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An Apology to Elephants (2013)

Narrated by Lily Tomlin, this documentary short traces mankind's long history with elephants and explores the many problems that arise when they are brought to live in captivity in zoos and circuses.


Amy Schatz


Jane Wagner

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Won 1 Primetime Emmy. Another 1 win. See more awards »


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Credited cast:
Lily Tomlin ... Herself - Narrator (voice)
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Pat Derby ... Herself (PAWS)
Colleen Kinzley ... Herself (Oakland Zoo)
Jeff Kinzley ... Himself (Oakland Zoo)
Ross MacPhee ... Himself
Rose McCoy ... Herself (activist)
Cynthia Moss ... Herself (Amboseli Trust for Elephants)
Joel Parrott ... Himself (Oakland Zoo)
Katy Payne ... Herself (Elephant Listening Project)
Joyce Poole ... Herself (ElephantVoices)
Mel Richardson ... Himself (veterinarian)
Ed Stewart ... Himself (PAWSsanctuaries)


Narrated by Lily Tomlin, this documentary short traces mankind's long history with elephants and explores the many problems that arise when they are brought to live in captivity in zoos and circuses.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Documentary | Short


TV-PG | See all certifications »


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Release Date:

12 April 2013 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Apologia Aos Elefantes See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

HBO Documentary Films See more »
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Technical Specs


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Did You Know?


Himself (veterinarian): Fifty percent of elephants in captivity will die from foot-related diseases. I can show documentation of the physical damage that occurs from them standing on concrete, their lack of exercise, standing in their own excrement, years and years of being chained. Elephants also have arthritis. Arthritis means the articular surface is worn away, and it's raw bone on raw bone. It's pain. If you have arthritis, you need to move, because your body will heal it. When they get a joint issue in captivity,...
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Featured in 2013 Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards (2013) See more »

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User Reviews

History of Pachadermal Treatment
21 February 2016 | by redryan64See all my reviews

THAT ANIMALS HAVE abilities that are akin to our own seems to be a startling recent discovery to a large segment of our society. We congratulate them on catching up with what our so-called animal lovers have known since the earliest of times. Be it instinctive or by virtue of our experiences, animal intelligence, personality, memory and feelings has come to be a sort of undisputed fact.

CREATURES THAT MOST of us know are of the small to medium range in size and can be found in shelters, pet shops and at some of our neighbors' houses. Kittens anyone? But it seems that the larger and more exotic the species, the greater is the complex intelligence, behavior and individuality.

THE FILM WE are reviewing manages to make a case for our long enslaved pachyderms. Meaning "Thick Skinned" the word is derived from Greek or Latin (one or the other) and lends its name to this fascinating order of the Animal Kingdom called Mammals.

THE FILM DOES a fine job in covering all of that basic scientific data; including touching on the old Family Tree. Mammoths, Mastodons and Gomphotheres. (look them up, Schultz). They also remind us that in the wild, they are far fewer in numbers all the time.

BUT THE MAIN message here is how the elephant is faring in the modern world of captivity. Circuses and Zoos are the chief targets. Whereas (according to the narration) there does seem to be hope for Zoological Parks, but the Circus is out. They contend that the methods and practices traditionally employed are cruel, unnatural and heartless to the animal.

THE NARRATION AND storyline brings us a history of the elephant in captivity,. dating into antiquity. The cave paintings, ancient armies and employment of the great beast as building & excavation specialist are reviewed.

WHAT WAS PARTICULARLY disturbing and disappointing was the story of a Coney Island Indian Elephant named Topsy. Following some dangerous encounters with trainers, the owners sold Topsy to be used in an electronic experiment to demonstrate the negative properties of Alternating Current. The elephant was electrocuted by the company of Thomas Edison.

THERE IS NO doubt that the whole slant of the film is one of anti-circus ownership and employment of elephants for entertainment. That fanaticism that is so often displayed by those individuals who become involved in causes seems to be at work here. The trouble with a typical zealot is that they care not so much about the fairness and veracity of their work so much as is its ability to influence its audience.

TO REALLY GIVE a true and fairly rendered production, the production team had an obligation to depict some more pachyderm friendly institutions and their keepers.

THE Arguments PRESENTED are powerful, but we see that there is one positive here. There is extensive breeding of both African and Indian Elephants in captivity. This could be a potential tool in countering the widespread illegal hunting of the animals that could lead to extinction.

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