ROCK CREEK — The Great Lakes Medieval Faire, which started up this weekend, is once again drawing attention from animal activist groups concerned about treatment of an “ailing” circus elephant that is set to perform at the Faire.
Nosey is a more than 30-year-old African elephant who has made regular appearances at the Faire, giving rides on her back to Faire guests.
Her owner, Hugo Liebel, of Florida, operates the Great American Family Circus. He has received almost 200 citations for violations of the Animal Welfare Act from the U.S. Department of Agriculture since 1993, according to Rachel Mathews, legal counsel for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
The offenses include chaining Nosey “so tightly she could barely move,” unsafe housing conditions and denying her adequate veterinary care for a chronic skin condition.
Dr. Philip Ensley, an elephant veterinary expert now working alongside PETA, reported in 2014 that Nosey’s constrained movement could contribute to a degenerative joint disease, for which she showed symptoms. Several of those who have seen Nosey’s performances indicate she favors one leg, which is a sign of arthritis.
Eyewitnesses also report seeing handlers lead Nosey using a “bullhook” — a cane-like implement with a hook on one end, which is barred for use on performing animals by Ohio Revised Code — during last year’s Medieval Faire.
Faire representatives, however, assert Nosey is in good health and is treated like family.
“She’s absolutely not arthritic,” spokeswoman Anna Lerman told the Star Beacon. “She moves really slow and she lumbers, but elephants walk that way.
“The elephant is in awesome health — she is not abused in any way.”
Lerman said a U.S. Department of Agriculture-sanctioned veterinary check-up performed last year was positive. USDA spokesperson Tanya Espinosa said the agency does not perform the examinations itself, instead allowing animal owners to bring in their own veterinarian.
The state Department of Agriculture, however, said it’s mostly concerned with the potential for infectious or dangerous diseases a performing animal could bring to the state — the tests don’t review the overall health of the animal, spokesman Brett Gates said.
Owners are required to submit a certificate of veterinary inspection, or CVI, as part of the approval process, and Nosey’s most recent CVI cleared her of any dangerous diseases, Gates said.
The Star Beacon requested a copy of Nosey’s latest veterinary records from Faire spokespersons — and were told operators would likely grant the request — but did not receive them as of Friday. The USDA does not keep records of veterinary inspections, Espinosa said.
In 2013, Liebel settled 33 violations relating to Nosey and other circus animals with a $7,500 fine — it’s the only enforcement action on record against Liebel, as U.S. Department of Agriculture inspection reports are only kept for three years. The past three years of inspection records show only four violations that aren’t directly related to animal welfare. Liebel has been licensed to keep performing animals since 1990.
Karen Ess, a Florida resident, began a Facebook group three years ago called “Action for Nosey Now,” which has accrued about 11,000 members. Their goal is to urge Nosey’s owners or the USDA to put Nosey into retirement.
“We call ourselves civilized — and yet we consider this kind of treatment of another living creature entertainment?” she told the Star Beacon.
Last month, Nosey’s appearance at the Agricultural Fair at the Grundy County Fairgrounds in Illinois drew ire from local residents and activists, after pictures and video showing what activists say was Nosey’s poor appearance was posted on social media.
Protestors connected to the Facebook group plan to protest along State Route 534 each Faire weekend. Kim Fenton, of Ashtabula, has gone for the last three years.
She said the protest group isn’t as large as she’d hope — about 15 people at the most, one year — but she’s seen the local community’s support, “people just leaving and going to say things sometimes,” she said. “We get people honking horns and thumbs up.
“We just want to see her set free,” Fenton said. “It’s not right. They’ve gotten what they need from her. ... Everybody gets to retire. It’s Nosey’s turn.”
The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee, expressed interest in accepting Nosey, according to an undated letter, but Liebel refused the offer, according to Ess’ group.
Fenton said Nosey made an appearance at last year’s Conneaut Fair on Lake Conneaut, where handlers were “screaming at her to ‘crawl, crawl, crawl’ and this big, old elephant has to get down on all four knees and crawl,” she said — an activity veterinary professionals say would only exacerbate the animal’s arthritis.
“It was not easy for her to get down,” Fenton said.
Fenton said she feels the USDA isn’t doing enough to review Nosey’s situation, and continually renews Liebel’s circus operating license. She said she’s met with agency representatives, but they’ve said there’s little they can do unless Nosey is “near death.”
“I know this is maybe all she’s known for all these years, but it’s unnatural and she belongs in a sanctuary with others of her kind. Elephants are social creatures. They’re not meant to be solitary,” she said.
“We’re basically fighting for her liberation. It’s time. Enough is enough. Let her go.”