In a recent episode of “Westworld,” the popular HBO show, two elephants carry characters Grace and Nicholas to a base camp to hunt a Bengal tiger. But to perform this way, the elephants would have gone through a rigorous training program — and animal welfare advocates are certain they were mistreated and abused in the process.
The elephants who appeared in “Westworld” are owned by Have Trunk Will Travel (HTWT), a California-based business that trains elephants and rents them out to perform in movies, TV shows and other kinds of performances. Besides “Westworld,” HTWT’s elephants have appeared in popular films like “The Zookeeper” and “Water for Elephants,” and they’ve also performed in the music video for Britney Spears’ song “Circus” and commercials for companies like Visa, Cadillac and Oreo.
In 2005, an undercover investigator for Animal Defenders International (ADI) obtained damning footage of elephants being brutally trained by HTWT workers — the workers beat and prodded the elephants with bullhooks, and shocked them with stun guns, to get them to perform tricks. In one section of the footage, one of the older female elephants, Tai (who also performed in the recent episode of “Westworld”), cries out when she’s zapped with the stun gun on her sensitive skin.
The ADI investigation, which took place over eight weeks, revealed that when elephants weren’t being trained, they were chained up by their legs for 12 hours each day, barely able to take one step forward or backward.
The footage also shows HTWT workers grabbing onto a baby elephant’s trunk and holding it while training the animal to perform in a certain way. The baby elephant appears to struggle against each trainer’s grip, looking nervous and uncomfortable.