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Fair Association votes to keep elephant show

The Durham Fair Association voted overwhelmingly Aug.14 to keep “Elephant Encounters,” live elephant show, that has caused some controversy, at the Durham Fair. The 59-12 final result came by anonymous, paper balloting.

Rachel Mann of Durham was allowed to give a 10 minute presentation to the DFA before the vote. Mann organized a petition calling for the DFA to cancel Elephant Encounters and brought the petition, which had over 3,000 signatures, to the meeting.

The meeting, far more crowded than regular DFA meetings, spilled out into the front room of the fairgrounds’ medical building. One police officer was stationed inside the building and another at the gates, allowing only members of the Durham Fair Association on the grounds. The meeting was closed to the media.

Rachel Gary and Jennifer Kinzel came to give moral support to Mann and waited at the top of the hill until she came back out.

According to a transcript of Mann’s remarks, she told the DFA, “If the Durham Fair is truly an agricultural fair, there is no place for mistreated wild animals such as elephants, which are neither agricultural nor domestic. This controversial elephant act undermines the values of our agricultural fair and threatens to stain the fair’s fine reputation.”

The petition gathered 324 signatures from Durham and Middlefield, approximately 1,900 from Connecticut, and 3,004 overall, according to figures provided by Mann.

“I said what I came to say,” said Mann after her presentation but before the decision was announced. Mann admitted to being nervous and added that the audience was “respectful and polite.” Along with Gary and Kinzel, Mann said she had no set plans for further action. “I’m hopeful that this is going to be what it takes.”

After the meeting, no DFA members wanted to be quoted, but several expressed skepticism about the significance of the petition, pointing to signatures from outside Connecticut and questioning if all the names were accurate. Some members also repeated the figure of 83 percent, the winning percent of the vote.

The DFA also has been subject to lobbying from the circus industry. The Circus Fans Association, a lobbying group funded by the Outdoor American Business Association, published the e-mails of the Durham Fair directors on its website. The lobbying group asked people to e-mail the DFA to support “Elephant Rides at Durham Fair,” although rides will not be part of the show. The group also uses a video and other lobbying efforts meant to sway local decision makers in support of circus animal acts.

In an unsigned open letter to the community the day after the meeting, the DFA said, “After careful consideration and extensive discussion, our Executive Committee recommended to our Board of Directors that it move forward with the Elephant Encounters presentation. Our Board of Directors overwhelmingly voted last evening to support this presentation.”

The Durham Fair Executive Board has eighteen members. The Executive Board brought its recommendation to keep the show to the Aug. 14 meeting. The Board of Directors consists of DFA members who also hold a position in the organization.

The DFA letter noted that Elephant Encounters has the necessary permits to exhibit elephants and argued that the elephant show fit with the Durham Fair tradition. “Animal exhibition has always been, and will always remain, an integral part of our agricultural heritage and a focal point of our Fair. The Durham Fair believes the Elephant Encounters presentation has the potential to foster greater public understanding of, and appreciation for, elephants.”

Mann’s presentation indicated that many of the petition’s signers would be boycotting the fair and pointed to the consequences of keeping the show. “Ignoring the concerns and wishes of community members who dedicate time and effort to its success, and the many fairgoers who financially support the fair and its many beneficiaries, is a poor decision that will result in lowered attendance and an overall negative atmosphere surrounding the event.”



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