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Water for Elephants: Circus Cruelty is Not a Thing of the Past…

March 11th, 2011 by Nicole Meyer

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Sara Gruen’s book, Water for Elephants, was a runaway best seller – an internationally acclaimed novel told as the reminiscences of an old man, Jacob, about his experiences with a Depression-era circus where he witnessed the brutalities inflicted on people and animals alike. Jacob is the moral center of the book, recognizing and, where possible, preventing those cruelties, and in the end saving the elephant Rosie from a harsh fate. The movie version of this blockbuster is set for release on April 22, and it will be huge. The stars (Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson), the story, and the pre-release buildup will combine to sell a lot of tickets.

Many people will be drawn to the movie as a lovely – though sometimes gritty – historical romance. They will watch the abuses heaped upon the animals and think about how sad it “used to be” and how much better everything is today. They will be wrong.

Elephants forced to work in circuses today, like those in the era depicted in Water for Elephants, are forced to lead unnatural, deprived lives. They suffer as Rosie suffers, year after year, with no Jacob to come to their rescue. It is no better for the other wild animals used by circuses, who spend their lives in cages and are brutalized into performing tricks for the public. They need your help.

The opening of Water for Elephants will provide us with a unique opportunity to tell people that the kind of cruelty depicted in the movie still goes on. So please save these dates: April 14 (Los Angeles premier), April 17 (New York premier), April 22 (general U.A. release).

Please plan to join IDA in bringing attention to the suffering endured by animals in the circus. You can help by coordinating or joining in events outside your local theaters to let moviegoers know that circus cruelty is not a thing of the past.

Please join our Elephant Task Force and Sign Up for IDA’s Enewsletter for more information about this opportunity to enlighten the public about circus cruelty.

The circus industry is hoping that the film will bring a shot of glamor and glory to a fading form of entertainment. There have already been efforts to use the film to generate sympathy for “Rosie” and to raise money for the International Elephant Foundation, an organization created and run by and for the circus and zoo industries. We need to inform the public that there is nothing glamorous or romantic about the kind of animal abuse rampant in circuses today.

Rather than helping circuses to flourish, Water for Elephants can and should be a catalyst for bringing about an end to the use of animals in entertainment. Elephants used in circuses, films, commercials, and other forms of entertainment are deprived of all that is natural in their lives. They have been torn from their families and subjected to unimaginably cruel training to break their spirits and make them easier to control. They are dominated through negative reinforcement, and trainers and handlers carry the constant threat of the bullhook, a steel-tipped device similar to a fireplace poker used to prod, stab, beat and intimidate elephants into submission.

Please note: Though the film portrays the circus’s treatment of animals in a negative light, IDA cannot endorse it. Unfortunately, the film’s producers did not take the book’s message to heart, instead choosing to use live animals during production of the movie. Rosie is played by the elephant Tai, who is owned by Have Trunk Will Travel, a California-based company that uses elephants for rides and for entertainment.

This blog was contributed by Deborah Robinson, IDA’s Captive Elephant Specialist.