Slain elephant, Tyke, left tenuous legacy in animal rights
This mentions the city being sued when Tyke the
elephant took off. "Dozens of lawsuits were filed against the city, The
suits were settled out of court, the last of them only last year, but the
amounts were never made public." Just last year, the final case settled,
that's 10 years in litigation! Public safety and the city will have
responsibility if anything happens no matter what.
Posted on: Friday, August 20, 2004
Slain elephant left tenuous legacy in animal rights
• 1933 attack cost life of beloved zoo star
By Will Hoover
Advertiser Staff Writer
Throughout the 20th century, the traditional American
circus was an essential component on the Honolulu entertainment landscape —
sawdust extravaganzas staged for decades by Island amusement impresario E.K.
Fernandez and sponsored by such organizations as the
Shriners, Lions and Honolulu Jaycees.
In addition to clowns, jugglers and aerial acrobats,
these popular events required exotic animal acts, particularly pachyderms.
No circus was considered complete without elephants.
Then, on Aug. 20, 1994 — the last day the circus came
to town — Honolulu's whole big top tradition folded up and went away.
Reasons cited by the city include the jumbo costs of
bringing a circus to town, inability to tie up Honolulu's only major arena
for extended periods, and the complicated quarantine and care requirements.
But the primary reason that Honolulu has probably seen
its last circus can be summed up in one word: Tyke.
Ten years ago today, in front of hundreds of horrified
Circus International spectators, Tyke, a full-grown female African elephant,
mauled her groomer, Dallas Beckwith, trampled and killed her trainer, Allen
Campbell, and then bolted from Blaisdell Arena onto the streets of Kaka'ako.
There the animal ran wild for a half-hour, nearly
killing another man, before she was finally brought down by Honolulu police
who riddled her with bullets from high-powered rifles.
In the aftermath, Tyke became the poster elephant of
circus tragedies and a symbol for animal rights. Dozens of lawsuits were
filed against the city, the state, the circus and Tyke's owner, John Cuneo Jr. and his Hawthorn Corp. The suits were settled out
of court, the last of them only last year, but the amounts were never made
No traditional circus has applied for a city permit
since the Tyke incident, but officials are now reluctant to issue permits
that include exotic animals anyway.
"You're taking about a city that is extremely leery
about allowing anything along those lines back at Blaisdell Arena anymore,"
said city spokeswoman Carol Costa.
Costa said it didn't mean the state couldn't grant a
circus permit, but so far it has not done so.
Others insist that simply because no circus elephants
have been here in a decade doesn't mean a tragedy similar to the Tyke
disaster could not happen again.
"Of course it could happen if a traditional circus does
came in — and they still can because we haven't done anything legally to
stop them," said Cathy Goeggel, director of Animal Rights Hawaii.
Goeggel points to four failed bills to ban exotic
animal acts in Hawai'i.
"We tried twice in the Honolulu City Council and twice
in the Hawai'i Legislature," she said. "None of those
"What the industry is trying to do is wait until
people's memories fade."
Tyler Ralston agrees. Ten years ago he was driving
along Waimanu Street in Kaka'ako and was stunned to see a circus elephant
charging toward his car.
"Initially, I was confused," recalled Ralston, who was
26 at the time. "The elephant was coming at me and the police were behind
I saw this headdress on the elephant, and I thought
there must have been a circus in town and the elephant got away."
Instinctively, Ralston swerved onto Cummins Street,
whipping his car into a motorcycle shop. In the next moments he witnessed a
surreal, horrifying scene as Tyke chased a circus clown through a vacant lot
while circus promoter Steve Hirano attempted to confine the animal within
"Hirano was trying to close the fence and the elephant
charged at him, busted through, soccer-balled him on the ground and hit him,
shattering his leg — and that's when the first shots were fired.
"That's when I was, like, 'OK, this is really serious.
There's a lot of people around and I don't want to see an elephant get
And the next thing I knew, it was running by me,
It all changed his life, Ralston said. He tried to have
bills passed banning animal acts and continues to advocate bringing in and
promoting animal-free circuses such as Cirque du Soleil.
Whether grief-filled memories are enough to permanently
eliminate traditional circuses in Honolulu remains to be seen. But there's
no doubt Tyke has altered the animal entertainment outlook here and
The Hawaiian Humane Society has formulated an official
position stating that "wild animal acts should not be used in entertainment
such as circuses, shows and exhibits."
And last March, the federal government took away 16
circus elephants from an owner accused of mistreating his animals.
That owner was John Cuneo Jr. — the man who owned Tyke.
Reach Will Hoover at 525-8038 or