On August 20, 1994, Tyke was performing in Honolulu, Hawaii, as part of a Circus International show. On that day, Tyke finally snapped. She trampled and seriously injured her groomer, and then killed her trainer when he attempted to intervene. As a horrified audience looked on, Tyke broke out of the arena – injuring another person in the process – and began running through the streets of Honolulu. The local police department and nearby residents responded, chasing Tyke through the streets for 30 minutes and striking her with 87 bullets as she desperately tried to flee. As onlookers watched in shock, Tyke died on the street as a result of her injuries.
The scene is one that remains a vivid memory for those who witnessed Tyke's dash for freedom. The incident certainly had a lasting impression in Hawaii – no elephants have performed as part of a traveling circus in Hawaii since that terrible day in 1994.
The Sad Truth about Circus Elephants
While Tyke's story is shocking, stories of wild animals snapping and lashing out at people are unfortunately nothing new. In 1992, Janet the elephant was shot to death after breaking away from her trainer while being forced to give rides to children in Florida. In 2003, famed performer Roy Horn was mauled by one of his captive tigers. Of course, Tilikum the orca is notorious for killing his trainer in 2010 by violently pulling her under the water at SeaWorld Orlando.
There is no question that elephants, orcas, and other wild animals are highly intelligent and sensitive beings. There is also no question that they are ill-suited to captivity and are often physically and psychologically harmed by it. Circus elephants, in particular, suffer immensely when they are separated from their family units, chained by the legs for up to 23 hours per day, shipped around the world in tiny crates, and abused with bullhooks and other training devices. The combination of this treatment often causes them to become depressed or go insane. Sometimes, they snap – just as Tyke did.
Fortunately, a growing number of countries, including Peru, Bolivia, and Colombia, have realized the cruelty inherent in wild animal circuses and have outlawed them entirely. In the United States, individual cities have banned bullhooks, effectively ensuring that circuses that use elephants will not perform in their cities ever again, as bullhooks are essential tools in forcing elephants to perform. Even Ringling Brothers, the most famous wild animal circus in history, finally agreed to phase elephants out of its shows.