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Planned elephant rides draw protest

The organizers for the Nevada County Fair, scheduled for Aug. 7-11, thought that elephant rides would be a fun addition to this year’s theme of “Under the Big Top.”

But the board of directors’ decision to contract with Have Trunk Will Travel to provide two elephants for local children to ride has generated controversy.

A coalition of animal activists attended the board’s June meeting to express its concern, and the board agreed to officially hear a request to have that contract voided at its next meeting June 20.



According to Shelley Frost, the program manager for the Center for Animal Protection and Education, the animal rights groups came together because they were worried both about the safety of fairgoers and the treatment of the elephants.

Have Trunk Will Travel has had a significant amount of negative press and has been labeled by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals as a “notorious elephant abuser.” But the organization, which has had its animals featured in films like “Water For Elephants,” says its mission is to “provide the public with safe, educational and recreational access to the earth’s most wonderful mammal, the elephant. Have Trunk Will Travel is a family of people that truly cares about the well-being of elephants. We are privately funded. The income generated by giving rides, doing shows, special events, movies and commercials is used to care for the elephants and provide for their futures.”




Have Trunk Will Travel has “a pretty serious history of abusing and neglecting elephants,” said Frost, adding the organization has been cited for its lack of supervision.

The last thing a fair should want onsite is an improperly supervised 8,000-pound animal, Frost said.

“You can’t contain a rampaging elephant,” she said. “I worry about the fair (setting); It’s not like a zoo. They’re not contained, they’re just out there. It’s just a tragedy waiting to happen.”

Representatives from Have Trunk Will Travel did not return a call for comment.

Frost said Have Trunk Will Travel trains its elephants in an abusive fashion with bull hooks and electric prods, which she noted are illegal in California. But more than that, she said, elephants are wild animals and should not be forced to perform tricks.

“I don’t think the (fair) board really thought about this,” Frost said. “We’re just trying to help the board realize Have Trunk Will Travel has a bad reputation. Our ultimate goal is that the board would cancel its contract and replace them with something like Cirque Du Soleil with human performers — something safer and more humane. It’s worth it to look at the alternatives.”

Nevada County Fair CEO Sandy Woods said it is not the first time the fair has featured elephants, and they chose them for rides this year because they “naturally fit into the circus theme.”

Woods called Have Trunk Will Travel a very reputable firm that conducts breeding and educational programs but added that while there is a contract in place, the board agreed to put it on the agenda for its next meeting due to the concerns that were brought forward.

“We want to give people the opportunity to discuss it and make recommendations,” she said. “It’s up to the board to decide … There are always options. We appreciate that folks have differing views, and we respect their views. What makes this fair successful is the community and its diversity, and we’re a part of that community. We are blessed with great leaders on our board who are open-minded enough to listen.”

Fair board member Tom Browning pledged to hear out the concerns and said he expected representatives from both sides at the June 20 meeting.

“We certainly can void the contract,” he said. “We want to do what’s in the best interest of the community.”

For more information on Have Trunk Will Travel, go to its website at http://havetrunkwilltravel.com. People for the Ethical treatment of Animals has a web page at http://peta.org/b/thepetafiles/archive/tags/Have+Trunk+Will+Travel +_2800_HTWT_2900_/default.aspx. For information on the Center for Animal Protection and Education, which recently relocated from Santa Cruz to Nevada County, go to http://capeanimals.org/.

To contact City Editor Liz Kellar, email lkellar@theunion.com or call 530-477-4229.


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