Nosey the elephant headed to sanctuary in TN as custody battle heats up
MOULTON, AL (WAFF) - Update:
Lawrence County officials say multiple calls from concerned citizens about a traveling circus elephant raised questions about the animal's health and care.
The elephant, named Nosey, is part of a family-owned act out of Florida. Her owner says they recently performed in Cullman and stopped in Moulton to have the brakes on one of their trucks fixed when they were notified by law enforcement that four of their ponies were being seized.
Custody for Nosey is also being sought.
Sources say there are issues with the small space she is transported in.
For several days, Nosey and her owners were parked in the back of the Lawrence County Recycling, Inc. Truck Division facility off of Hwy. 157 North.
A hearing started at 2 p.m. Thursday at the courthouse. Lawrence County authorities want to see Nosey go to an elephant sanctuary in Tennessee, but her owners fear she will be exposed to freezing temperatures there that she's not used to, which will jeopardize her health and ultimately shorten her life span.
"I always try to do the right thing," her owner, Hugo Liebel, said. "I've had her for 34 years."
Members of the Liebel Family Circus were present for the hearing Thursday afternoon.
Liebel says his family has been in the circus business for hundreds of years.
"The truth will always prevail. If you see something bad, people do something bad to animals, I want you to report it but please don't make something that's not there," he said during an interview.
He says he loves Nosey like family
"I got her when she was a little kid. You take her away from me, you broke two hearts- me, my family," he added.
"If you have children and someone tried to rip them away from you, you would be very upset too. This has nothing to do with money, we just love her. We have one more town to play and then we're going to Florida. I got 22 acres there and we'll let her lose and she'll live happily ever after."
The hearing was to determine whether the writ of seizure remains in place.
Kimberly Carpenter, the animal control officer, said during the hearing that she received complaints that the owners were not able to provide the necessary care of the animals and that the feed and travel arrangements for the animals were inadequate.
She believes the elephant's trailer was not adequate for its needs.
Carpenter told the court that she was able to move the four miniature ponies, but not the elephant.
Liebel's USDA license to exhibit was been entered into evidence and it is up to date.
Carpenter said she did not inspect the animal's trailer to see if it was adequate. She admitted during her testimony that she is not an elephant expert.
Margaret Whitaker was also called to the stand. She is an elephant expert from Texas and an animal behaviorist. She also has not actually seen the elephant in person and has only seen it in photos.
Looking at a photo, she said that the elephant looks like she is overweight but saggy and looks like it has a lot of dead skin on her face.
She says that the trailer just from the photo is not large enough and that the elephant could not properly sleep in the trailer. In her opinion living in the small trailer is detrimental to the elephant's health.
She says that if all an animal's needs have been met, she has no problem with it being used in an entertainment setting. She says she doesn't see that in this case.
Whitaker also said she was familiar with Nosey before this case and that she is well known among elephant training circles.
Whitaker told the court she may have communicated with others in an attempt to buy Nosey. She was contacted by the Lawrence County District Attorney's Office about the concerns that surfaced in Moulton.
Dr. Philip Ensley then took the stand. He's a retired zoological vet with clinical experience with elephants.
He's observed Nosey in the past for PETA through documents and personal contact. He worked at San Diego Zoo and for National Zoo and says you must see an animal several times in order to determine its health.
According to Ensley, from looking at the photo that Nosey being chained down is not good for her health, but the photos are not good enough to give a solid health evaluation. He also said that judging from the photos, the trailer is small but necessary for transporting it safely.
He says that Nosey has a musculoskeletal disease now and shouldn't be left in the care of the owner. Ensley testified that he doesn't belong to any advocacy groups but has done work for them in the past.
Liebel then testified that Nosey's restraints are acceptable and humane and allow her proper movement. He said that a small trailer is necessary to prevent the movement of the elephant on the road.
He said he has the necessary insurance to cover his animals and is in opposition to what he has been charged with. He also said that he's been warned in the past about his elephant's health, but never been cited.
Nosey is evaluated every four months by her vet. Her owners said they are constantly bullied and stalked by groups attempting to take their elephant. The hearing continued past 5 p.m.
There were concerns raised regarding Nosey's legs being chained; one in the front and one in the back.
Her owners say that's a federal restraint regulation and that they would be in violation if she was not tied up that way.
During the hearing, the judge stressed that the whole point of the court proceeding is to quash or extend the writ of seizure, not to permanently take the elephant.
In the end, the judge ruled to extend the writ. Lawrence County still has temporary custody of the elephant. The animal control officer must find housing for the animal until the next court hearing in a few weeks. For the time being, she's being taken to the elephant sanctuary in Tennessee.
PETA Foundation Vice President and Deputy General Counsel Delcianna Winders issued the following response to the court's issuance of a seizure order for Nosey:
Nosey, the lame elephant found tightly chained, confined in her own waste, and without proper shelter, was removed from conditions very familiar to all who have tracked her abuse for years. PETA thanks local authorities for seizing Nosey and the court for its decision today to transfer this long-suffering elephant into caring hands. PETA pledges to continue working on her behalf until she's settled in a spacious sanctuary home at last.
PETA's motto reads, in part, that "animals are not ours to use for entertainment," and more information is available here. They've been trying to help Nosey and get custody of her for the past seven years, officials said.
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