by Dan Spalding, Times-Union
The Lions probably won’t be having the elephant back next year.
North Webster Lions President Mark Lawson said Monday following the festival that the organization will not likely have the elephant, known as Tiny by his owners, return to the festival next year.
The protests gained the attention of area media, with one television news website in Fort Wayne claiming there was “outrage” over the elephant’s conditions.
The Lions Club has been an organizer for the festival for 72 years and they’ve never had an uproar or controversy like this, Lawson said.
He said the club will review the issue, but he was not optimistic.
“We do not want the town of North Webster to have a black eye over this whole mess. We don’t want the black eye,” Lawson said. “Unfortunately, they probably got their way and we probably will have not have the elephant back.”
He said he does not believe the animal was being mistreated and said two groups, including Black Pine Animal Sanctuary, of Albion, inspected the conditions and found no problems.
The elephant, believed to be in his mid 30s, attracted plenty of attention from kids who fed the huge animal for $2 and others who paid $10 for a short, circular ride under a tent.
Online content, though, paints a darker picture of the business. Protest signs urged people to search online for “Nosey,” and some of those focus on Liebel Family Circus, which operates the act that was in North Webster.
Lawson said he had received good feedback from spectators and vendors and believed the promotion helped boost attendance.
“It’s a no-win situation,” he said.
The protests evolved Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
On Thursday, the protesters were told to stay outside of the festival grounds and behind a tall chain link fence along Blaine Street. On Saturday, a tarp was placed along the fence, obscuring much of the view of the protesters from Tiny’s tent. To get their message across, the protesters held signs as high as they could.
“Hold them up higher,” Hugo Liebel, owner of the elephant act, yelled to the protesters Saturday, playfully suggesting they weren’t trying hard enough.
Liebel and a co-worker said the protesters are misinformed.
“Everybody has the freedom of speech, but the problem is they don’t know the truth about the elephant,” said Carl Freeman, who said he has worked with the business for 22 years. “They know the propaganda behind the lies, but they don’t know the truth.”
Liebel said he hoped to return next year, but was unavailable for comment this morning.
Hannah Thompson, 19, of North Webster, said she helped organize the protest.
“We all put our heads together and we did lots of research and we learned that this is a very well-known elephant and this has actually been going on for 30 years,” Thompson said.
“We did not know anything about Nosey at the time, but now we feel like we know her and she is dear to our hearts. We want to keep her safe,” she said.
Among her concerns was the use of a small traveling trailer used for the elephant and some ponies and the lack of room for the animal to wander.