Elephants rides to continue at San Diego County Fair through 201 - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Elephants rides to continue at San Diego County Fair through 2014

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SAN DIEGO (CNS) - Elephant rides can continue at the San Diego County Fair, at least through 2014, the 22nd District Agricultural Association Board of Directors voted Tuesday.

The fair's governing board voted 4-3 to revisit the issue of allowing the continued exhibition of exotic animals, which includes the elephant rides provided by Have Trunk Will Travel, which has provided elephant rides at the San Diego County Fair for 27 years, after the fair's 2014 run.

"There are strong arguments on both sides of the issue," said board President Adam Day. "Clearly a sharp action by this board would negatively impact" Have Trunk Will Travel "and many others."

Several animal rights groups, including Animal Defenders International and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, urged the fair's governing board to discontinue the rides, alleging the elephants were mistreated. The groups also oppose using animals in entertainment.

The issue was brought to the board's attention in June when Matt Rossell, campaigns director for Animal Defenders International distributed a nine-minute video -- recorded about six years ago -- which reportedly showed handlers using an electrical device to encourage an elephant to raise a leg higher while performing a trick.

A 45-minute uncut version was later presented to the board which also showed the elephants being bathed and cared for at the Have Trunk Will Travel compound in Riverside County. Neither version of the video was shown at the meeting.

"Abuse never happens in public," Rossell said. "This is the behavior that happens when no one's watching."

Fair officials said no incidents of mistreatment were made by either staff members or the public.

Have Trunk Will Travel founder Kari Johnson responded to the allegations stating their six elephants receive the best care.

"We are unwavering in our commitment to elephants. We stand by our care and training methods," Johnson said. "Banning elephant rides at the fair will not ultimately help elephants, it will hurt them."

The facility uses a "free contact" form of training in which a trainer typically uses a staff with a tapered metal hook to guide the elephant's behavior, which is followed with positive reinforcement, as opposed to a "protected contact" training method, in which the animal and trainer interact through a barrier. All zoos are required to eliminate free contact training by 2014.

Have Trunk Will Travel provides elephant rides at the Orange County Fair, the Santa Ana Zoo and has provided rides at the Los Angeles County Fair.

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