Animal rights activists allege elephant abuse

By Marlena Medford
Staff Writer

Have Trunk Will Travel, a company that provides elephant rides at the San Diego County Fair, is being accused of serious abuse by a group of animal rights activists.

An undercover video that was recently released by Animal Defenders International (ADI) purportedly shows a trainer striking a baby elephant with a sharp-ended heavy stick known as a bullhook. That elephant was later featured in the current blockbuster “Water For Elephants,” and therefore the allegations of abuse have garnered international attention.

During the June 7 board meeting of the 22nd District Agricultural Association (22nd DAA), spokespeople from ADI, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the San Diego-based Animal Protection and Rescue League all publicly spoke out against the company, claiming it also uses high-voltage electrical prods to make the animals submissive. They all urged the board to exclude Have Trunk Will Travel from this year’s fair, or at least investigate the claims.

22nd DAA board president Barry Nussbaum said he had seen the video and discussed it at length with the director of San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park, who told him he was “not uncomfortable with what he saw.” However, Nussbaum also claimed that because he is not an animal expert, he was not entirely sure how to interpret the video. Therefore, he and the rest of the board agreed to direct staff to look into the allegations and get more input from other animal experts.

Del Mar Fairgrounds CEO Tim Fennell also said that Have Trunk Will Travel has been a part of the San Diego County Fair for nearly 30 years, 18 of which he has witnessed. Based on his experience, he said he has a high opinion of Have Trunk Will Travel.

“I have never received complaint from the public or staff,” he said of the company, adding that its owner Gary Johnson sits on the board of directors for the conservation group International Elephant Foundation.

Johnson has also released a written statement claiming the allegations of abuse are bogus.

“We stand by our care and training methods,” he wrote. “These groups have no basis of knowledge or experience working with elephants. They have an agenda and a history of using less than honest means to achieve their goals.”

Have Trunk Will Travel also provides elephant rides at the Santa Anna Zoo, and is currently being investigated for animal cruelty by that city’s staff.

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Posted by Staff on Jun 8, 2011. Filed under Del Mar, News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

6 Comments for “Animal rights activists allege elephant abuse”

  1. Lorraine Wilson

    It is really sad that the director of the Wild Animal Park, whom I assume is Doug Myers, would say that he is "not uncomfortable with what he saw." But it doesn't surprise me, as an employee of the San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park for 12 years, I witnessed abuse, neglect and mismanagement of animals on an on-going basis and when I complained to the “director” he took the same complacent, callous attitude he did with the blatant abuse shown in this video. Clearly, his paycheck is far more important than the ethical treatment of animals and he lacks any scruples or compassion. The video taken at Have Trunk Will Travel (HTWT) clearly shows animal abuse. I have worked in the animal field for over 15 years, half of those years as an animal trainer for the Zoological Society of San Diego (ZSSD), and clearly, the elephants are being abused. Once again, bureaucrats are putting money before compassionate and ethical treatment of animals.

  2. Lorraine Wilson

    For the DAA president Barry Nussbaum to say he is not an animal expert and therefore is unable to interpret the video is just ludicrous. You don't need a degree in Zoology or Biology to see that the elephants in the video are being electrocuted and beat into submission. Elephants don’t voluntarily do unnatural circus tricks, like painful head stands and hind-leg stands without being abused. They are abused year after year, from the time they are still nursing babies. And for the CEO Tim Fennell to say that HTWT never abuses their elephants is just plain naive. Of course they aren’t going to abuse the elephants at the fairgrounds. The abuse happens behind closed doors. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, "The greatness of a nation and its moral progress is determined by how its animals are treated." Clearly, the Zoological Society of San Diego, the District Agricultural Association and the Del Mar Fairgrounds are far from greatness and morality if they continue to defend, support and offer cruel and antiquated elephant rides in 2011.

  3. Fiona Aldrich

    I viewed the video on the news last night and it was quite disturbing.How do these trainers sleep at night?

  4. Diane Carvello

    I have watched the video, there is cruelty going on at the Del mar fair with the Elephant rides. I have seen the bull-hook, I am going again to potograph and i assxure you, there will be abuse. She is a mean out of shape fat women who has nothing better to do than scare the crap out of these elephants. She needs to get a husband. I will be there AGAIN. and yes, i agree with Lorraine. Its absolutely disgusting and very sad. I did not see the DA there with his children or any of the City of San Diego folks there. If you just look at the elephants and you can see all the scars on their body. Just looking at this video, you can see them, so how can it be the the director has no comment. !! Maybe he should be fired!!!! You can see all the bull-hook scars. Why are you all so blind. How can you sleep at nite. Put these animals in a sanctuary. They have did there time, now its time for them to be free and not scared and cry. Yes, they cry.!!! ENOUGH

  5. diane

    i have a right to freedom of speech and the press, why should i have to wait for you to approve my comment, ???

  6. Wind Dancer

    Diane I agree with you about the Fat Woman that is all she can do is put fear in the elephants; that's how she gets her jollies. Look at that Fat Thing. Get a husband? Diane that is a funny joke. What real man would want her? I emailed Have Trunk Will Travel and I talked about that Fat Thing. I just don't understand how people can hurt animals and sleep at night. I sure would love to meet these people, maybe show them the way to use a bull hook. And really, hurt that little baby? You can see how frightened it is. The anxiety the adult elephants must have been going thru to see this little one so scared and there was nothing they could do. I know Satan is waiting for Fatso.

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