Remembering Tyke the circus elephant.

Tyke the elephant

On the 20th August 1994 an elephant named Tyke was about to enter the arena at the Circus International in Honolulu, Hawaii when she turned on her groom, a young lad named Dallas Beckwith, and trampled him to death.

This was not the first time she had tried to get away from her awful life as a performing circus elephant. A year earlier she had escaped for an hour during a performance in Pennsylvania attacking a tiger trainer and then in North Dakota ran amok at the State fair stepping on a handler.

Many in the audience on this fateful day in Hawaii thought the limp dummy like body of Dallas Beckwith being kicked around the floor was part of the show.  Allen Campbell, her allegedly cruel trainer, tried to intervene and was also crushed and killed.

Shot 87 times by the Police before she finally died.

Tyke then made a bid for freedom and bolted from the arena, injuring many spectators as she tried to find a way out, enraged and distressed from all the noise and pandemonium she was causing. She ran through a street of the Kakaako business district during the rush hour for over half an hour, nearly trampling the circus promoter Steve Hirano when he tried to corral her.

She was soon chased by armed police, who fearing for the safety of trapped onlookers, fired at her. Hundreds of tearful onlookers watched in horror as she was shot 87 times with small calibre bullets until she finally staggered and collapsed to slowly die from nerve damage and brain haemorrhages.

Tyke’s death was emblematic of circus tragedies and a symbol of animal rights.

She was only twenty years old.  After the incident in Hawaii, Tyke unsurprisingly became emblematic of circus tragedies and a symbol of animal rights. This tragic incident should have spelled the end to the use of wild animals in circuses, but there was no such legacy. Almost 25 years on, as always, nothing has changed, and circus elephants and other wild animal species are still being used around the world and often going “rogue” as many people like to call it.

Tyke, elephant, circus, death of Tyke
Tyke lies dead against a car.

Elephants are still trying to escape from the circus.  In 2016, the Irish based Courtney Brothers Circus, hit the headlines while parading their animals along a street in Cork and one of their elephants, a forty-year-old Indian elephant named Baby, got loose and rampaged through the Costa coffee car park while its handlers struggled to capture her. It is difficult to understand in our advanced age how such outdated activities such as parading animals through the streets is still found acceptable.

Animal circuses are still inexplicably popular in North America and parts of Europe, South America and Asia. Circuses are actually booming in the USA and Canada, where only a handful of towns or municipalities ban them, and it is the same in Australia.

19 countries have banned the use of wild animals in circuses including 12 in Europe.  Scotland banned their use in December 2017, the Republic of Ireland in January this year and Wales is considering a ban while Northern Ireland has no plans, but good old England, the nation of animal lovers, has lagged behind and is still arguing over it. The second reading of a new bill comes before Parliament in October, but lets not hold our breath.

Great British institution that deserves to be defended against the propaganda and exaggerations’

Such a ban should have been included in the UK Animal Welfare Act in 2006 but the Government back tracked. Following more campaigning, plenty of evidence, and a quote from David Cameron that it was an outdated practice, a Bill was discussed in Parliament to ban wild animals in circuses from 2015.

Despite having the backing of the Government, Opposition and ninety percent of the public three Conservative MP’s managed to block any discussion of the Bill by using antiquated parliamentary rules to object delaying any hope of the Bill being discussed.

One of the MP’s was quoted as stating that the circus is a Great British institution that deserves to be defended against the propaganda and exaggerations’.

With such misplaced patronage, it is no wonder we can never get sensible and enforceable animal protection laws in the UK.

There are petitions and campaigning in Australia, Canada, America and many other countries around the world and sadly, despite what happened to Tyke,  Hawaii is still hasn’t banned wild animals in circuses. We cannot seem to kick this outdated habit of watching animals perform.We need to make sure that England follows the lead of the rest of the UK later this year.

Author: John Brookland

John Brookland is an animal welfarist, and amateur historian. He authors two popular blogs: and with a monthly worldwide readership of thousands. He has written seven books on his exploits helping animals, also on social history and a book on the war horses of World War One. During his long and varied career which has taken him round the world, he has unfortunately witnessed most of the horrors of animal cruelty there is to see and has gained extensive insight into most animal welfare issues which he uses to write his blogs. He is now retired and still travelling the world with his partner to view wildlife and wild places before they and he disappear.

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