The animal rights group PETA took HBO to task for the use of live elephants in the most recent episode of "Westworld," which featured two of the animals in the opening sequence in what appeared to be an India-like variation of one of the series' parks.
The organization criticized the show's use of live animals as opposed to computer-generated versions (which also were used to approximate a tiger in the same scene), and in a statement released Monday, described a history of painful training techniques at one of the companies that supply such animals for entertainment productions, including an incident PETA captured on video of one of the elephants they say was used in the series receiving such abuse.
"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 — and because reports say that there are still plans to use bears this season — we're urging HBO to commit to not using any wild animals in future episodes or other series," read a letter sent by the activist organization to HBO President Casey Bloys.
"Since we sent information when elephants and bears were used in other series such as 'Silicon Valley,' " the letter went on, "we're stunned that HBO would allow this."
HBO has a troubled history with the use of animals on its shows. "Luck," a series centered on horse racing that starred Dustin Hoffman and was co-produced by David Milch and Michael Mann, was canceled in 2012 after three horses died during production.
In response to PETA's criticism Monday, HBO released the following statement:
"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," the statement concluded.