Nosey the Circus Elephant

30. December 2018

Actually, Nosey the elephant did not begin her life as a circus elephant. I do not know how she acquired the name Nosey, but by the time a whistle blower told PETA in 2004 that she was repeatedly abused with bullocks and electric prods, that name stuck with her and made her famous. I do know why she was considered a circus elephant. Sometime between 1986 and 2004, she was sold to the notorious “Liebel Family Circus” aka  “Florida Family State Circus” and other aliases. Notorious, because Liebel has repeatedly failed to meet minimal federal standards for the care of animals used in exhibition as established in the animal welfare act (AWA) standards. <1>

But to start at the beginning we have to go back to 1982 when she was born as a new member of a wild elephant clan in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe considered elephants as a natural resource to be harvested by allowing trophy hunting, legal killing of elephants for their ivory, facilitating poaching, and selling orphaned baby elephants to zoos, circuses and any other interested parties the world over. Nosey lived the first two years of her life protected by and learning from her mother, siblings, cousins and aunts of the clan when a catastrophe changed her life forever. As a result of a so called culling operation (culling is an outdated method to limit overpopulation by killing entire elephant families) her family was wiped out and the babies were captured in the hope of selling them alive.

Arthur Jones, before having made his fortune by inventing the Nautilus exercise equipment,  had several earlier careers such as television producer and exotic animal trader.  In 1980 he bought Jumbolair and created a gated community for well healed airplane owners, a curious configuration of airport, private homes, wild animal sanctuary and celebrity resort. He kept a gorilla, three white rhinos, 600 crocodiles, 500 snakes and 17 African elephants on this 550-acre estate. In 1984 Arthur and his wife Terri flew their Boeing 707 to Zimbabwe and airlifted 63 baby elephants to their Jumbolair estate in Florida. The operation was featured on ABC’s 20/20. Fearing that elephants would become extinct on the African continent by the end of the 20th century, Jones had the ambition to ensure their survival in America. It apparently never occurred to him that traumatized baby elephants, brutally torn away from their families, were totally unsuited as stock for building a viable population of American elephants.  By the end of 1987, this big idea had dissolved into a pipe dream for Arthur Jones and into a nightmare for the traumatized elephants. Between 1984 and 1987 ten of the babies had died from transport stress, wounds, diseases and simple heartbreak of having lost their families.  Thirty-seven elephants were sold to zoos and circuses before 1987. It is not clear what happened to the others, but it appears that 20 of them are still alive somewhere.  And this is how Nosey ended up as a performing elephant in the hands of one of the most cited animal abusers in the country. <2>

Nosey with Hugo Liebel giving joyrides to children. Photo credit: PETA

When PETA heard of Nosey’s plight in 2004, the organization immediately began a campaign to rescue Nosey. Other animal rights organizations and the general public became involved. Investigation of the Liebel Family Circus uncovered close to 70 citations and fines by the USDA between March 1993 and November 2017. But it took until 2015, when people were horrified to see Nosey at the New Jersey State Fair, lonely, stressed and obviously in pain, plodding along day after day, in never ending circles giving  joyrides to children. They called the State Fair to stop the act.  New Jersey state senator Raymond J. Lesniak introduced Nosey’s Law. After much legal maneuvering, the state’s General Assembly, with a vote of 71 to 3, and with the State Senate’s unanimous agreement, passed Nosey’s Law, banning any and all traveling acts involving elephants in the State, currently expanded to cover other wild animals. It was the first law of its kind in any State in the Union.

On November 8, 2018, the Lawrence County District Court issued a writ of seizure and one day later ordered arrangements for transferring Nosey to the Tennessee Elephant Sanctuary. Nosey arrived at the sanctuary on November 17, suffering from a condition of overgrown, scaly and cracked skin, a bacterial skin infection, a urinary tract infection, intestinal parasites, osteoarthritis, muscle atrophy, an almost empty gastrointestinal tract and dehydration. Aside from daily veterinary care to which she succumbs voluntarily, she is free to move about the vast sanctuary grounds and decide on her daily activities without any human coercion for the first time in 34 years. <3>

Nosey, free to do what she likes in the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee