March 23, 2012
COSTA MESA, Calif. (KTLA) -- Responding to animal rights activists, the Orange County Fair says it will stop offering elephant rides to the public, ending a 25-year tradition.
On Thursday, the O.C. Fair Board voted 7-1 against reviewing the contract of Have Trunk Will Travel.
That's the company that provided the elephant rides at the fair, which happens every July.
The vote came after an emotional hearing attended by more than 100 people.
Some people spoke in favor of continuing the rides. Others -- including animal rights activists and veterinary specialists -- asked that they be stopped.
The board said issues of liability and safety were key considerations.
New guidelines from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums will bar humans and elephants from occupying a shared space starting in 2014.
The OC Fair and Events Center is not an AZA-accredited organization.
Still, Director Nick Berardino argued that the guidelines indicated it was no longer practical to continue the elephant rides.
Kari Johnson, who owns Have Trunk Will Travel with her husband, Gary, said she was disappointed by the board's decision.
According to Johnson, the company has never had an accident at the fair, and has more than the required insurance.
Johnson also said Have Trunk Will Travel puts all its income toward elephant conservation.
But advocacy group Animal Defenders International has been very vocal in its criticism of the company.
It released video that allegedly shows trainers hitting elephants with bull hooks and shocking them with electric devices.
Have Trunk Will Travel denies any wrongdoing, and says the video lacks context.
Following the fair board's decision, Animal Defenders released a statement saying, in part: "Animal Defenders International is pleased with the careful decision to end the elephant rides at the Fair and congratulates the Orange County Fair Board for their leadership in showing compassion for animals and concern for public safety.
"The OC Fair Board has aligned itself and the fair with the most progressive practices of humane care and public safety, and sets a positive example to other county fairs in the area which we hope will soon follow their lead."