Loose elephant hard to forget at Jaffa Shine Center

Elephants never forget, so goes the cliche.

In the case of Tyke, who killed a trainer in Honolulu after a rampage in Altoona 21 years ago, it’s the elephant that is never forgotten.

“In my personal opinion, she shouldn’t have been on the road,” elephant trainer Chip Arthurs said Thursday on the phone from Florida where he was preparing for a show.

Arthurs was a childhood friend of the trainer Tyke killed in Honolulu 14 months after her 1993 rampage in Altoona. It’s still a subject difficult for him to talk about.

Elephant trainer Allen Campbell died while trying to intervene when the elephant injured another circus worker. The elephant crushed Campbell.

“He was dear friend of mine,” Arthurs said.

A former employee of Hawthorn Corp., which owned Tyke, Arthurs had stopped working for Hawthorn because of an “internal dispute.” He was careful to say that to attribute the issue surrounding Tyke to his departure would be taking it out of context.

Regarding Tyke, he said: “The company probably could have used better judgment.” But he noted that other trainers might disagree with him. Arthurs denies any abuse of Tyke.

No one was hurt in Altoona when Tyke ripped away part of a doorway wall while exiting the Jaffa Shrine Center (then the Jaffa Mosque) in April 1993 during a circus performance. She paced in front of the center for about an hour until circus workers coaxed her back inside. Nearly 4,000 schoolchildren attending the circus evacuated the building.

An Australian documentary due out next year charts Tyke’s story, showing news footage and interviews with many of the people who worked with the elephant.

“So many people were affected by her life,” said Susan Lambert, one of the project’s producer/directors, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Lambert and Stefan Moore produced and directed the film, “Tyke: Elephant Outlaw,” and Megan McMurchy co-produced it. They all worked for Jumping Dog Productions near Sydney.

They are scouring western Pennsylvania for any video or home movies of the Altoona incident and are asking people to contact them at megan.mcmurchy if they have any footage.

Ed Stewart, co-founder of the nonprofit Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), is still baffled, 21 years later, that Tyke continued to perform after the Altoona incident.

“She should be retired somewhere now, instead of dead,” Stewart said. “She called out for help in Altoona, and nobody did anything about it.”

The head of the local humane society called Stewart the day of the incident, explaining what happened and basically asked, “What do I do?”

Stewart advised: “Here’s what you are going to see: The trainer will have control of the elephant only because it couldn’t get off the dock – the only reason it wasn’t in the streets of Altoona. You will see a trainer feeding the elephant apples; you won’t see (any sign of abuse). You won’t even see marks on the elephant from where it ran into the door. But one thing is for sure. That elephant should never perform in a circus again.”

After Tyke got out of the Mosque during its Wednesday show, the elephant was given the rest of the week off.

Stewart recommended the society work with the city’s animal control department to generate a report or investigation. The U.S. Department of Agriculture can impose penalties on circus companies, but PAWS has no legal authority.

Bill Troxell wasn’t the circus coordinator at the time of the incident but served in that role from 2003-11. He said PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and groups like PAWS are consistently at odds with Shriner circuses.

“They try to hurt us so bad,” he said. “Ninety-nine percent of the animals are taken care of as good as people. I believe in circus animals. An animal inside an arena can get spooked from anything, a kid crying or seeing something they just don’t like. Altoona’s the first time that happened (with Tyke). It happens one time like that. He was under control after that. Maybe he should have been retired. I just don’t know.”

The Altoona dog law officer who was involved with Tyke in 1993 has died, and the current dog law officer, Mike Daversa, said he

doesn’t have any information on what investigative actions were taken in the wake of the Altoona incident.

“If that happened today, I would work with the police department to see who we can get in here, the Department of Agriculture to make sure the animal is safe to perform.”

For the past five years, Daversa has inspected the animals in Jaffa Shrine circuses, and so does USDA, he said.

“Since I’ve been doing it, everything has been awesome – the elephants (have been) very pleasant and not aggressive,” Daversa said.

In July 1993, Tyke injured an animal groom in Minot, N.D., according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and was sidelined at a Shriner’s circus in Rhode Island circus after the Altoona incident, states a Journal-Bulletin story.

Then Tyke was shipped to Honolulu.

PAWS supplied the Mirror with news articles, correspondence between Hawthorn and the USDA after the Canadian Ministry of Natural Resources forwarded an allegation that Tyke was beaten by a trainer in 1988.

USDA investigators determined the observation was not of abuse but a disciplinary action for injuring an employee with a tusk.

Hawthorn Corp.’s owner John F. Cuneo’s letter to the USDA and Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service read:

“Tyke has not attempted to hit or injure anyone else since. I believe it was a one-time occurrence and, hopefully, will not happen again.”

A July 26 story in the Tennessean described a new book on another Hawthorn-owned elephant named Billie, which the news story states was abused. Hawthorn denied abusing the elephants, but in 2004, the company agreed to pay a $200,000 civil penalty and relinquish its elephants, according to the story.

Circus animals are banned in some U.S. municipalities. But animals, including elephants, are widely performing in circuses across the United States.

“Kids want to see animals in a circus. That is the selling point,” Troxell said.

The Shriner circuses are important to helping the Shriners’ mission of helping children, Shriner leadership said.

If Tyke’s story didn’t stop the use of elephants in circuses, Stewart doesn’t know what will.

“We thought, ‘This is it. They will stop using elephants and dragging them around the country,”’ he said.

“And really, that didn’t happen. Maybe they leave the most volatile elephants at home, but still, elephants are dangerous as long as they are dragging them around the country.”

Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946-7435. Laura Malt Schneiderman, a staff writer for the Mirror from 1991-94 who covered the original story and who currently is a staff writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, contributed to this report.