Remembering Tyke

20 August 2020

By Dave Neale, Animal Welfare Director

Animal Welfare Director Dave Neale looks back on the tragedy that was the life and death of an elephant named Tyke, on the 26th anniversary of her death.

Tyke was a female African bush elephant captured as a baby in Mozambique in 1973 and shipped to the United States, where she became the property of the Hawthorn Corporation, a company specialising in supplying wild animals to circuses. On August 20 1994 she was shot 87 times whilst on the streets of Honolulu, Hawaii and she died of her injuries.

Her journey from a baby in the African bush to her death in amongst the hustle and bustle of a busy city, epitomises the suffering that we inflict upon individual animals due to our own greed and selfishness.

On that fateful day, during a performance at the Neal Blaisdell Center, she killed her trainer, Allen Campbell, and seriously injured her groomer, Dallas Beckwith. She then ran from the arena and through the city streets for more than thirty minutes until police officers eventually opened fire and she collapsed and died. The attacks on her trainers and her death on the streets of Honolulu were all captured on video and were shown around the world.

This harrowing footage shows Tyke wearing a silly pink hat, kicking a young groom like a rag doll. When her trainer attempts to intervene she crushes him, killing him instantly. Enraged and disoriented, she storms out of the arena and tears through the city streets as people flee in terror. Eventually police arrive and begin shooting, firing 87 bullets into her body until she collapses onto a car and dies whilst bleeding profusely.

This appalling incident should have marked a new dawn for our relationship with elephants. One person was killed, another seriously injured and the world watched as a terrified wild born African elephant ran through the city streets in search of some way out of her own personal nightmare, only to be met by a force more powerful than herself.

Sadly some 26 years later little has changed. In the years since this fateful day the capture of African elephant calves to supply zoos and safari parks has continued and the use and abuse of elephants in the entertainment industry has proliferated around the world.

Victories have been won, such as the end of the Ringling Brothers Circus use of elephants in May 2016 in the USA and an increasing number of countries outlawing the use of wild animals in circus entertainment, but still many thousands of elephants are forced through fear and punishment to perform the same tricks that Tyke performed for much of her miserable life. 

But why has this majestic iconic animal been reduced to living such meaningless and abusive lifestyles, providing us with rides and standing on its own head in circus rings, for our entertainment. It has happened due to our greed and desire to dominate and manipulate all the beautiful things that we come into contact with.

We at Animals Asia believe that it doesn’t have to be this way. Not all humans are tricksters, tormentors and kidnappers. That is why we have pioneered a new model of ethical elephant tourism. At Yok Don National Park, working with the authorities, park rangers and mahots, and with funding from the Olsen Animal Trust four elephants that had previously been forced to give rides to tourists were freed into the park to just be elephants. The awesomeness of these creatures needs no embellishment, not silly hats or demeaning tricks. I’m sure you’ll agree the sight of an elephant just being an elephant in person is more than enough wonder for anyone.

By putting kindness in action and working with respect, our work proves what can and should be done, to move away from exploitation, to celebration and ultimately conservation.

On this Tyke remembrance day, spare a thought for all of the ‘Tykes’ still being forced to perform in circuses and use Tyke's name, her appalling treatment and brutal death to appeal to others to help end their suffering.

Given a choice, Tyke would have stayed with her mum and her family in the wilds of Mozambique. It is now time that we gave all elephants the choice they deserve.