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Calls to stop elephant rides at fair renewed

DEL MAR — The 22nd District Agricultural Association recently received renewed requests to stop the elephant rides at the San Diego County Fair after the company that provides the attraction was cited for noncompliance by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

Have Trunk Will Travel was cited for failing to maintain elephants under the direct control and supervision of a knowledgeable and experienced handler in August 2012 during the Central States Fair in Rapid City, S.D.

The USDA inspector noted that during the rides, the elephant not being used was not secured and often not supervised.

The January meeting agenda packet for the 22nd DAA, which governs the fairgrounds, included more than two-dozen emails — some from people who live out of state — urging board members to discontinue the district’s long association with have Trunk Will Travel.

Gary and Kari Johnson, owners of Have Trunk Will Travel, said the representation of the report from “animal rights extremist groups” is inaccurate.

“The report is under appeal,” the Johnsons stated in a letter to the 22nd DAA. “As soon as factual information is available we will share it with you.”

Kari Johnson said the company was reported as noncompliant during the inspection but any problems were corrected on the spot.

“We’ve been doing elephant rides for more than 30 years,” she said. “We’ve been licensed by the USDA the whole time. We’ve improved things for the better over the years but otherwise we haven’t done anything much differently.

“We appealed because we wanted to see if there’s something different about the way they’re (enforcing) the regulations,” she added. “And so far we have a perfect record. We’ve never had a noncompliance before.”

She said a noncompliance report can include something as simple as leaving the top off a feed bucket.

“What they wrote us up for was not really a big deal,” she said. A ruling on their appeal is due any day, she added.

Requests to eliminate the rides during the San Diego County Fair are not new.

This past June representatives from animal rights groups asked board members to cancel the rides, claiming Have Trunk Will Travel abuses its pachyderms.

Matt Rossell from Animal Defenders International gave board members a DVD released by his organization that he alleges was videotaped at Have Trunk Will Travel in Perris, Calif.

Rossell claimed the video shows Have Trunk Will Travel owners and trainers using bull hooks — tools with a bronze or steel hook attached to a handle — and electric prods to train the animals.

Johnson said people who are not with “legitimate animal welfare organizations” are not qualified to comment on the footage because they “would not know what they are looking at.” She said the recording is not in context.

At the November meeting, after more than two hours of public comment and discussion, board members voted to continue allowing elephant rides until at least 2014.

Noting there were strong arguments on both sides, board President Adam Day said the decision came down to the fairgrounds’ function as an agricultural district.

He recommended phasing out the rides by 2014. Director Fred Schenk made a substitute motion, which was passed, to revisit the issue in 2014, when an occupational safety policy adopted by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums will require facilities to limit training to protected contact rather than free contact to retain the association’s accreditation.

In free contact, elephants and handlers interact directly, while in protected contact there is a barrier between the two.

There have never been allegations that pachyderms were abused at the fairgrounds or during the fair, nor have there been complaints or problems about the rides.

Day said unless another board member asks to have the item put on a future agenda, which hasn’t been done, the board has no plans to revisit the issue.



Lorraine January 24, 2013 at 3:47 pm

I have worked in the animal field over almost 20 years. I have been a trainer of exotic and domestic animals for over eight years. I can tell you as an expert in my field, the Johnson’s and the Smith’s who work for Have Trunk Will Travel abuse their elephants as is seen in the video shown by Animal Defenders International. No proper or humane animal trainer would use a bull hook and electrocute elephants over their entire body including their stomach and hind legs. The fact is, the Johnson’s are old school circus trainers who feel it is acceptable to beat and abuse elephants for entertainment. To label those who care about the well-being of animals as “animal extremists” is laughable. Animal abusers always use the “animal extremist” card when their abuses are exposed and publicized, somehow believing that they can dilute the truth by making their accusers seem somehow out of touch. It is time the fair puts an end to this abusive tradition of entertainment and gets with the 21st century!

Ron Jarvis January 24, 2013 at 5:07 pm

Lorraine, who are you? You claim to be an expert in your field. Give me your whole name. Any nut off the street could claim to be Lorraine, an expert in the field and trainer of exotic animals for over 8 years. I actually spent 3 years touring with Ringling Bros circus and rode an elephant daily for 2 of those years. I witnessed no abuse, but I did interact with well meaning animal rights people who made up all kinds of lies about the handling of circus elephants. That just cost the ASPCA 9.3 million dollars. Look it up.

Lorraine January 24, 2013 at 5:54 pm

I am not going to get into a tit for tat Ron, Ringling is a notorius animal abuser and have been videotaped beating elephants.

For Animal Welfare January 24, 2013 at 5:19 pm

Lorraine, I’m afraid you’re terribly misinformed. The Johnson’s are exemplary animal trainers. Their animals are well cared for, healthy, and given the best care possible.

Lorraine January 24, 2013 at 5:58 pm

The Johnson’s are not exemplary animal trainers. I am an exemplary animal trainer. I use strictly positive reinforcement with no punishment or pain inflicted on the animals I work with. The Johnson’s are old school trainers who believe that beating and electrocuting elephants is perfectly acceptable for entertainment.

alexis kaiser January 24, 2013 at 6:40 pm

You need to give it up. Anyone who knows the Johnsons, knows anything about circus, has actual facts will know you are lying. How much time have you spent on RBBB. What do you think about the lawsuit they won agaisnt the HSUS and ASPCA? There are too many industry people who know the real truth. We are lucky that the AR’s are being exposed for what they are…animal zealots hiding behind fradulent organizations that have no clue what they are talking about.

Lorraine January 24, 2013 at 7:22 pm

Alexis, like I said to Ron, I do not want to get into a tit for tat. I know the truth. The video shows the truth and I know what progressive, humane training is. The Johnson’s and Ringling trainers are not positive reinforcement trainers. They use fear, intimidation, beatings and electric shock to keep the elephants in line. I know. I have worked in the field many, many years and know what is right and what is wrong when it comes to training.

Greg swanson January 24, 2013 at 7:28 pm

This is a typical post from AR’s (Lorraine ) which is a made up total lie because they (AR’s) only want to believe what THEY want to believe, with abosolutely no truth. I believe if you want to make a valid point, based on FACTUAL FINDINGS, then produce credentials or believeable documentation, otherwise SHUT UP. The Johnson’s are too well known for their love of their animals and EVERYONE IN THE INDUSTRY KNOWS THIS! Thank god for judges that use common sense and spanked them for all of the BS they have put good handlers and owners through. I post this because the Johnson’s and their family have been personel friends for over 35 years. When I die, I hope I can come back as one of their animals!!

alexis kaiser January 24, 2013 at 8:03 pm

You cant get into a tit for tat, because you don’t have the tits to stand on. You don’t know the truth. YOu know what you see on videos on YouTube. Myself and the other people here know the Johnsons. They are some of the most respected people in the industry. Additionally, I lived and worked circus for a lot of my life. You comments aren’t credible because they are not based on fact. Typical AR, you are right, Greg. End of story.

Lorraine January 24, 2013 at 9:44 pm

This is the last comment I will leave. Pictures and videos don’t lie. Additionally, there seems to be a common thread amongst you, Ron and Greg, one that I find commonly amongst circus folk-hostility, anger and intimidation in your words, actions and comments. You can intimidate animals because they have no voice, but you can’t intimidate educated people like myself or others who can see through the facade that the Johnson’s and their “life-long friends” portray, and that is, that the elephants live an idyllic life. Elephants beat, electrocuted, chained the majority of the day by one front leg and one back leg, and ripped from the wild when they were babies to live the life of modern day slaves is far from the idyllic life. That is why venue after venue have discontinued the elephant rides the Johnson’s offer. They don’t want to contribute to the abuse and neglect of these beautiful animals. Peace.

Alice Wisdom January 24, 2013 at 10:38 pm

Have Trunk Will Travel and the Johnsons are amazing people and elephant trainers. Anyone who has seen them interact with their elephants knows this to be true. People who claim abuse are uninformed extremists who have a political agenda to keep animals out of our lives. If they bothered to educate themselves or actually experience HTWT and their elephants they would be praising HTWT not attacking them.

There’s a reason no legitimate animal welfare or regulatory agency gives any credence to ADI’s video–it’s because they recognize that it’s a complete fabrication surreptitiously edited to make it look sinister. If there was actual abuse being caught on tape then why hold it back for 6 years? Turn it into the police so the abuse could be prosecuted. ADI waited 6 years because they knew they had nothing and needed the time to desperately edit it into the fundraising tool that it is.

alexis kaiser January 25, 2013 at 9:11 am

I doubt that Lorraine has postted her last post. The AR
‘s dont give up. It’s so niceto see this thread as to so many others. It’s evident that the Johnsons have a fan club!
Lorraine, your statements are so far out in left field. Tired rhetoric of the extremists. WE’ve heard it before and it’s finally got old. Elephants are not beat, electrocute and chained, nor taken from the wild, ripping them away from their mother. Where do you get that from. Your statements show your inexperience with the animals and the industry.
I hope you keep to your word and keep your mouth shut.

Nancy January 25, 2013 at 3:47 pm

Just a thought about the “treat” training method. I am also an animal trainer. (I hesitate to say for how many years not because I am being modest, but because it makes me sound old) I have used both positive reinforcement (treats) and what some call traditional (non-treats) training.

Treats are lovely. Animals love them. Heck, we all love treats! But in reality; in a pack, a herd, a flock or a pod; the lead animal doesn’t reward its group members with treats. Treat training is actually pretty un-natural. Animals do not communicate with each other using treats.

Is it wrong because it is un-natural? NO! Please; give shamu a fish… he likes it. And what are you going to do with a big, smelly fish anyway.

Treats are great… by all means, give your animals treats. They love it! But don’t mistake treats as “the natural way” to communicate and work with animals.

When mamma elephant wants her calf to step away from the river’s edge to avoid being grabbed by a crocodile… she doesn’t coax him with cookies. She grabs the tip of his trunk and squeezes gently but firmly saying, “whoa there my little one… I am trying to keep you safe”

These elephant trainers keep their elephants safe and healthy. Pictures and videos CAN lie… epecially in the hands of those who use them to fraudulently collect millions of dollars from well meaning american’s who think their “donations” are going to help animals. It is a crime. One I am glad we will finally see punished.

And now I am off to work with my birds …. with delicious treats.

Cindi January 25, 2013 at 6:09 pm

I too am an an animal trainer (in the field for almost 25 years) and what Nancy says is spot on! You restrain your dog on a leash to protect him from harm. if he ran into the street would you stand on the sidewalk with a biscuit and hope he comes to you before the car gets there? No! You are running out there and moving him to wear he is safe. People watch videos all the time and believe they are real, because edited video can be very convincing. Why don’t the people who keep rattling off about abuse take the time to see these animals on site, at the fair, before they form their opinions just from listening to regurgitated rhetoric from extremists. I worked elephants for 15 years and can honestly say those elephants are some of the world’s (yes world’s) most cared for, loved and cherished elephants I have ever seen.

Lorraine January 25, 2013 at 9:52 pm

I am sorry. I lied. Just one final response. Gag me Cindy and Nancy! Have you heard ot “The Spin Zone?”

cindi January 26, 2013 at 1:26 pm

Hmmmmm, you lied. Shocking! For you to start in with personal attacks is just typical, (you circus folk!), please! Like I said, why don’t you pay a visit to the elephant rides at the fair, you will see no bullying. You will see content elephants, happy with the protection, attention and love they are given every single day. You will also see both children and adults reading signage and learning about those said elephants and a lot of people that will go home and learn more about them, maybe even get involved in conservation efforts and maybe even donate money to an organization that actually helps to preserve and protect a species instead of taking your hard earned dollars to pay their CEO’s and lawyers. If you think people keep elephants without a complete and total love for them you are sadly mistaken. Elephants are a 24 hour a day commitment. You don’t bully a family member, you protect them, love them and commit your life to them.

Lorraine January 25, 2013 at 10:04 pm

Oh and Alexis, point proven! “I hope you keep to your word and keep your mouth shut.” You try and bully people just like all you circus folk bully the animals.

alexis kaiser January 26, 2013 at 1:46 pm

I don’t believe I stated I would keep my mouth shut, so you have me confused. I also don’t see where I am bullying anyone. These is an amzaing thread. The true animal lovers, people in the industry outnumber the AR’s. I am hoping with the advent of the winning lawsuit agaisnt the HSUS and ASPCA that “us guy” aren’t going to take the lies,deceit and money-making propganada of the AR’s anymore. United we will stand. The truth about these people is coming to light. Let us all keep this going. The Show will Always go On!!!
I think we are still curious as to where an what Lorraine actually trained. But, we will never know, as, she said she is done commenting. We know her story is as fabricated as the lies the AR has been spilling about us “circus folks.” Solidarity!!!

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