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September 8, 2010 / V A Nichols

No ‘fair-ness’ for animals at Pelham carnival

The Alabama state commercial carnival [a.k.a Alabama State Fair] was held  at the Verizon Wireless Music Center in Pelham, August 27th through September 6th.

Having heard negative feedback regarding conditions for the  animals at this venue  from colleagues, I decided to see for myself.

I was accompanied by a friend.  We’ll call her ‘Danyell.’

It was a beautiful late summer day, just at the  cusp of afternoon to evening, as we arrived. We were hoping for the best, while acknowledging the venue’s environment.

There were five animal-attractions at the event: racing pigs, an animal-petting corral, elephant rides, cow milking, and a pony-ride circular walk-around.

Pig Racing

The so-called pig-racing attraction actually included farm piglets, goats, ducks and pot- bellied piglets.

A large crowd gathered along the stretch of the raceway. The attraction’s auctioneerist ‘barker’ worked the crowd into a laughing, yelling frenzy.

The stage was set: bright lights and a wall of sound.

Each group of  animals was quickly brought out of a darkened  trailer and placed in the starting gate. When the crowd yelled ‘soo-ee’ at the top of their voices the gate was opened. As each animal group reached the stretch they would bunch together as they passed the mass of human vocalizations. It appeared to be a defensive behavior…safety in numbers. At the end of the race, the animals were quickly returned to their small crates within the darkened trailer.

For these young animals, away from their mothers, the sensory overload and quick change of environment must have been stressful.  Their ‘performance’ would be repeated multiple times each day, and the cycle would begin again at the next city in their long trek around the country.

Animal Petting Corral

The petting corral, advertised to have 100 animals, in actuality had about 15 animals.

There was a single camel, a single pot-bellied piglet, a few baby goats, a pair of porcupines, a couple of calves,  a couple of lambs, and a pair of chickens.

This little creature stood in this position the entire time we were there: head down, tail between his / her legs. There was no physical response when petted by a young woman. The animal seemed to have ‘checked-out’ emotionally.

Interestingly, most of the larger animals, with more space to move around, had positioned themselves out of reach of human hands.

Observing the behavior of passing children, this attraction reminded me most of captive wildlife menageries (commonly known as zoos). The children rushed up to the smaller pens holding baby animals, they expressed momentary delight, and with a quick non-connecting pat on the head were off to the next sight that caught their attention.

The animals remained confined in their small pens for more than seven hours, denied their natural behavior, for entertainment and monetary benefit.

–                                                                                                                                                                The Milking Station

During a break in customers, this proud animal owner posed with his money-maker.

This attraction displayed large signs requiring the washing of customers hands before and after ‘milking.’ Instead the animal owner provided what appeared to be disinfectant in a pump jar.

I never saw any milk acquired as a along line of young people gave this cow’s teats a pull.

Call me anthropomorphic, but I wondered how the cow felt with strange human hands pulling on a part of her body meant only for her babies.

I couldn’t shake the thought that this beautiful animal would later likely become hamburger meat.

An empty goat milking stand was on display at this attraction as well. But no goat.

There was large signage on the attraction’s trailer claiming it to be an educational site. However, each customer observed was given less than two minutes with the cow. Interesting how exploitation of animals continues to be shrouded in ‘education.’

Elephant Rides

The elephant rides were promoted online with a very ‘happy’ picture. It showed a group of children riding an Asian elephant standing on a blanket of beautiful green grass.

The reality of what we found at the Pelham carnival was quite different.

As we entered the tent I was surprised by how low the lights were, only a few spot lights here and there, perhaps with reason.

The inside of the tent was set-up like a shabby old one-ring circus with shallow seating on three sides.

The only performer was an aged female African elephant. Her tusks were too short for her age, and they appeared to have been broken or cut off.

We watched, during a passenger change, as the elephant tried to remove her metal head decoration with her trunk.

The elephant-handler carried a bull hook. This is a tool shaped similar to a fire-place poker with a very sharp metal hook at the end. Handlers who use bull hooks, dominate elephants through pain and fear. The elephant is hooked behind the ear, under the mouth and behind their legs, all areas of great sensitivity. Playing on the memory of elephants, handlers use the presence of a bull hook to intimidate the elephant into submission.

As we were able to get closer to the elephant, we saw the tip of the elephant’s trunk trembling, a sure sign of stress. An indication of a history of use of the bull hook by the handler.

The carnival is a most inappropriate place  for an elephant. In the wild, female elephants are  social animals and stay with their female family members until death. Elephant’s feet are very sensitive and require  a soft walking surface; a hard asphalt floor, such as the one at the Pelham carnival,  is detrimental to their health.

Pony Rides

In another day and time, the words ‘pony rides’ would conjure up visions of beautiful, well cared for ponies, children in crisp party clothes, and well-groomed lawns or rolling pastures.

Not so at the Pelham carnival where ponies are chained to a wagon-wheel-spokes type apparatus to walk in endless circles for hours.

Never before have I seen animals express such broken spirits through their body language. All the ponies heads were down, their eyes were set in  glazed stares, and they seemed more like the horses on a mechanical merry-go-round than live animals.

We visited the pony-rides attraction early in the evening, and again late in the evening.

During our first visit, I casually asked the proprietor if the ponies got scheduled rest breaks.  ‘Yes, of course,’ she said, not breaking her stride. Further observation revealed the only ‘rest’ was while riders were changed.

We became very concerned when we noticed that the ‘un-shod’ ponies were walking around and around in each others’ urine and feces. Opportunistic bacteria could enter their bodies through cracks in their hooves and cause grave damage to their health.

As we later passed by the pony-rides attraction, on our way to another site, we noticed the proprietor struggling to attach a mule to the walk-around apparatus. The mule was resisting the proprietor’s  efforts with all his / her might. Suddenly the proprietor went to the back of the mule and gave her / him a strong slap on the rump. When that didn’t work, she appeared to hit the mule in the face.

When we returned to the pony-rides attraction for the last time, we were saddened to see the same ponies in the same positions, still walking through each others’ urine and feces, heads still down, and now eyes half -closed.

What happened next became a short contentious exchange.

Danyell decided to express her concern for the over-worked ponies. The proprietor launched into a tirade about our’ failed relationships,’ refusing to discuss the animals.

As Danyell continued to try to engage the woman in  conversation about the ponies, I stepped back to take pictures. This enraged the woman and she came at us with her disposable Kodak camera taking our pictures in retaliation :)

Ultimately realizing she could not scare us away, she began calling us ‘terrorists.’

As we were in a public place and had not impeded her business, she had no real recourse to our suggestions and picture-taking.

She quickly returned to her customers.

We left the attraction hoping we had given her something to consider about the care of her animals.

In conclusion, I am very glad I went on this adventure with Danyell.

It was disheartening to see the animals confined, deprived of their basic needs, and seemingly considered only as money-makers by their owners.

Seeing the general public accept the animals’ situations as normal was somewhat maddening, although not surprising.

It is apparent that farm animals, as well as exotic animals, need our voice for their protection.

Until next time……..



Leave a Comment
  1. the truth / Feb 23 2012 10:18 AM

    I think you need to be a little more educated about animals before you write such filth. You are a hero only in your mind.

  2. Mindy Gilbert / Oct 12 2010 6:09 PM

    great job on the “fairness”. The public needs to let the community officials hosting the fair that this is not acceptable entertainment. In the end it’s all about money

  3. Danyell Jackson / Sep 8 2010 2:13 PM

    You did a great job on the article, Victoria. You captured what was both obvious and not-so-obvious to the public eye. I hope we can shut down the animal attractions…especially the family’s circus that had the ponies and elephants. I hope with the public’s help, these people will not be able to exploit these poor animals any longer. Let me know if you want to go to the Montgomery one. I will drive. :)

  4. Roy / Sep 8 2010 1:21 PM

    We have spent our working lives trying to change the attitude of joe public to such abuse. Whilst we can never give up trying. Sometimes you wonder?? If in a civilised country like the USA this can be allowed to go on, Will we will ever get anything changed?

  5. Jamey Binneveld / Sep 8 2010 12:38 PM

    This is Liebel circus. Go to and see the Peta factsheet. See the numerous pages of USDA citations this circus has received.

    • V A Nichols / Sep 8 2010 1:58 PM

      OMG! Thanks to everyone for the heads-up! I will research further…

      If anyone has additional information, please share!

  6. Christopher Murphy / Sep 8 2010 11:16 AM

    Francesca Liebel is a horrible woman. She and her family abuse Nosey the elephant terribly. She also has extremely poor hygiene.

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