Sometimes the Good Guys Win

Every so often things go right. I don’t know if it is because the stars align a certain way or enough people squeezed their eyes shut and wished with all of their might for it to be so. When it happens, after years of working for it, and wishing it were so, the feeling is almost as if suddenly gravity loosened up a bit, the sun appears brighter, breezes are sweeter and commuter traffic is not so bad after all.

Meet Nosey, an African elephant who was born in Zimbabwe 1982. Two years after her birth her parents were slaughtered during a cull brought about by the government. Nosey along with 61 other babies were rounded up and purchased by Arthur Jones from Ocala, Florida. Jones, founder of Nautilus and MedX, was an extremely wealthy, eccentric individual who kept exotic animals, believed that rhino horns were indeed aphrodisiacs, had a salt water crocodile named Gomek, who he was trying to grow to be the world’s largest and flew all of those baby pachyderms to his estate, Jumbolair, in Florida and filmed it for TV. The show that resulted from that shipment of babies was called Operation Elephant.

In 1986 she was transferred up to David Meeks at the Meeks Company in South Carolina then was brought back down to Florida, in 1988, when she was sold to the Liebel family, from Davenport, who had the Great American Circus. For the next 30 years, she was dragged around the country and forced to perform stupid tricks and have people ride on her back. Training elephants is rather easy. Essentially, you hurt them and terrorize them to the point that they nearly injure themselves trying to do what you want them to. Nosey had been beaten with a sledgehammer, ripped into with a bullhook many, many times, been given electric shocks and kept tightly chained when not performing these stupid tricks.

It is tough for me to wrap my mind around the hell she was living. A few years ago, I came across a group of people online called Save Nosey Now, LLC. I quickly fell in with them when I learned Nosey’s story. No animal should have to live like this so I joined in the battle.

Many people involved in fighting to free her would drive for hours to these quirky little weekend fairs just so they could continue to document in images and video the horrors of her life. A metal howdah was strapped to her back and she was forced to carry people around and around in a plodding, tiny circle. For as large and strong as they are, elephants just are not designed to carry weight on their backs. After repeated pressure their vertebra actually start to crack.

When I would watch video of Nosey moving, it was so clear she was in pain. Sometimes she would drag her hind legs from bad arthritis. Her eyes were filmy and runny with a thick, white substance. Her skin looked rotten and you could see permanent marks on her legs from the tight chains.

The documentation gathered by the volunteers out to help her are truly horrifying. In particular, while in Indiana, the man who owned her, Hugo Liebel, wanted her to get down on her knees. She did not immediately so he reached up with a bullhook and ripped into the skin behind her ears causing her to stagger then fall to her knees. That act of brutality aimed at her shocked me deeply, and, reinforced for me the desperate importance of what Save Nosey Now was trying to do – either this elephant was freed to a sanctuary or she would die in this hell.

One piece of good news had happened, and that was, the FWC in Florida (Fish & Game) had denied Hugo Liebel his permit to have her because he did not adhere to their rules. This was rather amazing, because, although his home was in Davenport, Florida, he could not have her there. The Liebel’s hit the road with Nosey in tow.

They went to carnivals and fairs in tiny venues all through Ohio, Maryland, Indiana then down into Alabama. While there, it was very clear the constant life on the road was wearing everyone out. Liebel would carry Nosey around in a ramshackle cargo trailer that is not designed to hold an elephant let alone all of the others things pushed in with her - the poles and canvases for her tent, and, 4 ponies.

While in Cullman, Alabama, Hugo Liebel was telling people who came to see his elephant that he could not afford to feed her. One of the people who belongs to the Save Nosey Now group went and bought 5 bales of hay for her and the ponies. That bit of sordid information was quickly passed on to the police and the mayor and the news.

Hugo Liebel headed out of Cullman and had planned to take his elephant and ponies to their next tiny venue in Gadsden, however, the brakes on the truck pulling her trailer were failing. They pulled over and right there, on the side of the road in Moulton, Alabama, is where gravity lightened up a bit and the sun started to shine oh so brightly. Animal services, with a writ from a judge, arrived and seized all of the animals.

They had been informed this elephant was not doing well and an animal control officer, Kimberly Carpenter, found Nosey chained into this tight space in this weird little trailer, in her own waste, without food or water.

A huge and well run sanctuary for elephants, located 2 hours away in Tennessee, was called and sent a tractor/trailer rig to go get her and they took her back with them in style. Currently, Nosey is eating fresh food, living in a clear, airy space and has acres of woods and ponds to wander through. I tear up as I see the photos of this girl able to just be an elephant for 5 minutes.

Her hearing though is coming up in about a month. The Liebels are fighting to get her back. The group Save Nosey Now is also fighting along with the sanctuary and Lawrence County in Alabama to keep her free. I am not sure I could take it, if she were to be handed back to those people who beat her, and ran around the country with her in that tiny, weird little trailer and forced her to do stupid tricks. I refuse to allow my thinking to go to the dark side, and battle with the “what ifs” – what if they get her back, what if the case is lost. Instead, what if they win and this beautiful girl gets to spend her life in a huge, beautiful place with other elephants.

You have thousands of people going to bat for you Nosey. I am hoping the gravity stays light for you my girl. You earned it.

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The greatness of a nation and it's moral progress can be judged by the way it's animals are treated - Mahatma Ghandi

©  Briar Lee Mitchell, 2014