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PETA pens open letter to HBO over ‘dangerous’ use of live animals in Westworld

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May 7, 2018, 10:54 PM EDT (Updated)

SPOILER WARNING: This story reveals key plot details from the most recent episode of Westworld

Last night’s episode of Westworld introduced a new park: The Raj, which was inspired by the period in which India was under control of the British empire. However, the episode’s brief use of two elephants has caught the ire of PETA, which claims that one of the elephants was abused by its owners and trainers.

Via The Hollywood Reporter, PETA identified one of the elephants as allegedly being Tai, an elephant owned by Have Trunk Will Travel. PETA also claimed that Tai was featured in a very disturbing video in which elephants appear to be mistreated by their handlers. However, there does not appear to be independent verification that the elephant used in Westworld is the same one shown in the video. 

PETA also penned a lengthy open letter to HBO calling upon the network to use only CGI animals in any future episodes of Westworld or even other shows produced by the network. 

"In light of the egregious cruelty and human health risks as well as the public's growing opposition to the use of animals for entertainment...we're urging HBO to commit to not using any wild animals in future episodes or other series," wrote Lauren Thomasson, PETA’s manager of animals in film and television.

The letter also addressed the threat that captive live animals pose to the cast and crew: "Dangerous interactions with captive elephants have resulted in dozens of human deaths or catastrophic injuries — including broken bones, crushed pelvises, collapsed and punctured lungs, degloving injuries, head wounds, and brain injuries."

Thomasson concluded with a recommendation for a revamped approach to the network's depiction of animals on its shows. "Considering the realistic and cruelty-free CGI technology that exists today, all wild animals in HBO series should be computer-generated, just the way the tiger was so beautifully done in last night's episode," the letter concluded.

It’s worth noting that the HBO original series Luck was canceled during the production of its second season after four horses died during the course of the show. 

UPDATE: After this story was originally published, HBO released an official response: "All of the animals featured on HBO series are treated with the utmost care and respect for their health, safety and well-being. A certified animal safety representative from American Humane was present at all times during any animal action on the set of Westworld. The AHA has confirmed that the animals were well-treated, and the production received the designation of 'No Animals Were Harmed.' We are reviewing the circumstances related to archival training footage which included one of the elephants that appeared in the series. Of course, none of this video was shot during the production and does not in any way reflect practices on our sets."