Tyke the Majestic Elephant_Elefootprints

Thirty Minutes of Freedom: The heartbreaking story of Tyke

On a cold, cloudy April day in 1993, at a circus mosque in Pennsylvania, police formed an uneasy line in front of the venue’s lawn. There on the balcony, pacing back and forth, was the elephant. But that wasn’t the only thing that caught the audience’s eye. Many were focused on the rifle in a policeman’s hands.

Tyke the Elephant_running
Tyke the Elephant Running in the streets of Hawaii


It was unclear what had agitated the elephant. Though many assume it was the fact that the doorway to the mosque was so low the elephant was forced to crawl through on her knees. When she tried to go through the doorway, she had risen too quickly, grazed the top of the doorway, and became frightened. She had run into the circus ring, slapped a baboon with her trunk, then ran back outside, knocking out part of the mosque’s front doors. Everyone evacuated quickly.

“You’re not gonna shoot it?” a scared voice shouted from the crowd.

The police officer reluctantly replied, “If it charges the crowd, we’ll have to.” He kept his gaze on the pacing elephant. “That’s a public danger.” He ensured he would only shoot if the elephant became a threat.

The circus owner ran up to the police, convincing them that shooting the elephant could be dangerous. It would take several shots to stop the large animal, scaring him could cause the onlookers lives to be put at risk.

The elephant walked back and forth; she didn’t seem particularly upset. Her trainer, Tyrone Taylor, wearing a bright red and gold Arabian-looking jacket, walked patiently with her. His demeanor and seemed unworried and relaxed. As the trainer fed the elephant carrots and apples from a bucket, he tried to guide her to the Jaffa Mosque’s doorway to get her inside with the rest of the animals. When the elephant reached the end of the balcony, he planned on using a bull-hook to turn her around. Mr. Taylor seemed to be using this device only for guidance.

Each time Mr. Taylor tried to lead the elephant off the balcony, littered in elephant droppings and debris of apples and carrots, she would start to comply, then she would back up again. Mr. Taylor made her lie down a few times to remind her and the crowd that he could control her. They ended up using another elephant to lure her back into the mosque with only $15,000 in damages.

The elephant’s name was Tyke.

Should an Elephant's behavior be a hint to future danger?

A year had passed and another circus elephant had gone on a rampage in Hawaii and had been shot to death. The elephant’s name; Tyke.

On August 20, 1994, during the show in Honolulu, Hawaii with Circus International, Tyke entered the ring, kicking around what looked like a dummy. The audience soon realized it wasn’t a dummy, but a severely injured animal groomer. Terrified, the audience members bolted for the exits. Tyke went on to fatally crush her trainer, who was trying to intervene, before fleeing the arena herself.

Tyke then broke through an iron gate and for 30 minutes she ran through the streets of the neighborhood’s business district at rush hour, nearly trampling the circus promoter when he tried to fence her in. It was a foot chase between her and the Honolulu police. The police fired at least 86 shots. Tyke’s rampage caused one death and 10 other serious injuries to onlookers.

Tyke lay on the side of a car with blood all over her body. She raised her right foot to ask for help at one point before she succumbed to nerve damage and brain hemorrhages. People watched horrified from their cars, apartments, and the sidewalk. Finally, she died of internal bleeding.

Twenty years later, witnesses still remember the graphic scene, and the attitude in Honolulu toward animal-driven circuses is distrusting. No circus elephants have performed in the town since Tyke, even though there is no ban against it.

Tyke behind cold steel bars
Elephant behind cold steel bars 

Why the sorrow doesn’t stop with Tyke

Tyke was captured in 1973 when she was just a baby elephant and then sold to the circus in Hawaii, where she was abused day and night and chained for up to 22 hours a day. This poor elephant had only experienced 30 minutes of freedom in her entire life. Later, the incident was turned into a documentary Tyke: Elephant Outlaw, which shook the world.

News of Tyke’s Honolulu rampage came as little surprise to a Santa Clarita animal trainer who worked with Tyke about 15 years before the incident. The young elephant was just over five feet tall at that time. The trainer, Brian McMillan, said he spent about three months trying to get Tyke to perform tricks for a nightclub act, before realizing she wasn’t suitable for training.

McMillan said Tyke resisted training and would run away whenever the trainers tried to do anything with her. He claimed Tyke just didn’t have a good attitude. But he has also seen other elephants with Tyke’s attitude and calls them “dangerous.” He claims that when an elephant gets spooked, they normally try to get away. But he suggested in Tykes case, she didn’t want to get away, she wanted blood.

McMillan still trains a variety of large animals today. He claims to have worked with elephants since he was 15 and has found most of them to be cooperative, of course with the use of a bull-hook and abuse. How many other trainers are out there with this same outlook on their profession?

All the signs were there. Tyke begged for freedom. Because she didn’t get it, not only did she lose her life, but her trainer was killed and 13 people were injured in the process. Wild animals are not meant to be contained, trained, and used for entertainment. Though the circus and zoos claim to be offer some educational experiences for young children, they do not always have the animal's needs at heart. Most of these businesses are often about profits.

The Global Sanctuary for Elephants rescue animals who have been captured for entertainment. Sanctuaries like this one offer a safe place for these elephants to roam in a small herd, without poachers, predators, or abusive trainers.

How You Can Help?

The simplest thing you can do is to learn about these beautiful creatures and create awareness. Elephants go through so much trauma and are often broken down in order to perform tasks that are considered entertainment for human beings. If the demand for these industries diminishes and we continue to fight to free our elephants, these businesses will have no other option but to release the animals to ethical sanctuaries or back into the wild if possible.

Watch the documentary Tyke: Elephant Outlaw. It will shake your feelings about this matter if you are not already affected by it.

Tyke Elephant-Chase


For more educational information, please visit the Global Sanctuary for Elephants or Save Elephants Foundation for Elephants to find specific ways you can help the Elephants who are suffering in captivity. 

Do your part to save the Elephants by joining our elephant cause. Join us in helping these captive elephants by visiting our shop, sharing this with your friends, and helping to educate others on the mistreatment of elephants.

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