Animal activists protest elephant rides at fair
SAN DIEGO -- Animal rights activists picketed the San Diego County Fair Sunday because of a Riverside County company is offering elephant rides inside the Del Mar event.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and Animal Defenders International are attacking the company -- Have Trunk Will Travel -- over its treatment of their animals. The activists have recently released video that purports to show beatings, elephants, being hooked with bull hooks and electric shocks being administered.

The elephant owners say the tapes were deceitfully edited.

The activists "will be at the fair Sunday educating people on HTWT's training methods, which HTWT has never denied,'' said ADI's public relations representative, Agnes Huff, in a statement.

ADI claims that the video has been culled because the original footage is extensive and long. "HTWT is trying to kill the messenger. The video speaks for itself," said Matt Rossell of ADI.

"At one point in the video, one of the trainers actually looks at our camera guy and says, 'Don't you get pictures of me hookin' on them,' referring to the use of bull hooks. This treatment is typical, but unacceptable," he said.

But the elephants' co-owner, Kari Johnson, said the activists "cut the film to take everything out of context and make it look far worse."

"We saw the video footage and agree that it looks terrible," said Johnson, who owns the company in question with her husband. "It is our people and our elephants in the footage, but it is selectively edited and out of order."

"That's their job," Johnson said. "They take things out of context and edit it. They don't think animals should be under human care at all," Johnson said PETA "has protested us for years. Anything I say to defend my elephants will turn into just a "he said/she said' thing."

Rosell said one of HTWT's elephants, Tai, was featured in the new film "Water for Elephants," starring as Rosie, an abused circus animal in the 1930s. "Tai is seen in the video getting beaten by bull hooks." Johnson said she and her husband are longtime caretakers of elephants and heavily invested in their own form of animal activism. "My husband Gary is one of the founders of the National Elephant Foundation, founded in 1998. We work with the Elephant Manager's Association."

She said her company has state Fish and Game permits, and it has been regularly inspected in surprise visits. "But PETA doesn't know anything about the treatment of elephants. They just don't want animals in the hands of people at all."