In 1994, an elephant by the name of Tyke was due to perform at the Circus International of Honolulu, Hawaii. Instead she trampled and killed her trainer, severely injured her groomer and managed to get out of the arena where the event was being held. From there, she roamed the streets for 30 minutes in clear distress. Pursued by the police, she was shot 86 times before finally dying, propped up against a car, in a novelty hat and surrounded by the gaze of several weeping bystanders. The owner of the elephant, who employed the trainer said that she had never done anything like this before.
Tyke Elephant Outlaw would kindly beg to differ.
Built around a number of talking heads and archival footage, this new documentary follows Tyke from the moment she was taken in Africa to her life in the circus, to her demise. The film’s narrative makes it clear that there were always warning signs. Like 2013’s Blackfish, which focused on SeaWorld’s attitude towards its main attractions, it becomes apparent that she had done things like this before, if not to the violent extent that would see her life being ended. It’s a powerful piece of work which is let down somewhat by the inclusion of the full video that shows not only Tyke’s death, but the brutal crushing of her trainer. Whilst its understandable why the filmmakers included the footage, it unfortunately cheapens the movie and makes it feel voyeuristic.
However, it’s an emotional journey for the viewer and, like others before it, raises issues about animal rights and despite how far we’ve come, how much further we still have to go.