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How Do You Handle An Elephant?

Animal rights activists picketed the San Diego County Fair last weekend over allegations of abuse by a Riverside County company selling elephant rides to fair patrons. We'll find out about the standards for management and care of elephants in captivity.

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Elephant Facts & Figures

Article Accusing Have Trunk Will Travel of Elephant Abuse (VIDEO)

Video From Animal Defenders International

This video, released by Animal Defenders International, depicts trainers from Have Trunks Will Travel using bullhooks to train elephants.

A ride on a magnificent elephant, bedecked in jewelry and flower garlands, can be one of the highlights of a child's trip to the San Diego County Fair. But what is it like for the elephants?


Pat Derby is president of the Performing Animals Welfare Society.

Delcianna Winders is Captive Animal Rescue & Enforcement Director for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

Statement From Have Trunk Will Travel

Have Trunk Will Travel has been caring for elephants for more than 35 years. In order to house, exhibit and travel with elephants in California we are licensed and/or routinely inspected by the United States Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, California State Department of Fish and Game, American Humane Association, and the local animal regulation authority for each city or county where we live or work.

We have an exemplary record of animal care.

We appreciate the opportunity to comment on the recently released video footage by animal rights extremist groups. Having seen the video, I can tell you that it is an inaccurate portrayal of our elephant training practices. The footage was taken six years ago and was selectively edited and altered to intentionally present Have Trunk Will Travel in a negative light.

All of us at Have Trunk Will Travel are unwavering in our commitment to elephants. We stand by our care and training methods. We are proud of our contributions to elephant welfare and conservation. We have, and will continue to, always give our elephants the love and care they deserve. They are our heart and soul. We are honored to live and work with these amazing animals and to be able to share their talents with the public in an effort to educate and build awareness for their preservation.

Kari & Gary Johnson

Have Trunk Will Travel, Inc.

Read Transcript

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: A ride on a magnificent elephant bedecked flower garlands can be one of the highlights of a child's trip to the San Diego County fair. But what is it like for the elephants. Through pickets and pressure some animal rights activists are trying to stop the elephant rides at the fair and they are targeting the company providing those rights, half, will travel. I'd like to welcome my guest Delcianna Winders is captive animal rescue enforcer for PETA. Hello.

DELCIANNA WINDERS: Thanks for having me.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Later in this broadcast we will be speaking to Pat Derby, director and founder of the performing animal welfare Society. Now we contacted the owners of have Trunk will travel, they declined to speak on the program but they did send us a letter saying in part we have an exemplary record of animal care. We have and will continue to give our elephants to love and care they deserve. They are our heart and soul, you can read the entire letter on our website We would like to hear from our listeners on this topic. What do you think about elephant rides at the San Diego County fair. It should they be stopped? It may be done humanely. Our number here is 1-888-895-5727. That is 1-888-8895 KPBS. Well, Delcianna Winders, I think most people know that people for ethical treatment of animals are against keeping animals for performance purposes but what is PETA specifically protesting about the elephant ride?

DELCIANNA WINDERS: In recently released video footage Have Trunk will Travel handlers are shown using electric prods and blogs which are metal hooked rods with the sharp tip that look like a fireplace poker to strike elephants on sensitive parts of their body on feet legs and belly causing them to scream in pain and in an especially disturbing portion you can see a trainer jabbing a hook into the roof of a baby elephant's mouth to get him to do certain practices.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Have Trunk has denied the accusation that it uses blogs on its elephants producing a video that is widely shown by animal activists has been edited. What is your response to that?

DELCIANNA WINDERS: I think the video footage speaks for itself. It was taken from a larger volume of footage, so they were edited to show specific clips but there has been nothing changed about the clips and there is no question that they use bull hooks and the handlers always have a hook on them and the presence of a hook serves to instill fear in the elephant and keep them under control.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Do you believe that the elephants could be used in any way in a humane way in providing rides at county fairs?

DELCIANNA WINDERS: Elephants do not naturally perform circus tricks, perform photo shoots or give rides and therefore the only way to get an animal to comply with what a human wants it to do is through force and control so while it may look in the public like the elephant isn't being abused, unfortunately we know that consistently behind the scenes they are abusive bull hooks and electric prods in order to perform elephant rides and other tricks.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: One last question to you know that we have this entire letter, this response from have Trunk will travel up on the website. One of the things that they point out is that they've been handling elephants for 35 years, that is elephants are creatures that they deeply care about and that they stand behind their record of humane treatment. How can we resolve these two ideas? Obviously it seems to me that Have Trunk will travel really care about these elephants.

DELCIANNA WINDERS: I think one can resolve it by looking at the video footage that animal defendants international released if you look at the footage I think any reasonable caring person would agree that what is depicted is abuse and I think it's worth noting that have Trunk will travel has defended the use of bull hooks, the purpose of using hooks and the use of electric prods in court testimony shocking an elephant which is illegal in California. They have also opposed laws that would improve elephant welfare. I don't think there's any question that money is more important to them than the welfare of the elephant.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Do you have any way to resolve, what would you like to see happen?

DELCIANNA WINDERS: We would like to see that county fairs call off the elephant rides in light of their abuse as long as they are offering the ride they are complicit and condoning the abuse.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to thank you so much. Delcianna Winders is captive animal rescue and enforcement director for PETA, thank you.

DELCIANNA WINDERS: Thanks so much.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'd like to introduce now our second guess Pat Derby is founder of performing animal welfare group, specifically dedicated to performing animals. Pat, hi.

PAT DERBY: Hi, how are you?

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm doing great. We have a number of callers who want to speak with us but I want to ask you a couple questions first. You used to train animals for movies and TV. Give us a little bit about your background.

PAT DERBY: I worked with all species of animals in the early 70s and I ended up writing a book about cruel training practices and it was sort of a horrible discovery for me. I thought everybody has half Trunk will travel says love to their animals and perhaps they do. But it's like a father who says my father beat me and I'm fine. So I beat my kids. It's the same principle. I don't think they really think it is unacceptable. They all say, I've talked to them so much, that this is what you have to do to get the behavior. So they don't really think it is bad.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Some trainers do say, they have to use certain methods on elephants because they are herding animals and they responded to a strong hand. Selling your idea, that's not true and it leads to mistreatment?

PAT DERBY: Yes, oh definitely. It is well substantiated and we have in our sanctuary here in Northern California eight elephants, two bulls, three Asian females, three Africans. And so we have a broad spectrum of elephants and many of them have been exposed to that type of abusive training. And they all develop aggression, stereotypical behavior, we see really difficult issues that are really difficult to erase.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to take phone calls some of the listeners really want to get in on this conversation. I'm speaking with Pat Derby. She is founder and director of performing animal welfare Society. Tony is on the line from Miramar. Hi, Tony.

NEW SPEAKER: Hi Maureen, hi, Pat. Thank you for taking my call. I agree with Pat. We definitely have to, if we love our animals, if we let elephants than we definitely have to stop this kind of training or breaking of the elephants as I have heard it called also. These are majestic beasts we live in a time and age now where it's legal case the same thing with the whale hunting these are majestic animals we have to understand that they are not here for our pleasure and enjoyment we should understand and enjoy them in their own setting and respect them for what they are previously truly love them then that's really love them and not abusive.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Tony thank you for the call I want to hear from Richard in Solana Beach is on the line. Good afternoon, Richard. Thank you for joining us.

NEW SPEAKER: Good afternoon and thank you for taking my call. My comment is kind of short and sweet. I think some people have way too much time on their hands. All these folks who are concerned with animal welfare ought to be concerned with people welfare. I don't think that there is anything wrong with a human being making a 10,000-pound elephant do what the human being wants.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Richard thanks for the call and Pat I would like your response.

PAT DERBY: First of all Richard, thank you for your comment, but you are totally wrong. Many of us, I know all of us who do work with people, work with the aged, work with children, work with autistic challenged people. We care as much about humans as we do about animals. But it is wrong to torture and harm an animal and a nine or 10,000-pound elephant suffers and feels pain as intensely as people do.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Are there guidelines for how to control animals especially large animals performing at fairs?

PAT DERBY: Well, no. They really aren't. And many, many very dangerous accidents have happened with elephant rides at state fairs. Actually, a Senator back in the early 1900s when we were doing legislation about elephant rides said that clearly there is tremendous liability associated with providing elephant rides and it is true. You know, people don't realize but there have been horrendous incidents because these elephants are deprived in their lifestyle and when they are loose, they take every opportunity to get away, to escape, and they often rampage.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: But you know these rides must be popular or else they would not be at the county fairs.

PAT DERBY: Actually you know, they are diminishing in popularity. County fairs of course still enjoy having that sort of a venue, but most AZA accredited zoos have discouraged elephant rides within zoos. It is not an acceptable practice. Anywhere.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And the AZA you mention is the Association of zoos and aquariums and so there is this general consensus that you are mentioning about not having elephant rides on premises. Randy is calling us from San Diego. Hi, Randy.

NEW SPEAKER: Good day, thank you for letting me speak.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Yes, please do.

NEW SPEAKER: The reason I'm calling is I'm a practicing Hindu and one of the things that really insults me is that the San Diego Festival allowing this actually to occur. These beings in our religion and it is a multi-pluralist world that we live in, are reverend gods in the way that we view them. Ganesh is the symbol of the elephant, which is, he breaks barriers. Have a Ganesh in my house on my alter it if you would call it and what they are doing is insulting to me religiously but also from the animal rights perspective as the previous caller mentioned. So I want to throw the religious connotations into this, too.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I appreciate the call, Randy thank you very much. Pat, what is your bottom line, should elephants be performing at county fairs?

PAT DERBY: No I really don't think they should. Look at it from a human standpoint. What we really teaching children? We are teaching children that it is okay to use an animal, a creature as intelligent as we are, as sensitive, as loyal, with strong family values, as just a beast of burden for two or three minutes of fun and entertainment. No wonder kids grow up and attack the senior citizens. They have no sense of values. No reverence for life. And respect for life. And these kinds of displays do not promote that reverence in children.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We have time for one quick phone call; Chris is on his way to the fair. He's giving us a call. Hi, Chris.

NEW SPEAKER: Hi how are you today?

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm pretty good.

NEW SPEAKER: Wonderful discussion as always. I want to make a quick comment and happily listen off air. I spent about 3 1/2 years in India and I know the elephant driver sticks which seems to be the same thing as a bull hook and I'm curious if there's a difference there and the rod is very much analogous to a spurs if you are riding a horse. I've seen and met and interacted with keepers who own and control the elephants that serve a multitude of functions and a (inaudible) world society in India and there is a very loving relationship and they use the driver sticks that look like bull hooks just to signal the elephant when to turn or go and stop and in that sense it seems very much like using the reins and bit and spurs while riding a horse and it seems to me that it is not so much the tool that is inherently dangerous but the abuse of the tool that can be abusive.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Chris, thank you so much for the call. Are bull hooks like Spurs for a horse?

PAT DERBY: No, but actually talk to any horse trainer. Horse trainer sometimes horse training sometimes get pretty ugly, but in response to the comment about India and the Mahouts there, these Mahouts are brutal. Go to the Internet and just dial-up elephant training in India. And you can find tons of video about the elephants are dragged in chains and beaten and baby elephants. My partner Ed Stewart went to India. They had a little baby elephant that they had just captured chained to a tree and they were beating and, they did it for days to break his spirit. So, no. It's not some little non-aversive tool. It is deadly. And whenever somebody uses a weapon, and that's what these are, it is deadly and it is meant to instill fear.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We are going to have to leave it there because I'm out of time. I've been speaking with Pat Derby, director and founder of performing animal welfare Society. Pat, thanks so much for doing this.

PAT DERBY: My pleasure, thank you.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Tomorrow on KPBS Midday Edition, a major renovation plan for Balboa Park has been shelved for now. We will find out what happens next. And if you'd like to comment on anything you hear on this show, please give us your thoughts online at Edition. Or follow us on twitter at KPBSmidday. I’m Maureen Cavanaugh, see you tomorrow.

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