Durham Fair Association votes to keep elephant act despite protests
By Michael T. Lyle Jr.-
August 15, 2013
DURHAM >> A new event at this year’s Durham Fair involving elephants that has drawn protests from local residents will go on as planned, fair officials announced after a vote Wednesday.
Rachel Mann launched an online petition on the change.org website two weeks ago in hopes of encouraging other residents into forcing Durham Fair Association officials to cancel the “Elephant Encounter” attraction. The petition, which generated more than 3,000 signatures, claimed the Durham Fair Association is supporting the captivity, mistreatment and exploitation of elephants for entertainment by hosting the event at the fair, scheduled for Sept. 26 to 29 at the fairgrounds on Route 17.
The petition also claimed that Elephant Encounter owner William Morris mistreated his animals in 2003, failed to meet minimal federal standards for the care of animals used in exhibition as established in the Animal Welfare Act and was cited by the United States Department of Agriculture for repeated failure to provide adequate veterinary care and for failure to provide a nutritional diet to two undersized elephants.
Morris, however, responded in an email to the Press that he has a clean record with the USDA, has had no issues for non-compliance for the past 10 years and regularly gets unannounced inspections to ensure the animals’ well-being.
Fair association officials released a statement in response to the petition, saying that “Elephant Encounter” was chosen for its educational value based on an overwhelming response to a survey sent out to its members.
The statement goes on to say that the fair’s entertainment department has worked for years with a very reputable agency that understands both the reputation of the fair and mandated the required permits and evidence of applicable regulatory reviews necessary to demonstrate proper care of the animals.
Fair association officials added that they have been in contact with the owners of the animals and are convinced they regard these animals as they would their own pets.
However, after Mann presented her petition to fair association officials during a closed meeting Wednesday, members voted to keep the event by a 59-12 vote, she said.
“We are disappointed that the Association has chosen to ignore the concerns of the citizens of Durham and fair-goers from across Connecticut, and has made the decision to include an act condoning animal exploitation, contrary to the values of the fair and our community,” Mann said in an email to the Press. “We thank those who have joined us to share their concerns with the Association and will continue to raise awareness of the plight of performing elephants. At this time we are considering the possibility of setting up a fund to collect donations from supporters interested in donating money to help end the exploitation of elephants.”
Fair association officials were not available for comment as of Wednesday evening