From a four-ton elephant to tiny fly larvae, American Humane Association was on the set of “Water for Elephants” ensuring that every animal in the production was treated humanely and kept safe. American Humane Association awarded this 20th Century Fox film its highest rating, “Monitored: Outstanding – ‘No Animals Were Harmed’ ®.”
“It’s a big endorsement to get from the American Humane Association,” said lead actress Reese Witherspoon. “They’re very conscious of how the animals are treated. They’re on set every day, making sure the animals were provided safe facilities and safe transportation and that they can only work a certain amount of hours. They are just the happiest animals — you can tell!”
Lead actor Robert Pattinson said, “Elephants are the most sophisticated, gentle creatures you could possibly hope to work with.” He noted, “It’s nice to know that there’s a company that literally was [even] looking after the maggots, checking after the maggots being treated right.”
Based on the best-selling novel by Sara Gruen, “Water for Elephants” is about a veterinary student who joins a traveling circus during the Depression era. Among the animals he attends to are horses, lions, tigers, leopards, zebras, llamas and his favorite, Rosie the elephant. Rosie was played by Tai, who lives on a ranch in Southern California. During the day, Tai stayed around her large, custom transport vehicle, free to go in or out as she wished. She worked on-set only a couple of hours at a time and received plenty of breaks for rest, snacks and “calls of nature.” Throughout the entire filming process, an American Humane Association Certified Animal Safety Representative™, Gina Johnson, ensured that Tai received proper treatment. While Tai and her trainer focused on her performance, Johnson diligently monitored the temperature, lighting, other animals, people and other requirements of American Humane Association’s“Guidelines for the Safe Use of Animals in Filmed Media.”
Although the animal abuse scenes in “Water for Elephants” appear intense, no animals were harmed in filming them. The perception of abuse was created using makeup, fake blood, computer-generated images and post-production sound effects. “Tai was never hit in any way at all,” Johnson said. The elephant did witness the actors swinging sticks and yelling loudly, as they acted out the beating scenes; however, even that aspect of the scene was carefully planned and rehearsed so Tai would not feel anxious or afraid. Tai’s trainer gave her constant positive reinforcement, such as a food treat or play time, to motivate her. So what was one of this enormous animal’s favorite motivational treats? A marshmallow!