Amid mounting pressure from animal right activists and concerned citizens, the Sierra Madre Fourth of July Parade Planning Committee has cancelled a scheduled “surprise” appearance by an elephant in this year’s parade.
The news--which spread virally by way of Facebook, the Sierra Madre Weekly newspaper and on at least one local blog--ignited a firestorm of objection to the conditions under which the elephant has been trained and treated by its handlers.
Performing animal supplier Have Trunk Will Travel, Inc., became the subject of strong criticism from Animal Defenders International, which posted video showing Tai, the very elephant slated to appear in Sierra Madre, being struck and electrocuted during training, despite the company’s claims that such practices were not used.
The video was shot as part of a series that criticized the animal’s treatment during the filming of the recently released movie Water for Elephants, which stars Reese Witherspoon and Twilight heartthrob Robert Pattinson.
“The public, the stars and the filmmakers have been duped,” Animal Defenders Chief Executive Jan Creamer said in a statement accompanying one of the videos. “This poor elephant was trained to do the very tricks you see in the film by being given electric shocks.”
Animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) later became involved, posting a form letter on its website directed at city officials and protesting the use of the elephant.
“The City of Sierra Madre plans to force the elephant Tai to participate in its Fourth of July parade on Monday,’ PETA said in the letter’s introduction.
The PETA Statement continued:
“Recently released video footage from Animal Defenders International shows Tai being shocked in the belly and knee with an electric shock prod and being struck with bullhooks—sharp metal-tipped weapons that resemble fireplace pokers and can leave painful welts, abscesses, and puncture wounds on elephants' sensitive skin.
Dangerous elephant incidents have resulted in numerous human deaths and even more injuries. Elephants are easily spooked, and the noise and commotion associated with a parade—not to mention the possibility of fireworks—makes such incidents all the more likely.”
Soon, emails began to flood the inboxes of city officials. Those emails, along safety concerns, eventually caused parade planners to cancel the elephant appearance on Sunday, July 3, according to Sierra Madre brass.
“I’m not exactly sure how many emails we got, but it was a good number,” City Manager Elaine Aguilar said Sunday afternoon. “Many of them were from out of town, but whenever something becomes this big of an issue, we want to address it.”
It was this outside attention and the possibility of protests along the parade route that were paramount in the decision to cancel the elephant’s appearance, according to Mayor John Buchanan.
“We would have had to call in assistance from the City of Arcadia’s police,” Buchanan said. “When groups like PETA get involved, even if they only have 10 people out there protesting, it can really cause a security problem.”
Both Buchanan and Aguilar said that they had not been aware of the plans to include the elephant until the emails began pouring in.
“The committee wanted it to be a surprise,” Buchanan said.
Billed in the official parade lineup as “Sierra Madre’s Big Surprise: First Time Ever in Parade. Don’t Miss This!,” news of the plans for the elephant appearance leaked early despite the committee’s intentions.
Sunday afternoon in , Parade Committee Chair Matthew Bosse gave interviews to local television news crews who had caught wind of the growing protest movement.
“We really didn’t want this to become something that took away from the parade itself,” Bosse told reporters.