Schenectady County

Elephant rides off event list at fairs

There will be no elephant rides at the Saratoga County Fair this summer, nor at any fairs or circuse

There will be no elephant rides at the Saratoga County Fair this summer, nor at any fairs or circuses held in the Capital Region.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation is enforcing a clause in its endangered and threatened species licenses that forbids the public from riding or touching African or Asian elephants.

Most of the elephants exhibited at amusement parks and fairs in the state are Asian elephants.

Richard Rowland, general manager of the Saratoga County Fair, said the new DEC regulation took people in the fair industry by surprise.

“We’ve had elephant rides as long as we have had a petting zoo,” Rowland said about his county fair that will be held July 15-20 at the fairgrounds in Ballston Spa.

“Elephants tend to have a personality other animals don’t have,” Rowland said. “They have an intelligence in their eyes, a kindness. People like to be around them.”

Rowland, and others, said the new no-public-contact regulation regarding elephants “came out of nowhere.”

Attorney Scott Ely of Albany, who represents Commerford & Sons Inc. of Connecticut, a popular fair animal attraction that does shows across the state, said DEC changed its licensing permits in 2005.

“For 40 years they have had elephant rides,” Ely said on Wednesday. At first no one was aware of the new condition that states “no direct public contact” is allowed with elephants.

The issue came to a head last August at the Erie County Fair when one of Commerford’s elephant rides was shut down by DEC officials. The Commerford elephant rides were conducted, as in the past, at the Saratoga County Fair and other fairs in the state earlier in the summer.

Ely said Commerford lost about $80,000 when the elephant rides were shut down in New York state.

“If there was logic and reason behind it, then it would be easier to accept,” Rowland said about the elephant rides.

Maureen Wren, a DEC spokeswoman, said this week that the no direct public contact with elephants is part of the permit condition for those who exhibit Asian or African elephants.

She said there have been no injuries caused by elephant rides in New York state in recent times. “This is a preventative measure,” Wren said.

She said the rule had been on the license conditions for two years but DEC found elephant attractions still offering rides.

This spring the DEC sent letters to those holding an endangered or threatened species license for elephants reminding the people about the no public contact rule.

“Animals must be exhibited, held, transported, and housed in a manner which prevents direct contact with the public at all times,” says the letter from Patrick P. Martin, DEC’s supervising biologist.

“The licensee must take all reasonable and necessary measures to ensure the welfare and safety of the public and animals, including but not limited to employing the necessary barriers or physical restraints to maintain complete control of the animals at all times, in particular to prevent the animals from biting, clawing or scratching the public,” the April 9 letter says.

Bob Johnson, president of the Outdoor Amusement Business Association, the national trade organization for the mobile amusement industry which has 5,000 members, was in Albany on Wednesday talking to legislators about changing the permit regulations.

Johnson, whose headquarters are in Florida, said there are six firms that own and exhibit elephants in New York state.

“All over the country there has never been a person injured on an elephant,” Johnson said. He said insurance carriers say providing insurance to elephant ride acts is “a very low risk as far as they are concerned.”

He said that states all around New York, including New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, allow elephant rides. Georgia and Vermont do not, he said.

Johnson said his organization has hired a lobbying firm and wants to explore the possibility of new state legislation that would change the rule as well as other means of changing the state DEC permit conditions.

“This [elephant rides] has a wide appeal to the public, to the fair industry,” Johnson said.

Categories: Schenectady County

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