Perceived threat results in extra security for elephant rides at this year’s SD County Fair

By Joe Tash

Extra security and surveillance will be in place at the elephant rides at this year’s San Diego County Fair, after a member of the fair’s governing board reported what he perceived as a threat conveyed by a local attorney.

The elephant rides, which have been an attraction at the fair for the past 30 years, have become controversial in recent years.  In 2011, following a two-hour hearing with testimony on both sides of the issue, the board of the 22nd District Agricultural Association, which oversees the state-owned Del Mar fairgrounds, voted 4-3 to continue the rides, but to consider cancelling them after the 2014 fair.

Elephant ride opponents spoke again at the 22nd DAA’s March meeting, when the contract with Have Trunk Will Travel, which operates the elephant rides, came up for renewal.  The board voted unanimously to approve the contract for this year’s fair, which begins on June 8.

Concerns about a possible threat arose after a meeting in April between 22nd DAA board member Fred Schenk, and two local attorneys, Howard Finkelstein and his law partner, Jeffrey Krinsk.

At the Tuesday, May 7 22nd DAA board meeting, Schenk said he was told by Finkelstein that if the board did not cancel the elephant rides and something happened, Schenk, the fair board and the governor would be held accountable.

“He was in my view reporting a potential risk to fair-goers,” Schenk said at Tuesday’s board meeting.

After the meeting with Finkelstein, Schenk said, he reported the incident to fellow board members, and also called the governor’s office inform them what had happened.  Members of the 22nd DAA board are appointed by the governor.

Finkelstein, who did not attend the 22nd DAA board meeting, confirmed that he met with Schenk, with the purpose of informing him about information that had surfaced regarding the treatment of elephants at Have Trunk Will Travel’s Riverside County training facility.

Several years ago, an undercover video shot at the compound allegedly showed trainers abusing elephants with heavy metal hooks and electric shocks.  Company officials, however, have repeatedly denied harming elephants in any way, and said that investigations by government agencies have not found any wrong-doing.

Finkelstein, who said he is involved in animal welfare issues, denied threatening Schenk.  He said he commented that it would be horrible if something did happen involving the elephant rides, but insisted he has no knowledge anyone planning to disrupt or interfere with the rides.

“If he took that as a threat, I apologize.  I didn’t threaten him.  I didn’t mean it as a threat,” Finkelstein said.

Finkelstein did say that he believes the rides are “arcane, antiquated and obviously dangerous,” simply because children should not be placed on top of a two-ton elephant.

Finkelstein said Schenk may be trying to discredit him to cover up what Schenk reportedly said at the lunch meeting was the real reason the board voted in March to approve the contract with Have Trunk Will Travel.

In an email that has been widely circulated, Finkelstein wrote that at the lunch, “Fred explained that the reason that the board can’t ban these rides is because it might lead to the discovery of the much more serious abuse of the horses by the trainers and jockeys at the Del Mar Race Track, which provides millions of dollars in revenue to the county.”

After Tuesday’s 22nd DAA board meeting, Schenk denied Finkelstein’s characterization of his comments.  Schenk said he did tell Finkelstein that although the Los Angeles and Orange County fairs banned elephant rides, San Diego is different because it has thoroughbred racing, and there are people opposed to the sport of horse racing.  A board vote against elephant rides could be seen as a precedent for horse-racing opponents, Schenk said.

In his role as a 22nd DAA board member, Schenk said, he is well aware that horse racing revenue goes to the state, and not the county, which he said also casts doubt on Finkelstein’s version of their conversation.

Schenk said he believes the San Diego County Fair’s elephant rides will likely be phased out after September 2014, when new guidelines are expected from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums restricting contact between humans and elephants.

Due to the perceived threat reported by Schenk, security officers were posted at the 22nd DAA meeting on Tuesday, and Schenk said the district also plans to beef up security and surveillance at the elephant rides during this year’s fair.

Related posts:

  1. Elephant rides to be held at fair in Del Mar again this year
  2. Ag. board votes to keep elephant rides at San Diego County Fair
  3. Elephant rides contract should not be continued
  4. Animal rights activists allege elephant abuse
  5. 22nd District Agricultural Association board looks into alleged elephant abuse

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Posted by Staff on May 7, 2013. Filed under Carmel Valley, Del Mar, News, Solana Beach, carmel valley. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

15 Comments for “Perceived threat results in extra security for elephant rides at this year’s SD County Fair”

  1. T Hall

    In the past 30 years, the elephants have done nothing but give joy and delight to children and adults alike by letting these people ride around on them , yet as of late, all I hear about animal activist groups in the news , is how they lie, mislead and deceive people in order to raise millions that are spent on everything except animals.
    I’m thrilled that the elephants will be back at this years fair.

  2. Cc elephant

    It is not at all shocking that there are threats being made by a typical extremist. These people are not looking out for the welfare of the animals, they are domestic terrorists who may have begun with the intent of looking out for animals, but have since seriously lost their way. People who work with animals receive threats on a daily basis. I am glad it was reported and taken seriously.

  3. Carol Olson

    Mr. Finkelstein is a good example of the mental ability of the animal activists that are so set against the elephants from Have Trunk Will Travel having any public appearances. They, with the funding from ASPCA, have tried every trick in the book to try to stop elephants in entertainment from continuing to be in business. Millions of dollars have been wasted in this frivolous pursuit. The ASPCA was fined huge amounts of money for paying someone to falsely testify under oath, that the elephants at a famous circus were abused. They need a proctologist to see their point of view and by this terrible threat that would harm children have shown their true colors.

  4. Teri Pierce

    are you people just NUTS???? there are children in parts of the world who only get around on elephants and they don’t have a saddle or supervision. How about you freaking morons put surveillance cameras and security on your Carnie’s who are well known for working drunk,, molestation and lewd acts on children. Oh and while you are at it.. You know that “Luck” was cancelled on HBO because of the horses bumping each other and the jockeys and DYING…. Grow up and try and remember when you were kids. If you weren’t all made from alien space machines. Fools.

  5. Alexis Kaiser

    How many incidents reported in the last 30 years of anything going wrong on the elephant ride. How many incidents reported on anything go wrong on the mechanical rides. Why don’t these people look at numbers before opening their big mouths. What do these lawyers know about elephants anyway. They are being swayed by the propaganda of the AR’s. Period. And Del Mar should be afraid, first the elephants than the horse races. These AR idiots want to change the world. These guys should be ashamed for giving the thought the time of day and then offering an opinion on something they know nothing about.

    • Gary Payne

      You are correct Ms Kaiser. I like your statistical approach….that’s the way the insurance companies do it. Should we outlaw baseball due to the number of baseballs put thru windshields? Should we outlaw high school football due to the number of concussions? What about birthday cake? (Too much sugar) Do we live in the United States of America or in Communist China? Lets all say NO MORE to the animal rights fund raising scams.

  6. Alice Wisdom

    It seems like the Fair Board is finally starting to see the true colors of the animal rights extremists. Not only are these extremists spreading lies about elephants in human care, but they are also so militant in their extremism that they get violent. At last year’s San Diego County Fair, animal rights extremists taunted a little girl showing her pig in the livestock arena. They also assaulted a fairgoer as he tried to walk past their “protest.” I applaud the Fair Board for taking steps to protect the elephants because it is clear the animal rights extremists aren’t above hurting them for their own gain.

  7. Karen

    It is very sad that this Finklestein finds it neccessary to lie and twist peoples words to get his way. It is likely that if the extremists get there way horse racing maybe next, (sounds more like how the conversation might have gone). Having interaction with these beautiful creatures is such a pleasure and honor. These animals are treated very well, probablly better than a lot of people. Let’s not be ridiculous finklestein, there is a lot of abuse out there go and find it and put your law degree to some good use. Make your parents proud and leave innocent animals and people alone!!

  8. Janice

    This is just another weakly designed ploy to promote the misinformation concerning the amazing experience of an elephant ride. In this increasingly fractured world, where terrorist events have become a reality, the experience of seeing and riding an actual elephant is a rare tonic to the soul. To be able to enjoy the experience produced by an organization of the established quality of Have Trunk Will Travel magnifies the richness of the opportunity . To slander a phenomenal group and deny fair goers this amazing experience simply to further na alterior agenda would be pitiful. The governor and fair committee should be commended for supporting this wonderfulevent rather than caving to alarmists with a misinformed agenda.

  9. Shirley Cox

    Hopefully this will open the eyes to the Del Mar Fair Board and not allow these extremist to bully them. The elephant rides have been a huge part of my family. We go to the fair every year to ride the elephants and get a family photo, it is a tradition, a tradition we would hate to see end. We love the elephants, and if you stand and watch for a while and you can see how the elephants are cared for. Everyone must start using common sense, like the fair board has, and tell the extremist to go pound sand, we have a right to enjoy and as well as be amazed by these elephants!

  10. Gary Payne

    Its great to see people finally standing up to the animal rights bullys. Their allegations of abuse are short of something called “proof”. In over forty years study of the animal rights business versus the business of performing elephants I find IN FAVOR of PERFORMING ANIMALS and their human familys. It’s time we said NO MORE to this business of “animal rights”. Thank you to the Fair Board for showing some back bone and doing the right thing. The whims of a few mis-guided activists should not win over the will of many.

  11. Well, the lawyer knows how to work a jury…or crowd…by casting doubt. That’s how he wins legal battles and the truth doesn’t matter. I’ve been in Asia where elephants are used today for work to help humans. They are not considered to be “exotic” or “dangerous” in any manner. Like any animal, they react to abuse to defend or protect themselves and their family. Also, like other animals, they respond to care and affection and are stimulated in healthy ways by a variety of interactions…especially with humans.

  12. During 1850-1950 most large cities had a zoo with riding Asian elephants when many people thought that African elephants could not be trained. Watching old pictures, those elephants looked welltrained, wellfed, and in good condition. Just like a working horse they had physical and psychological stimulation and gave children a memory for life. After work the elephants enjoyed to relax in their encosures, since they got a little tired. Accidents was very unusual. The elephants iniitiated a future interest for animals and nature. Animal rights activists started to fight against such activities in the 60′s, and by 2010, 50 years later, zoo elephants rides was just a memory. Meanwhile in Africa, more than 200 african elephants has been trained to perform safari rides today. Ecological and exciting, thousands of people enjoy this today every year. The zoo elephants are more bored today, and their enclosures get as filled with toys, reminding of a small cage witha single Budgerigar 50 years ago, filled with mirrors, plastic birds on strings etc. This is today called enrichment. But any dog owner knows that excercise and a walk with the owner is among the best enrichment. The ARAs activities has led to a reduced daily quality for captive elephants.

  13. Harry Peachey

    Kudos to the fair board for having the courage to continue to give people the opportunity to share such an incredible experience with animals as amazing as Have Trunk Will Travel’s elephants! Most children, or adults for that matter, that have this kind of contact with an elephant will care about these magnificent animals for the rest of their lives, and unless people care, African and Asian elephants may not survive into the next half of this century. The people at Have Trunk Will Travel have literally committed their lives to providing nothing less than the best for their elephants. That dedication to and love for their elephants is not only apparent to every thinking person that takes advantage of the opportunity Have Trunk Will Travel presents at the fair to connect with an elephant, it is an inspiration to care not only about those elephants, but about every elephant on the globe.

  14. LRPeddie

    Thank you to Mr. Tash for presenting an accurate picture of the unfounded accusations against the Johnson’s and Have Trunk Will Travel; and thank you to the Del Mar Fair Board for doing the right thing! Looking forward, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums policy with regard to elephant management suggests a protected contact format in some situations. That format is not appropriate for the Johnson’s who have historically worked in direct contact with their elephants in providing optimal care for the animals they love.

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