Orange County Fair Elephant Ride is Over

The Orange County Fair Board, facing a crowd of more than 100 that included many animal advocates today, voted to end elephant rides.

The news was cheered by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which has sought bans on performing pachyderms around the country, and disdained by Have Trunk Will Travel, the Perris-based contractor that has been supplying the elephants and running the ride at the fair for 25 years.

The decision is doubly bad Orange County news for Have Trunk Will Travel in light of the City of Santa Ana ending the same company's elephant rides at Santa Ana Zoo in December, ending a relationship with the contractor that had also lasted more than 20 years. City officials, who had been pressed by PETA and others to investigate Have Trunk Will Travel abuse claims, claimed it was new Association of Zoos and Aquariums safety standards calling for minimal touching between humans and animals that caused the action.

The Fair Board heard from members of the crowd who were pretty evenly split on the issue before voting 7-1 against renewing the Have Trunk, Will Travel contract, with chairman Dave Ellis dissenting.

"PETA applauds the Orange County Fair Board for following the example set by the Santa Ana Zoo and making the compassionate, safety-conscious decision to sever ties with Have Trunk Will Travel, a company that has been documented abusing elephants by shocking them with electric prods in the belly and genital area and striking them with bullhooks--fireplace poker-like goads that are used to beat, jab, and hook elephants in sensitive areas of their bodies," reads a statement forwarded to the Weekly by David W. Pearle, the Norfolk, Virginia, based advocacy group's senior media coordinator.

It continues, "Elephants beaten in order to force them to perform are more prone to rampaging, so by canceling these cruel and dangerous elephant rides, the Orange County Fair Board is ensuring that no parents or children will be injured in such an incident at the fair."

The abuse claims mostly stem from a video Animal Defenders International released last year that is said to show Tai, a 42-year-old Asian elephant from the Reece Witherspoon-Robert Pattinson movie Water for Elephants, as well as other elephants from the film, being electric shocked with a stun gun and jabbed and hit will bull hooks during training in 2005 at Have Trunk Will Travel's Perris ranch.

Have Trunk Will Travel co-founder Gary Johnson has repeatedly denied animals were abused while making Water for Elephants, saying, "Tai was never hit in any way at all. We had really mixed emotions about even doing this film because it's pretty graphic with the elephant, and there's some so-called beating scenes in there. We didn't want to send a wrong message."

His company has steadfastly denied using electrical devices to train elephants. Twentieth Century Fox claimed it took every step to ensure animals were not harmed in the making of Water for Elephants. Finding the video disturbing, the film studio pointed out the training in question was not for Water for Elephants.

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