Tai, the 42-year old Asian elephant, at the center of the film "Water for Elephants," was abused by its trainers, an animal rights group alleges.
Armed with videos that purportedly show handlers giving Tai and other elephants electric shocks and using bull hooks, Animal Defenders International is calling on the American Humane Society to intervene and asking it to reevaluate how it assesses the use of animals in films.
The videos are from 2005, five years before the romantic drama starring Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon began production, and take place on the grounds of California animal supplier Have Trunk Will Travel which supplied Tai. Tai has also appeared in films such as "Operation Dumbo Drop" and "Larger than Life."
Kari and Gary Johnson, the company's founders, deny that any abuse had taken place. They claim that the footage was heavily edited and that the group was exploiting Tai's celebrity to promote an extremist agenda.
"These groups have no basis of knowledge or experience working with elephants. They have an agenda and a history of using less than honest means to achieve their goals," Johnson said in a statement. " As our work in the movie proves you can make something look like anything to suit your purposes. That is why they call it “movie magic."
In the footage elephants are shocked into performing headstands, beaten about the body and legs with hooks, a baby elephant is hooked in the lip and another elephant is pinned with bull hooks while her tusks are sawed down.
A spokesperson for Fox said that a representative from the American Humane Society was on set and monitored every instance in which animals were used to ensure that no elephants were mistreated in any way. Further, Fox pointed out that none of the alleged abuses took place as part of training or production for the film, and that none of the animals used in "Water for Elephants" were harmed.
"Fox and the filmmakers behind 'Water for Elephants' are disturbed and saddened by the video being circulated that purportedly shows the elephant Tai being mistreated several years ago. We are strongly opposed to violence against animals, humans or any creatures," Fox said in a statement.
ADI said it had sent copies of the DVD to the film’s stars and makers. A spokesperson for the Humane Society told TheWrap that it was currently evaluating the footage.