Group claims elephant in Witherspoon film was abused

Tue May 10, 2011 8:39pm EDT
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By Dean Goodman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The 9,000-pound (4,100 kg) co-star of the new Reese Witherspoon drama "Water for Elephants" was abused by its trainers, according to a group that is urging a boycott of the movie.

Animal Defenders International has released an undercover video from 2005 showing an elephant it identifies as the same one that appeared in the movie apparently being beaten with hooks and shocked with stun guns.

The heavily edited videoclip contains a sequence of brief scenes backed by mournful music. In one scene, an elephant make a loud noise while performing a headstand as a trainer appears to deliver an electric shock.

Coincidentally, "Water for Elephants" deals in part with animal abuse at a Depression-era circus. Its filmmakers and stars went to great lengths during their publicity efforts to proclaim that the animals were treated well, likely unaware of any mistreatment that may have taken place behind the scenes.

Animal Defenders said it released the footage to set the record straight. It was allegedly filmed at a California ranch as part of the group's wider investigation into animal mistreatment.

The ranch is owned by a firm that hires out elephants to movie and video productions. Have Trunk Will Travel strongly defended itself in an emailed statement, describing Animal Defenders as an "extremist group" with "a history of using less than honest means to achieve their goals."

"If there was truly any abuse going on why wait six minutes, much less six years?," owners Gary and Kari Johnson said.

Gary Johnson told Reuters Television last month that Tai, the 42-year-old Asian elephant who stars in "Water for Elephants," was very well treated.   Continued...