a trunky haze, that the Santa Ana Zoo and Orange County Fair in Costa Mesa ended their elephant rides and relationships with Have Trunk Will Travel.