Have Trunk Will Travel Defrauded the Public over Elephant Star of Water for Elephants, Says Animal Defenders International

LOS ANGELES--()--Today, in the US District Court, Central District of California, Los Angeles, Animal Defenders International (ADI), together with members of the public, Gail Profant and Leslie Hemstreet, filed suit against Have Trunk Will Travel, as well as the owners Gary and Kari Johnson, elephant trainer Joanne Smith of Perris, CA, over their claims about the training of the elephant Tai, who played Rosie in the film ‘Water for Elephants’.

The suit is based on erroneous assurances that the defendants gave the public that the elephant Tai was trained with kindness for her role in Water for Elephants.

Video footage released by Animal Defenders International (ADI) showed Tai and other elephants being electric shocked with a stun gun and jabbed and hit will bull hooks during her training for the same types of tricks seen in the movie, at the Perris, CA ranch of Have Trunk Will Travel.

Watch the video here:


Jan Creamer, President of ADI: “We believe the public were duped when claims were made all over the world about the humane treatment during training of the elephant Tai that appeared in the film Water for Elephants. From the statements made by Have Trunk Will Travel in the build up to this film, we believe that they perpetrated a fraud.

“What is unclear at this stage is whether the film makers and actors were a party to that fraud or were duped themselves. We are still waiting to hear from them.”

Since Have Trunk Will Travel hires out Tai and other elephants for elephant rides, advertising and TV as well as movies, ADI is asking members of the public who have seen the Water for Elephants movie, or paid for an elephant ride, to get in touch with ADI’s LA office at (323) 935-2234.


High resolution VNR footage and a Time Code Index are available on request. Photographs are available.

Media Contact:
Agnes Huff, PhD
Agnes Huff Communications Group
Phone: 310-641-2525 or cell (310) 902-8131
E-mail: ahuff@ahuffgroup.com

The video was filmed in 2005 and features elephants, including Tai, being trained by the trainers who handled Tai on the set of ‘Water for Elephants’. The footage had not been released, as it was part of a wider investigation. However, ADI decided to release the footage because global promotion of the film was being used to spread misinformation about elephant training. ADI felt obligated to release the brutal reality behind the scenes. This included:

  • Elephants including Tai are repeatedly given electric shocks with hand held stun guns
  • Tai cries out when being shocked into performing a headstand
  • Elephants including Tai are beaten about the body and legs with bull hooks
  • A baby elephant is hooked in the lip and cries out
  • An elephant is pinned with bull hooks whilst her tusks are sawn down, close to the bone


These are the claims made about the protection of animals during the making of ‘Water for Elephants’:

"Have Trunk Will Travel has never issued a written endorsement, nor does it condone using electrical devices to discipline and control elephants except in situations where elephant or human safety is at risk." Kari Johnson, Have Trunk Will Travel

“Tai was never hit in any way at all. ” Gary Johnson, Have Trunk Will Travel

"We had really mixed emotions about even doing this film because it's pretty graphic with the elephant, and there's some so-called beating scenes in there. We didn't want to send a wrong message." Gary Johnson, the co-owner of Have Trunk Will Travel

“She is the furthest thing from being an abused animal.” Jone Bouman, Director of Communications for American Humane Film & TV Unit

“We’re here observing prep on Water for Elephants and so we’re here to make sure that everybody knows that not only the action on set but also the prep is humanely done, all these animals have been treated fairly and humanely throughout the entire course of their training.” Danielle Macdonald Wolcott-American Humane Safety Rep & Humane Officer

“To get the huge animal to obey, Tai’s trainer gave her constant positive reinforcement. Whether it was a food treat or play time, continual rewards motivated Tai to perform for the camera — without any need for threats or violence, ever.” American Humane

“In fact, her trainer never had to raise his voice much above a whisper to get Tai to listen.” American Humane

“Because Tai has never known mistreatment, she does not view the flailing as anything more than some imbecile beating the air.” Linda Reeve Preddie, Tai’s veterinarian

“And the reality is it is actually a trained behavior for her to do something. She’s not reacting to the swing of the stick she’s reacting to the verbal cue and the training that she’s being asked to perform.” Tonya Obeso - American Humane Safety Rep & Humane Officer

American Humane Association:

The American Humane Association (AHA) is a nonprofit corporation which works with the entertainment industry and has established humane filmmaking guidelines. AHA observes movie production on and off set when animals are being used in order for the movie to earn the “no animals were harmed” trademark symbol of approval. Applying this label to a film carries enormous responsibility, because it creates confidence that the compassionate movie-going public can ethically support any film with AHA’s endorsement.

Have Trunk Will Travel is owned by Gary and Kari Johnson and is based in Perris, California, USA. Their group of performing Asian elephants (with approximate ages) includes: Tai (45), Rosie (30), Dixie (46), Kitty (45), Becky (26), Tess (30, and her baby, seen at the time of the investigation, is Tucker; now on loan to Houston Zoo).

Movies with elephants supplied by Have Trunk Will Travel:

Water For Elephants, 2011 (Fox) (Tai), Evan Almighty, 2007 (Universal Studios), Vanity Fair, 2004 (Focus Features) (Tai), Larger Than Life, 1996 (United Artists MGM) (Tai), Jungle Book, 1994 (Walt Disney Pictures), George of the Jungle, 1997 (Disney Studios) (Tai), Ace Ventura When Nature Calls, 1995 (Morgan Creek Warner Brothers), Operation Dumbo Drop, 1995 (Walt Disney Pictures), Exit Through the Gift Shop, documentary, 2009 (Tai) – as well as the upcoming Zookeeper, Summer, 2011 (MGM and Sony Pictures).

Music Videos and TV commercials include:

The Britney Spears Music Video “Circus” 2008 (Tai). Commercials: Hewlett Packard, Visa, Oreo Cookies and with Ellen Degeneres in an advertisement for American Express.

Tai was the elephant whose body was painted by British artist Banksy; she was then placed on display in 2006, in Los Angeles, causing condemnation of cruelty.

ADI is leading the campaign to end the suffering of animals in entertainment and currently has major campaigns running in Europe, South America and the USA. The organisation has just rescued a record breaking 25 circus lions from Bolivia to the US, having conducted undercover investigations in Bolivia which helped close down the circus industry in the country for good.

Animal Defenders International (ADI) With offices in London, Los Angeles, and Bogota Animal Defenders International (ADI) is a major international campaigning group, lobbying to protect animals on issues such as animals in entertainment and their use in experiments; worldwide traffic in endangered species; vegetarianism; factory farming; pollution and conservation. ADI involves itself in international animal rescues as well as educational work on animals, conservation and environment. Founded in 1990, ADI has become a major force for animal protection and has succeeded through its undercover investigations in securing legal protection for animals. ADI opposes violence or intimidation whether directed at humans or other animals.


ADI’s Mission:

To educate, create awareness, and promote the interest of humanity in the cause of justice, and the suppression of all forms of cruelty to animals wherever possible to alleviate suffering, and to conserve and protect animals and the environment.


Agnes Huff Communications Group
Agnes Huff, PhD
Phone: 310-641-2525 or cell 310-902-8131
E-mail: ahuff@ahuffgroup.com

Release Summary



Agnes Huff Communications Group
Agnes Huff, PhD
Phone: 310-641-2525 or cell 310-902-8131
E-mail: ahuff@ahuffgroup.com