‘Tyke,’ Debuting in Circus-Rich Sarasota, Reignites Elephant Debate

Circus people have long been known for bravery, but it takes a different type of courage to show up in the heart of the American circus to screen a documentary on the alleged ills of the industry. The team behind Tyke Elephant Outlaw will do that Saturday when they host the world premiere of the film at the Sarasota Film Festival.

“In another festival you can get lost,” said producer-director Susan Lambert. “Here we have a story to tell.”Tyke tells the story of an elephant who escaped from Circus International in Hawaii after killing her trainer before being gunned down and killed by police in the streets of Honolulu. The story of Tyke’s death became a rallying cry for animal activists angry about circus treatment of pachyderms, and the documentarians with this film hope to do the same now. But circus professionals are already calling the expertise of the filmmakers into question, saying they won’t stand a mischaracterization of practices.

“We are experts on taking care of elephants,” said Stephen Payne, vice president of corporate communications for Feld Entertainment, the parent company of the Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Circus. “They may be experts on how to make a movie, but this film is not a reflection of what we do.”

Filmmakers say Tyke serves as a protagonist for the documentary, but the real sources of information are the trainers and professionals who worked with Tyke, including trainer Tyrone Taylor, who will attend the premiere. “This film is the story told through the people who knew her and experienced what happened to her,” said producer-director Stefan Moore. “The story is told through extraordinary archive footage and the trainers, handlers and circus industry insiders involved in the controversy in Honolulu.”

It also turns to animal rights and welfare organizations who have long been critical of the practice of keeping elephants in captivity.

Of course, the practice of elephant-keeping has been in the news of late thanks to a decision on the part of Ringling Bros. to phase out elephants from touring shows, a decision announced in March this year. Payne, who stressed in an interview with SRQ that the circus had nothing whatsoever to do with the 1994 incident with Tyke and considered that a tragedy, said the decision to move elephants into a successful conservation program and take them out of shows by 2018 had nothing to do with filmmaker efforts. “It wasn’t a factor because we didn’t know this film was coming out—and we don’t care,” Payne said. “It’s not representative of what we do.” Payne also said conservation efforts specifically with the Asian elephant were helping ensure the species didn’t fall into extinction.

The filmmakers are glad the decision was made, though Moore questions why the phase-out of elephants will take as long as it will, and he feels other animal captivity issues have the same central problems.

In the course of an interview on the film, Moore embraced comparisons to Blackfish, a documentary that opened the Sarasota Film Festival two years ago and led to tremendous damage on Sea World’s credibility and financial stability after it was broadly distributed by CNN Films. Online, many suggested the Ringling decision to phase out elephants was in many was a pre-emptive act to avoid the same damage to reputation. Payne denies that, but Moore finds some validity to the suggestion.

Lambpert said the movie wasn’t intended entirely as condemnation of the industry. She said the filmmakers also spoke with lobbyists who spoke of the tradition of the circus. But many of the issues, she said, don’t hold as much muster in the modern world. While some circus defenders say the performances are a way to bring elephants to children who wouldn’t otherwise see them, the filmmakers say the circus environment is unnatural and an inaccurate representation of the animals’ lived.

“Apart from whether people hit elephants with bull hooks and whips, which we all know does happen and anyone would be an idiot to say it doesn’t happen, but wild animals have family lives and ways of rearing young, and they are torn from a natural habitat. Is that a way to treat another species?”

Tyke Elephant Outlaw premieres at the Sarasota Opera House on Saturday, April 18, at 12:15pm, then screens again at the Regal Hollywood 20 on Sunday, April 19, at 7:45pm.

(pictured: Tyke Elephant Outlaw producer-directors Susan Lambpert and Stefan Moore, and co-producer Meghan McMurchy)


7 thoughts on “‘Tyke,’ Debuting in Circus-Rich Sarasota, Reignites Elephant Debate”

  1. Propaganda just like Blackfish, call a spade a spade. “It turns to animal rights organizations…” and “the filmmakers were glad the decision was made” and “the filmmakers say the circus environment is not natural….” Come on, circus people are brave and we are intelligent. This is another piece of shit film produced to bring down an industry that some fuckin liberals are against. Let’s at least do us circus people the service of keeping it real.

  2. Circus people aren’t “brave and intelligent” or they wouldn’t resort to torturing animals for a living. DUH!!

  3. Hmmm…. how many of us do you personally know? Who tortures animals for a living? I’m in the biz, know many people involved in animal training and have seen no one torture an animal for profit. What do you think you know? NOTHING!!! I can’t comment on this POS movie because I will never go see it. We lost a good friend and member of our family and to relive it, fuck them. This tragedy happened twenty years ago. Weak attempt at best to bring up that “safety” issue at the circus. Weak attempt

  4. I find the hypocrisy of the animal rights terrorist groups amazing!! This man is NOT and NEVER was an animal trainer! He IS a groom and an incompetent presenter who no one is the business would hire after he abused Tyke on a constant basis! This man is an embarrassment to the circus community BUT he is a hero to the animal rights terrorist community. That is the major difference between real animal lovers and circus fans and performers and the animal terrorists. We deplore abuse but the the animal terrorists love and crave abuse and celebrate those who practice it. This movie is based on an over 2 decades old accident NOT every day elephant husbandry.

  5. Isn’t it something that you continually see this whole concept of they are better off in the wild ???
    If people actually believe this – it shows they are even more uneducated on the subject then one Thinks… Gotta love these armchair activists that spew this garbage so that the lazy people that actually read their comments believe whats written and wont do the needed reseach of their own ..
    #1- black Fish has been proven so far OFF base as well as filled with lies and misconceptions its sickening !!

    #2 MOST IMPORTANTlY – esp with the “sent them Free folks ”
    These folks have this imaginary concept that there are huge areas in Asia as well as Africa that can accommodate these animals when in fact they cannot !!!!
    WE the people DESTROYED these area !! Are the zones that havent been destroyed are so close to populations that the farmers themselves are having to pouson and KILL the elephants themselves!!!

    #3 – they CONTINUE to ACTIVELY KILL thousands of African Elephants yearly due to OVER Population !! Yes – Goverments ALLOW people to go out and kill certain numbers of elephants because the game reserves can not have so many on them !!

    #4- POACHERs kill Elephants for their Ivory today !!! By the thousands !!!
    Until we can actually stop the value of ovory we will still have poachers out there to kill elephants and tear off rhinos horns so that they can be sold to the worldwide market especially China !!

    #5- its sad that yes there are bad handlers out their but to throw everyone in the same basket is just not correct and SO WRONG !!!
    Most of the Abuse videos u see ARA post are from decades ago – and its so clear if anyone has actually worked 1 on 1 with these creatures – you would realize this is not how things are done !!
    #5- if you are one of those sanctuary knots that think that either of the two sanctuaries in the United States are fit to house elephants you are mistaken !!!
    Please just do a little research of your own and take a look at the huge tuberculosis problems that they have within these herds as well as the amount of elephant lives they have lost by not treating the active tuberculosis effectively in allowing these creatures to die a long terrible life . Why would you think that USDA will not allow transfers into these facilities and the sad part is that the suckers believe the reports that cause or Tennessee puts out there saying the animals or put down due to arthritis but they leave out the fact that tuberculosis had Huge contributing factor yet since these are private a Stabley cements they are not forced to renew lease necropsy reports showing you this !! So lets put that to bed once and for all !! These pseudo-sanctuaries are not in it for the elephants but are in it for the money !!!!
    They call themselves nonprofits however they don’t publicize the actual salaries that they pay out do they ?? NOPE !!

    So an elephant that’s easily worth a couple hundred thousand dollars one feels after watching these AR a groups that they are treated so badly however they are fed three meals a day plus as well as given the best medical attention and will one cannot even show proof that they are better off in the wild when they are not. In the wild when there was a wild these animals were forced to walk hundreds of miles to find food and water yet the activist claim they did it for fun and that’s why they should not being captivity they did it to survive plain and simple
    I urge each one of you that has not worked closely with elephants and only has taken information that was thrown at them in a propaganda fashion and actually do the research before making such claims as mentioned above and elsewhere
    You Might actually learn something !?
    While you’re at it go ahead and check out these activist groups and tell me how u believe 1 word they say!!
    Peta- just investigate
    Their feelings towards owning dogs and cats and how Ingrid herself rather see them euthanize them to find a loving home .
    Also learn about how their facilities in the state of Virginia had to have a Senate Bill passed to try to curb their need to kill animals This yr… With a killer rate over the past 10 years of 89% to a whopping 99.3% that shows in itself what it’s all about for them !!
    You can certainly check out how they were recently caught snatching families Pats off their front stairs to be euthanized as well as the mass dumpings of dead carcasses into dumpsters in the Virginia area . Lastly take a look at their corporate headquarters on how their third floor contains 10 empty kennels yet they have a $32,000 refrigeration unit !
    As for HSUS – thats easy – look at the recent congressional hearings held in DC about their fundraising as well as how they were caught taking all of their funds and moving them to the Cayman Islands and hedge funds and giving less than 3% to shelters nationally yet we see those commercials all night long trying to raise money for these poor animals that need our help when in fact the money is not even Going towards them !!!
    PETA as well as HS US and iDNA all were involved in our BBB lawsuit that was thrown out in regards to the elephants in the contributing factor was that there was no merit found as well as the ARA paying off their key witness to testify on lies after that verdict is when all that money was moved offshore to protect it !!!

    But I guess one is supposed to believe all of this trash they put out and not actually go and see for themselves how elephants are much better off in the care of human beings

  6. Shame on you for Not considering the Family of a real Hero of this So called Documentary A man Risked his life to Save a man Who for his own mistake scared Tyke to make her Run Allen Campbell Saved him!! But instead you chose To make a Star out of a Nobody in the Industry ! You Have No heart to Not Think About the Families Involved in this Tragic Event I hope all of you Never have something Tragic happen to you for someone to document & have your families relive it 21 Years Later !!! Remember Karma will have her Way!!!

  7. Just as you have the right to excercise your freedom of speech, so do I. This documentary is based on a true story but it is full of lies and propaganda. It was an isolated incident and does not depict the true life of circus elephants in loving human care. If the filmmakers did their research they would find that Tyrone Taylor and Sally Gold were not professional “Trainers”.These whistlblowers are the failures of the industry, therefore not credible and to debut this film in Sarasota, circus city USA, was done with malicious intent on the filmmakers part. What about the Allan Campbell family? Did you take into consideration they would be reliving this tragedy while animal activist organizations push their agenda? Of course not because you do not care. Well let me tell you there is a flip side to the coin and the other side will be heard. Very disappointed in the Sarasota Film Commission for allowing these so called fillmakers to bring this garbage to tarnish the rich circus heritage of Sarasota. Long live the traditional circus!

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