Judge does not allow seized circus elephant to return to owner

Updated: Jan. 22, 2018 at 2:10 PM CST
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Source: The Tennessee Elephant Sanctuary
Source: The Tennessee Elephant Sanctuary
Source: The Tennessee Elephant Sanctuary
Source: The Tennessee Elephant Sanctuary
Hugo Liebel and his wife Francizka (Source: Lawrence County Jail)
Hugo Liebel and his wife Francizka (Source: Lawrence County Jail)

LAWRENCE COUNTY, AL (WAFF) - A Lawrence County judge has paved the way for a former circus elephant to remain at a sanctuary in Tennessee after she was seized from her owners over concerns that the animal was abused and mistreated.

District Judge Angela Terry issued a 17-page order on Monday, outlining the history of the case and deciding that the county animal control officer, Kimberly Carpenter, shall make decisions as the continued placement and treatment for the elephant, named Nosey.


Nosey will remain at the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, located southwest of Nashville. She has been there since November.

The sanctuary responded to the judge's ruling, stating that custody of Nosey "remains in place."

"We are delighted by this progress toward The Sanctuary becoming Nosey's lifetime home," a spokeswoman said.

Nosey's owners, Hugo and Francizka Liebel, meanwhile, face animal cruelty charges and will be in court next month.

Animal activists praised the judge's ruling, including the organization Save Nosey Now.

They issued the following statement:

A Lawrence County, Alabama judge has ruled today that Nosey the elephant will be able to stay in true sanctuary at The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee. A case against Nosey's notorious owners, the Liebel Family Circus, was heard on December 15, 2017, and Judge Angela Terry has ruled that Nosey will remain at the Sanctuary PERMANENTLY!

SAVE NOSEY NOW has worked since 2013 for this day, chasing this small family circus from town to town all over the country, never giving up on Nosey for one day. We pushed hard at the USDA who was charged with upholding the Animal Welfare Act by promoting call-in actions, tweet storms, letter writing campaigns, and a formal march on their Washington, DC site in June 2015. We also dug deep into the patterns of abuse by this small family circus and pushed hard against the Florida Wildlife Commission who repeatedly rubber stamped the permit for this abusive family to keep and use Nosey. Our work involved research into many state and city animal laws as Nosey was hauled around the country from state to state, city to city, day to day, month to month, year to year. We were successful in shutting down venues in many locations as the entities were educated about the true life of Nosey the elephant.

We have run into many obstacles along the way to Nosey's freedom, but the powers aligned in the little town of Moulton, Alabama on a fateful day in November, 2017 where Nosey was spotted by some very brave local women. These women saw a wrong and decided to fix it. Googling Nosey, Save Nosey Now was found, and we were able to provide assistance to the local officials throughout the proceedings with documents, pictures and videos to strengthen the case against the circus owners. Contacting the law enforcement division of PETA, more resources were on the way to Alabama. Save Nosey Now was pleased to be a part of the bench trial in Lawrence County, Alabama, and to provide assistance wherever needed.

We thank the good people of Alabama for their perseverance and follow through. We thank our supporters who have always believed that this day would come for Nosey, and we thank all the other organizations who worked hard for Nosey for many years.

The well-known African elephant was temporarily seized in Moulton, along with four ponies, from her owners who have a Florida based family-run traveling circus in early November. Nosey was then transferred to The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee after concerns over her care and well-being were raised according to Lawrence County authorities.

The Elephant Sanctuary is America's largest natural habitat refuge for captive African and Asian elephants.

A month ago, an 11 hour bench trial was held in Judge Terry's court to determine if Nosey would stay at the sanctuary or return to her owners.

People from across the world have been following Nosey's story. PETA has also been involved in the case for years and says Nosey suffered mistreatment from owners, including "chaining her tightly, confining her in her own waste, forcing her to perform under the threat of physical abuse, and denying her proper food, shelter, and companionship." Celebrities have petitioned on Nosey's behalf.

Nosey's owners with The Great American Family Circus, say they've been targeted for years and bullied by animal rights groups who have tried to steal their elephant, who they "love like family."

Lawrence County Animal Control Officer Kimberly Carpenter said she received pictures and a phone call from concerned citizens asking her to go and do a welfare check on the elephant, who was in a trailer in the parking lot of a diesel mechanic shop near the corner of CR 246 and Highway 157 in early November as the owners had the brakes on their vehicles worked on in between performances in different Alabama towns.

Carpenter says Nosey did not have access to water in the trailer and noticed that the elephant was swaying, which she took ad a sign of stress. She also had concerns because she felt there was not enough food for the elephant and ponies.

Carpenter felt the trailer was not tall enough for the elephant to completely raise its head. She contacted the district attorney's office and sent the pictures and video she took, relaying her concerns.

The owner's attorney said the proceedings were the most unfair civil case he's ever seen.

Dr. Lydia Young, full time associate veterinarian at the Elephant Sanctuary, voiced concerns over her extra dead skin with deep cracks and fissures, her musculature, swollen leg, and discharge in her eyes, and indicated that she moved in  a manner that suggested she was "uncomfortable" by abnormally placing all four her legs when she walked.

"Nosey had the most severe built up of dead skin of any elephant that I've ever observed," she said, adding that the condition had spread all over her body.

A bacterial infection was also found in the cracks her skin. Nosey had a urinary tract infection, but she has improved with a treatment plan for all of her issues, Young said

Dr. Mark Wilson, Nosey's longtime vet, says Hugo Liebel has always done everything he's ever been asked to do by the USDA and Florida Game Commission when it comes to Nosey's care. Her trailer has always met standards, he added.

According to Wilson, Nosey's attitude is not the same after seeing her at the sanctuary and he believes she is traumatized and has separation anxiety after being removed from the care of the Liebel family.

Prosecutors had Wilson go back through his records and there were notes that Nosey had a skin problem 20 years ago.

Hugo Liebel and his wife Francizka turned themselves in at the Lawrence County Jail the day after the bench trial on charges of cruelty to animals.

The couple was processed and released a short time later after posting bail. They're due in court on February 8.

The state indicated that they're no longer asking the court to continue seizure of the ponies and they were returned to the circus.

PETA officials say Liebel has received nearly 200 citations for violating the federal Animal Welfare Act.

PETA Foundation Associate Director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement Rachel Mathews responded to Judge Terry's ruling that Nosey will not return to Hugo and Franciszka Liebel, stating:

Compassionate people the world over can breathe a sigh of relief with today's ruling that Nosey the elephant will not return to the people who left her chained and swaying back and forth in her own waste with urinary tract, skin, and roundworm infections as well as painful osteoarthritis and signs of dehydration and malnutrition. PETA thanks local authorities for initiating this course of events and everyone who worked to keep Nosey away from the man who used chains and intimidation in order to force her to give rides for decades. As she finally experiences the benefits of a sanctuary, beleaguered Hugo Liebel is facing cruelty charges and the realization that there's no room for animal abusers in a civilized society.

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