(image courtesy of Facebook)
The Indiana State Fair says elephant rides will be offered to fairgoers, despite protests from animal rights activists.
The Fair hasn't offered elephant rides in several years, but this year it contracted with Carson & Barnes Circus, based in Oklahoma, to provide three adult elephants for the public to able to ride. Fair officials say the rides are heavily regulated and that the animals will be treated well as part of the Fair's Animal Wellness and Care program. "In addition, the United States Department of Agriculture has a whole series of rules and regulations regarding animal care that are also strictly enforced. We are proud to say that we exceed all requirements of these regulations and will continue to maintain these lofty expectations," read a post from the Fair on its Facebook page.
That isn't enough for groups such as the Indiana Animal Rights Alliance, which announced plans to protest the elephant rides last week, and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). PETA sent a letter to the Fair this week asking for the rides to be called off, claiming elephants can easily spread the human strain of tuberculosis, that people are at risk of injury and that Carson & Barnes and some of the circus's associates have been cited in the past for mistreatment of elephants under its care. "Last year, in a sworn affidavit, a citizen detailed a Carson & Barnes handler's attack on an elephant. According to the eyewitness, the handler forcefully struck the elephant with a bullhook until the animal screamed," read the statement from PETA, which also mentioned video of a Carson & Barnes trainer attacking an elephant.
Carson & Barnes says the video put out by PETA and others is two decades old and does not reflect how the 25 elephants in its care are treated now. "We are not out here beating our animals. We are regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture. We are constantly checked by local and state federations and federal agencies," said Kristin Parra, office manager for Carson & Barnes, who added that their animals do not have tuberculosis and they have never hurt anyone. "We have never had an incident where a patron was injured or harmed during any ride given by one of our elephants."
Jessica McCain of Shelbyville, who says she is not associated with animal rights groups, nonetheless has problems with the elephant rides after first seeing them at the Shelby County Fair. She created a Facebook page entitled 'Elephants Don't Belong at the Indiana State Fair', and she says regardless of what Carson & Barnes says, people are always at risk. "It wasn't during the State Fair, but at the State Fairgrounds in 2009, 16 people were injured when an elephant knocked over a mobile staircase while elephant rides were being given," McCain said. That incident took place during the Murat Shrine Circus in March 2009 - all the injuries were minor, and no one was taken to a hospital.