Tyke Tyke's life Articles Videos Links My visits USDA
'Training' baby elephants
According to Stefan Moore, who produced the documentary, the baby elephant who became known as Tyke, witnessed the slaughter of her family in her native Mozambique and after this (in 1973) was transported to America. At some point she became the possession of Hawthorn Corporation (HC) who rented out elephants to circuses. Moore's documentary gives valuable information about the training of elephants for the circus while they were with the HC and anyone interested in this case is strongly encouraged to watch this documentary.
When she was not in the HC compound, she was rented out to circuses which involved being shipped or transported about the country and then have to perform 'acts' for people who had paid to see her pathetic behaviour which they found 'entertaining'.
After over twenty years of this, Tyke arrived in Hawaii in August 1994 and the documentary shows footage of her looking downcast. There is wide disagreement about the cognitive abilities of animals, but as the links dealing with 'The social life and intelligence of elephants' on this site confirm, elephants are not only intelligent, but extremely intelligent, and it is reasonable to consider that on arriving in Honolulu, she had simply 'had enough'. She would in fact never leave the island and only days later, her bullet-ridden body would be dumped in the local landfill. On 20 August 1994, the last date of the circus in Honolulu, she decided that she would end her misery.
It is worth remembering that, as CAPS remarks, 'The documentary...shows that in fact Tyke had [already] broken free and caused havoc twice, less than two years before this final tragedy, and that no less than three ex employees had warned that Tyke should not be performing in a circus..'. It adds:
The extent of using fear in training is described in numerous internet articles written by eye-witnesses. One report refers to two ex-employees of another circus witnessing 'a violent 30-minute beating'. This involved 'at one point,a man after inserting a bullhook inside the elephant’s ear canal', He proceeded to yank with full force; the elephant cried out in agony'. The witnesses 'also saw elephants urinating, defecating, and trumpeting in fear at the sound of trainers’ voices'. The report goes on to say that for Tyke, 'fear had to end' and'Ex employee Sally Joseph (elephant handler and compound manager), talks about the appalling attitudes of fellow handlers, describing it as a testosterone fuelled, macho environment with pride taken in being able to beat up a grown elephant. She states that elephants were routinely beaten until they screamed and gave in to their handlers will, the prevailing theory being: “as long as they are afraid of you they’re not going to do anything to you”.
After Tyke was killed by Hawaiian police, efforts began to remove elephants from HC and this was completed in 2007.
The reader is strongly encouraged to review the documents listed below that cover the period between Tyke's killing in 1994 and 2007. Considering the reported situation, some might find the USDA's behaviour to be highly unimpressive. Nonetheless, after some years, all the elephants held with HC were removed to sanctuaries - somewhere that Tyke would have surely thrived if she had not found it necessary to try and escape.
Chicago Tribune, 24 August 1994. Chicago Tribune, 8 February 1997. Chicago Tribune, 20 February 1997.
Chicago Tribune, 9 August 1997. Chicago Tribune, 6 June 2003. Chicago Tribune, 26 September 2003.
Chicago Tribune, 25 November 2003. Chicago Tribune, 8 March 2004. Chicago Tribune, 9 March 2004.
Chicago Tribune, 9 March 2004. Chicago Tribune, 30 July 2004. Star Bulletin, 16 August 2004.
Chicago Tribune, 18 February 2005. Chicago Tribune, 26 February 2005. Washington Post, 30 May 2005.
Chicago Tribune, 30 November 2005. Chicago Tribune, 30 December 2005. Chicago Tribune, 5 January 2006.
Chicago Tribune, 31 January 2006. Chicago Tribune, 27 February 2007. Chicago Tribune, 15 June 2007.
PETA Info: 1978-2012. USDA Update: 14 February 2006.
Following her death, it was reported that a number of people or parties involved with Tyke and/or the circus faced lawsuits: these were filed against the City of Honolulu, the State of Hawaii, the circus, and Tyke's owner.[iv]
Media reports state that the autopsy of Tyke's handler, Allen Campbell. showed he 'had cocaine and alcohol in his system at the time he died'. Furthermore, he had a history of cruelty to elephants: 'Four years before that, he was fired from a job at the Denver Zoo after fellow employees accused him of abusing elephants'.[v]
Steve Hirano appears in the video clips shown of Tyke's escape. He attempts to stop an 8000lb Tyke from escaping by closing a gate on a fenced area parking lot only to be knocked aside by her. Hirano was in fact a keen supporter of the circus and is called 'the circus promoter'. It is reported that 'Hirano fought to keep the circus coming to Honolulu. He...testified against a City Council bill to prohibit exotic animals from traveling exhibits, parades or circuses'.
This individual died in 2003, aged only 57, 'less than two months after learning he had pancreatic cancer'.[vi]
The landfill site where Tyke's body was dumped in 1994 and left to rot, has experienced a range of problems since that date:
2010: 'Waimanalo Gulch operators contest fine despite leniency of DOH'.
2011: 'EPA Cites Violations at Waimanalo Gulch'.
2012: 'Fight over Waimanalo Gulch Landfill brewing'.
It is suggested that Tyke's death played some part in some countries deciding to ban wild animal circuses. The countries that have some form of ban are listed here. In a number of countries there has been a complete ban of wild animal circuses. Because of these bans, many other animals will not have the type of life, and death, that Tyke had.
It is surely reasonable to assume all circuses with wild animals include a member of staff with some basic veterinary qualifications and for the circus to possess a tranquilizer device suitable for use on any of its animals if the need arises, and a lethal injection, again, suitable for use on any of its animals if the need arises. However, the circus did not possess a lethal injection and the Hawaiian authorities had to summon an official from the local zoo. whose attempts to put Tyke out of her misery failed and made it necessary for a police officer to obtain a high powered rifle (apparently from a local auto shop) to kill Tyke as she lay in the street, having collapsed from the 80+ bullets fired into her by the police. It has been pointed out that if a tranquiliser had been used, it would have taken some 30 minutes to haven taken effect.
In the case of weaponry, the police only had low powered weapons and also had no idea about which parts of Tyke's body to fire at in order to kill her/put her out of her misery. It has been pointed that the only drug that would have stopped Tyke is Carfentinil, a potent opioid providing rapid immobilization, suitable for use on large animals (having a quantitative potency of about 10,000 times that of morphine), but the Honolulu Zoo did not have this.
Some will find it truly extraordinary that the island authorities were content to have the circus, and Tyke, visiting, but did not have any suitable equipment to hand that would promptly deal with a wild animal escaping from the circus. There will surely also be amazement that Tyke, who had reacted forcefully on three occasions during the previous year, continued to be used in circuses where the public were present.
. This is not the first time a circus elephant in America has had the audacity to react against her handling and kill someone and this resulted in a slow and painful death. In 1916, Charlie Sparks' circus arrived in Kingsport, Tennessee, and this included an elephant called Mary. She was in agony with an abscess in her mouth. While walking in the circus, she stopped to nibble on some discarded watermelon rind and her trainer jabbed her where she was in pain. She responded by knocking him and stamping on and killing him. For this, the locals decided Mary had to die.
"The only question was how Mary should meet her end. Bullets had already proved ineffective and neither was poison likely to work...Some people advocated crushing Mary slowly between two opposing railway engines. Others called for her head to be tied to one locomotive and her legs to another so that she would be dismembered alive as they set off in opposite directions. Another option was electrocution... [Electricity] had reached rural Tennessee by 1916, but not with sufficient power to dispatch an elephant, so Charlie Sparks came up with the equally sensational idea of hanging Mary.
'To quash any doubts about whether incidents such as these are 'one-off events', the following files should be consulted:
Elephant circus incidents (pdf) - 1
Elephant circus incidents (pdf) - 2
Elephant circus incidents in the United States (pdf)
HSUS: Animal incidents at the circus (pdf)
In October 2015, in view of the noticeable absence of an official or formal statement on Tyke's death by the Hawaiian authorities, I wrote, an admittedly blunt email, to a number of Hawaiian politicians. Result? No response received.
I also wrote to two of the larger religious groups on Honolulu asking for comments. Result? No response received.
I also wrote to the Neal S. Blaisdell Center, the location of the circus, from where Tyke escaped. I asked whether the Center had made a statement on the matter. Result? No response received.
I also emailed the High Commission of Mozambique in London as Tyke was taken from that country. I gave them the facts of the matter and asked for their comment. There was no response. I therefore wrote a letter to the High Commission, but once again, there was no response.
This will no doubt seem a minor, almost irrelevant point, but I always feel uncomfortable using the name 'Tyke'. It should be remembered that firstly, Tyke was given her name by those who were involved in her circus existence and secondly, in the English language, the word 'Tyke' is essentially a word with derogatory meanings, amongst other things, 'peasant, barbarian, boor, disagreeable person, unpleasant person', and is therefore wholly inappropriate for such an animal. I only use it here as there is no choice in the matter, but it should be borne in mind that even in captivity she was not given a fitting name.
On 26 December 2018, it was reported in 'Second State Bans Wild Circus Animals', that "On Friday, Hawaii Governor David Ige enacted a ban on the importation and use of wild animals that could be dangerous — such as tigers, lions, bears, elephants, crocodiles and primates — in circuses, carnivals and other kinds of performances. Animal welfare advocates are thrilled that two states have taken strong measures to protect animals." [xii] About time too.
[i]Patrick J Battuello, 'Tyke’s rebellion', TimesUnion, 18 December 2013. Also PETA's information at http://www.mediapeta.com/peta/pdf/Hawthorn-Corporation-pdf.pdf
[ii]'The tragic life of Tyke the elephant', 25 July 2015. Captive Animals' Protection Society.
[iii]Patrick J Battuello, Op Cit.
[iv]'Tyke (elephant)'. Digplanet.
'Kokua Line', Honolulu Star-Advertiser, 22 June 2011.
Will Hoover, 'Slain elephant left tenuous legacy in animal rights', Honolulu Advertiser, 20 August 2004.
[v]'Team 4: Elephant was exposed to violence', WTAE, 21 November 2002.
Patrick J Battuello, Op. Cit.
[vi]'We turned and ran', Honolulu Star-Advertiser, 17 August 2014.
[vii]'The town that hanged an elephant: A chilling photo and a macabre story of murder and revenge', Daily Mail, 14 February 2014.
(NB. Mary was hung on 13 September 1916, after being transported by train to Unicoi County, Tennessee, where a crowd had gathered to see the entertainment of an elephant being slowly strangled to death by being suspended by a crane in the Clinchfield Railroad yard).
[viii]Mike Gordon, 'Documentary depicts Tyke as tragic figure, not outlaw', Honolulu Star Advertiser, 22 February 2015.
[ix]'Circus elephant is killed after it goes on rampage', New York Times, 3 February 1992.
[x]'State cites circus in elephant rampage', Orlando Sentinel, 5 February 1992.
[xii]'Second State bans wild circus animals', The Dodo, 26 December 2018.