Tyke the Elephant: A Symbol of Freedom and Tragedy


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After escaping from the circus, Tyke the elephant ran through the streets of Honolulu, Hawaii (USA). Image: Wikimedia Commons

Tyke, a female elephant, was captured in Mozambique in 1973 and trained to perform in circuses from a young age. After being transferred to the US, Tyke was quickly sold to Hawthorn Corporation – a company that provided animals for circuses. Unfortunately, the animal had to endure years of abuse and mistreatment by those who were supposed to care for it. Its rebellion and desire for liberation were only a matter of time. On that fateful day in 1994, the people of Hawaii witnessed the streets where they lived turn red with the blood of an elephant.

After several shows on the mainland US, Tyke was taken to the capital city of Honolulu in Hawaii. The 21-year-old elephant was brought to the Neal S. Blaisdell Center to perform in other shows. But Tyke had plans of its own. It not only killed its trainer but also injured its caretaker, all in front of horrified spectators.

Desperately fleeing, Tyke then ran wild out of the circus and onto the streets. Running through the streets, it enjoyed the freedom like nothing else it had seen during its two decades of captivity. But alas, the happiness of freedom did not last as Tyke was cornered by the police and shot 87 times.

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The Tragic Life of Tyke

Tyke did not have an easy life. The sad thing is that its experiences were not unusual. Like many elephants captured in the wild and sold to Hawthorn Corporation, Tyke was forced into slavery, as a performing circus artist, from a very young age.

Born in the early 1970s in Mozambique, Tyke was captured when it was still young and subjected to strict training. Some of its former trainers, like Tyrone Taylor, said they had a deep affection for Tyke. But there is no doubt that the living conditions of this African female elephant were inhumane.

Chained for 22 hours a day, Tyke had to participate in training sessions full of shouting, cursing, and abuse for the rest of the time. Its former caretaker, Sally Joseph, admitted that Tyke was an unhappy performer. But instead of backing down, the African elephant began to rebel.

From attacking trainers to running amok in the performance arena, it was clear that Tyke wanted to escape from the circus. In April 1993, Tyke became extremely agitated during a show in Altoona, Pennsylvania (USA). In that program, the animal broke free and tried to run away.

“I knew then that she was a runaway,” said trainer Taylor, fearing that the next outbreak would be worse. But no one paid attention to those warning signs.

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The Heartbreaking Death of Tyke

It was on August 20, 1994, that Tyke arrived in Hawaii. It was taken to the Neal S. Blaisdell Center in the capital city of Honolulu to perform, where crowds eagerly awaited a thrilling circus show.

When Tyke was brought into the packed arena, it had been in captivity for almost its entire life. Filled with resentment, Tyke began the performance by kicking its caretaker, William Beckworth.

But at first, the audience was not too concerned. “We thought it was part of the show,” one witness explained.

However, the crowd soon realized that something was not right when the trainer, Allen Campbell, entered the arena.

Campbell tried to convince Tyke to obey, but all his efforts were in vain. The 4.3-ton elephant quickly charged and killed Campbell. Beckworth survived but was seriously injured.

After killing its trainer and injuring its caretaker, Tyke ran out of the arena and onto the streets of Honolulu for about half an hour. What happened next was a frantic effort to prevent it from killing anyone else. Tyke was then hunted down by the police.

Receiving 87 bullets, Tyke almost died on the streets of Hawaii. Those who were sent to remove the animal’s body said its eyes were filled with tears.

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The city of Honolulu was outraged by the tragedy and soon proposed a ban on the use of wild animals in live performances. Although the ban was eventually overturned, many circuses in Hawaii began to remove animals from their shows. In 2018, the US government officially banned the importation of wild animals, including elephants, for use in circuses.

As for Hawthorn Corporation, they were convicted of violating the Animal Welfare Act in 2004. They were forced to release their elephants to more humane facilities where they could hopefully live peacefully.

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