Campaigners from the Animal Defenders International (ADI) group have released footage which purportedly shows 42-year-old Asian elephant Tai being mistreated by trainers in 2005.
In the clip, the elephant, who also appeared in Operation Dumbo Drop and Larger Than Life, is allegedly beaten with hooks and given electric shocks to perform headstands.
ADI president Jan Creamer spoke out against the film, insisting, "The public, the stars and the filmmakers have been duped. This poor elephant was trained to do the very tricks you see in the film by being given electric shocks. I believe that Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson will be horrified to learn what Tai went through."
Bosses at 20th Century Fox have now addressed the controversy, assuring movie-goers that Tai was not mistreated on the Water For Elephants set.
A statement from the studio reads: "Twentieth Century Fox feels strongly that we have taken every step to ensure that the film, while portraying the perception of animal abuse (often through digital effects), held in utmost importance the proper care and humane treatment of all animals involved in the production.
"Fox and the filmmakers behind Water for Elephants are disturbed and saddened by the video being circulated that purportedly shows the elephant Tai being mistreated several years ago. We are strongly opposed to violence against animals, humans or any creatures.
"Fox is compelled to point out that this video was not taken during the training for, or production of, our film, and neither Tai nor any other animal performer in the film was harmed in any way during the making of this film."