Have you ever been for an elephant ride? Sitting on the strong back of a gentle friend, with a rugged Thai man pulling at his ears. This man is in control. Our big friendly giant has no choice. Never did it cross my mind the torture he has, and will, endure.
In 2014, my friend Teika and I traveled around Thailand and Cambodia for 1 month. During this time we stayed at an Elephant Nature Park situated in Cambodia. Lek, the owner of the park rescues injured elephants and gives them a safe haven. As natural grazing land is becoming scarce, and hunting is still occurring, this park provides safety for this endangered species. Here, we were able to feed, bathe and interact with the elephants, but strictly no riding was permitted.
Everyone wants to ride elephants, even me. Well that was until I went to the nature park. There is actually quite a dark side to the beloved Thailand tourist attraction. The park doesn’t offer rides, or have circus acts, because these animals were rescued from such places. In order for you or me to ride an elephant it needs to be trained. But the training techniques are brutal and start when the elephants are only young.
Unfortunately not all elephants have had the opportunity to become part of Lek’s nature park. Some endings are not as happy…
‘Under the law, all nonhuman animals are property with no more legal rights than a table or a chair’ – (Tyke Elephant Outlaw)
Tyke was a wild elephant from Mozambique who was captured and separated from her family when she was young. She was then sold to the Hawthorn Corporation in America where she would train to become a circus animal.
This eleven minute clip looks at the brutal lifestyle of the circus through the eyes of the animals who were once a part of the show. The beginning of the video is minimalistic with a lack of visuals, and dialogue as the only sound. The beauty of the background being black/ empty is that we, as an audience, don’t know who is speaking. We presume it’s a human, and are shocked when we find our assumptions to be proved wrong. It’s not a human at all, but a zebra, a tiger, a monkey. The personification of these animals evokes empathy in the audience towards these harshly treated friends of the jungle. The human dialogue connects with us on a personal level, these animals are not so different from us. If they were human, would they be treated differently? They are the one’s telling the story. A story we can understand.
The video, produced by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), is structured like an interview or interrogation. Each animal describes their experience of being part of the Hawthorn circus in Honolulu. The tiger has a scar across her face to highlight the pain and suffering they had to endure. The campaign alternates between the interrogation and historical footage. The Tiger asked if we looked at her with respect or as a clown in a circus. Each animal highlights how they feel, and related their feelings to that of Tykes. Intimacy is created through close-up shots, a technique used to further humanise these animals for audience connection and understanding.
The live footage provides us with evidence of what happened. The dialogue from the animals tells us why it happened. We begin to sympathise with Tyke, and made to believe her actions were as a result of her violent upbringing and training.
An illusion is created that gives the perception that everything is fine. It gives the perception that the animals enjoy being part of the circus, but in fact this is untrue. It’s not natural to be caged, to be punished for not standing on your head or jumping through a ring of fire. Would you force a human baby to act, unwillingly, as a circus performer?Animals, despite what the law says, are not something we should manipulate for financial gain, or any gain for that matter.
The interviewer asks the animals why they didn’t resist or fight back. Tyke and the other animals don’t know how to fight back as they have been punished and humiliated from a young age. They had lost all their natural hunting abilities. They were no longer in their natural habitat, but cages that suffocated them. Many gave up. The tiger pauses between her sentences to build suspense and to capture her emotion.
The last show with Tyke demonstrated the destruction that can happen when people try to control animals, when we take them out of their natural habitats. One of the last shots is a close up of Tyke who has been shot 47 times, before collapsing to the floor. The tiger is still narrating as we are looking at Tyke, watching her slowly pass away, still forced to wear a ridiculous looking hat.
PETA has employed many techniques to make us sympathise with Tyke and the other captive animals. Through the use of personification, and the interview format we are convinced (and know) that the circus was in the wrong. To say that the trainer deserved what happened to them would be extremely harsh. However the audience is inclined to sympathise more so with Tyke. as the circus caused her to act out in the way she did.
Unfortunately, the Elephant Nature Park cannot rescue all elephants that have been captured. Next time, just stop and think before you climb up onto the back of a helpless elephant. Some will never get to experience the care and compassion that many people have towards them. If I were an elephant, I’d like that chance.
- Karsten, M. (2013). Why You Shouldn’t Ride Elephants In Thailand • Expert Vagabond. [online] Expert Vagabond. Available at: http://expertvagabond.com/elephants-in-thailand/ [Accessed 1 Apr. 2016].
- Tyke Elephant Outlaw. (2016). Tyke Elephant Outlaw – Background. [online] Available at: http://tykeelephantoutlaw.com/background/ [Accessed 31 Mar. 2016].
- Elephant Nature Park. (2016). Elephant Nature Park. [online] Available at: http://www.elephantnaturepark.org/ [Accessed 31 Mar. 2016].