About 50 protesters gathered for the opening of the Nevada County Fair Wednesday in opposition to elephant rides at the fair.
Have Trunk Will Travel’s presence at the fair has proved to be a contentious issue from animal rights activists because of allegations that the organization abuses the elephants, while others believe the rides to be a positive addition to the fair and an opportunity to experience elephants first-hand.
The allegations of abuse are based on video footage from Animal Defense International, which has said the video is from Have Trunk Will Travel and it shows elephants prodded and hit with bull hooks and forced to do tricks.
Sacramento resident Debbie Casey has attended the fair for 15 years but refused to go this year because of the elephant rides.
“I’ve watched all the documentaries and National Geographic and PBS, and I don’t think it’s right,” Casey said. “I don’t think the fair board made a good decision. They went against what the community wants.”
“You just hope people learn.”
Others support the elephant rides and believe them to be an unparalleled opportunity to experience elephants.
“I like that they’re here. I’m glad I got a chance to see them,” said Michelle Nickerson, who rode an elephant.
“When you can actually touch something and interact with it, you learn more about it and care more about it.”
Organizations involved in the opening-night protest and subsequent demonstrations include, as previously reported by The Union, the Center for Animal Protection & Education, the Coalition for Animal Welfare & Support, PAWS, Animal Place, Scooter’s Pals, AnimalSave, Rescue For Pet Sake and Chows Plus.
JP Novic, founder of the Center for Animal Protection and Education, addressed the protesters, thanking them for their support.
“This is a very strong statement,” she said. “Future fairs will hear us and see us and know that we’re not going away.”
Have Trunk Will Travel owner and International Elephant Foundation board member Gary Johnson said video footage was edited to show events out of context.
He said elephants are trained using verbal commands and physical cues using a “guide” in the form of a device with a hook and poker attached to a handle, which has been used for thousands of years.
Video footage is available online showing elephants rebelling, and in one incident in Honolulu an elephant killed a trainer. This footage has been used as fuel by some to question the safety of being around elephants. Johnson said the Honolulu incident was a horrible event but that it does not necessarily suggest animal abuse, instead indicating a rebellious animal personality.
“Is that the norm?” he said. “No. Animals have different personalities, and some elephants have bad personalities.”
“You can have the same problem with a horse or a dog,” Johnson said.
“How many parents struggle to figure out how to deal with their kids?”
The fair board decided to hear public comment on its decision to contract with Have Trunk Will Travel at its June 20 meeting but did not bring the issue to a vote, and the contract was again maintained after 60 people spoke at the board’s July meeting, The Union previously reported.
Nevada County Fair CEO Sandy Woods said the board is pleased by the presence of Have Trunk Will Travel.
“The animal rights folks had a demonstration at Gate 1, and it was peaceful. I don’t think there were any issues associated with it, and they had the opportunity to express their feelings, and we certainly respect their First Amendment rights, so I think everything is going well,” Woods said. “The fair is beautiful, and there’s really just a wonderful feeling in the fairgrounds this evening.”
To contact Staff Writer Jennifer Terman, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4230.