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Fair Board votes to stop elephant rides

More than 120 people show up at meeting in Costa Mesa for the discussion to renew Have Trunk Will Travel's contract. The board voted 6-1 not to renew it.

March 22, 2012|By Jenny Stockdale, Special to the Daily Pilot
  • Monica Otero, with Animal Defenders International, shows her shirt outside the Orange County Fairgrounds' office in Costa Mesa during a Fair Board meeting Thursday that discussed the renewal of a contract for Have Trunk Will Travel. The Fair Board voted 6-1 to discontinue the contract for the company, which provided elephant rides at the annual fair for years.
Monica Otero, with Animal Defenders International,… (SCOTT SMELTZER )

For the Record: This story has been corrected to say Thursday's Fair Board vote was 6-1, not 7-1, and that board member Ali Jahangiri was also absent. In addition, it was board member Gerardo Mouet, not Jahangiri, who seconded Berardino's motion and who has toured the Have Trunk Will Travel facility.

After 25 years, elephant rides will no longer be offered to Orange County fairgoers, the Fair Board ruled Thursday during a packed, long and emotional meeting.

With more than 120 people in attendance at the fairgrounds' administration building in Costa Mesa, the majority of whom provided public comment, the board voted 6-1 not to renew the contract for Have Trunk Will Travel Inc., a Perris-based elephant training company that has provided rides at the fairgrounds for more than two decades.

Board member David Ellis dissented; members Kristina Dodge and Ali Jahangiri were absent.

The move follows the lead of the Santa Ana Zoo after the Assn. of Zoos and Aquariums, which adopted new safety standards last August for elephant care providers

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"I've had 17 years of wonderful experiences [at the fair]," Ellis said, "and the photos to prove it, at $10 apiece, no less. I think we have very well-choreographed proponents and opponents, and I think this board is a bit blindsided by the proponents of this issue."

Board member Nick Berardino said the issue was more about modern-day attitudes about the rights of animals than a personal indictment against Have Trunk Will Travel.

"I think folks on both sides of this issue made very good arguments, and I appreciate the professionalism," he said. "But I think this is a matter of progression. More importantly, it's a matter of liability."

Seconding Berardino's motion, board member Gerardo Mouet, who has toured the Have Trunk Will Travel training ranch twice and noted that it is a well-kept facility, also cited public safety as the main issue.

"The likelihood of an animal going rogue isn't high," Mouet said, "but the consequences of something happening are catastrophic."

Public comments were split nearly in half for and against continuing elephant rides at the fair. Speakers included residents, longtime fair attendees, animal rights activists and veterinary specialists.

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