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Lily Tomlin speaks up for elephants in documentary

The Associated Press
Modified: May 10, 2013 at 1:43 pm •  Published: May 10, 2013

photo - This undated publicity photo released by courtesy of HBO shows a scene from the documentary film,
This undated publicity photo released by courtesy of HBO shows a scene from the documentary film, "An Apology to Elephants." Actress Lily Tomlin narrates the film. The film is an unabashed polemic, calling for improved treatment of elephants in zoos and an end to the use of the animals as entertainment, which the film contends must invariably involve abuse. (AP Photo/HBO, Lisa Jeffries/

The film spotlights those who are working for elephants today, including the Oakland Zoo, which has implemented new methods of managing the animals, including more space to roam, and a Northern California wild animal sanctuary that helps remove elephants from circuses and zoos.

The grounds are home to elephants Gypsy and Wanda, who performed for the same circus before being split up. When the pair ended up 20 years later at the sanctuary, they "went crazy and are inseparable," said Pat Derby, the former animal trainer who co-founded the Performing Animal Welfare Society, or PAWS, which operates the sanctuary.

Their new life, in nature and without the demands of performing, represents her dream, Derby says in "An Apology to Elephants." The film is dedicated to Derby, who died in February of cancer at age 69.

"Knowing they have some days or even years of safety and peace and dignity, that's the big reward," said Derby in the documentary directed by Amy Schatz.

Tomlin said her hope is that people take heed of what elephants face. Her narration, written by her longtime partner, Jane Wagner, is measured and eloquent, but she's passionate in conversation as she decries "inequity and injustice and suffering" and encourages others to get involved.

"The first thing is to be conscious of the ivory trade. Don't foster anything like admiring ivory objects or people wanting them," she said. "Just to have that consciousness affects the movement of things. It takes years, but it's like getting people to wear seatbelts."


Lynn Elber is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. She can be reached at lelber(at) and on Twitter (at)lynnelber.