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New Action Alert: Honor Beulah by Helping Minnie

By Courtney Fern

A year ago, our elephant client Beulah collapsed and died in Massachusetts at the Big E Fair while being exploited for profit by a traveling circus called the Commerford Zoo. The day before Beulah’s shocking death, advocates witnessed her lying down in obvious distress, finding the only comfort she could on a patch of grass in the parking lot of a crowded, noisy venue while a handler with a bullhook checked his phone nearby.

The Commerford Zoo, despite knowing Beulah was suffering from a serious and painful uterine infection, chose to transport her from Goshen, Connecticut to West Springfield, Massachusetts with the intention of forcing her to labor for the entirety of the two-week fair. Instead, three days into the fair, Beulah collapsed multiple times before dying of septicemia, or blood poisoning, caused by the uterine infection.

Shortly after Beulah’s death we learned that Karen, a 38-year-old African elephant also owned and exploited by the Commerford Zoo, died in March of 2019 of kidney failure. Karen was last seen in July 2018 at the Meadowlands Fair in New Jersey. Fairgoers were alarmed by her treatment, observing Commerford Zoo employees thrusting a bullhook repeatedly into her sensitive skin, forcing her to give rides to countless adults and children on hard asphalt with few breaks, and tossing her hot dog buns for food. The Commerford Zoo hid her death, choosing to ignore calls to confirm whether she was alive; it was the USDA, after calls from the media following Beulah’s death, that confirmed she had died. Karen was a middle-aged elephant who should have lived well into her sixties like her wild counterparts do. Minnie, a 48-year-old Asian elephant, is now the sole surviving elephant imprisoned by the Commerford Zoo.

For almost five decades, the Commerford Zoo has forced wild-born Asian and African elephants, who were stolen from their herd and imported into the United States, to work for their financial gain. They have rented them out for weddings, TV commercials, movies, events, and more. During the warmer months, the Commerford Zoo transported them across the Northeast, compelling them to perform tricks and give rides under threat of a bullhook, which is designed to inflict pain on elephants in order to subdue and control them. The USDA has cited the Commerford Zoo over 50 times for failing to adhere to the minimum standards required by the Animal Welfare Act, yet they have been allowed to continue operating and keep their license, and still have it as of today, despite two elephants in their custody dying last year.

Minnie is now alone, without the necessary companionship of other elephants. The Commerford Zoo is merely keeping Minnie alive; nothing about her life resembles what is necessary to meet her basic physical, psychological, and biological needs. She is kept on the Commerford Zoo’s small property in rural Connecticut where she appears to spend most of her time in a small, dark concrete-floored barn.

Even now, during a pandemic, the Commerford Zoo continues to exploit Minnie for money. They have acknowledged they can no longer afford to meet her most basic needs, such as food and veterinary care. Yet, rather than taking up two elephant sanctuaries’ offer to provide Minnie with lifelong care and refuge at no cost to the Commerford Zoo, they are trying to raise $2.4 million to fund Minnie’s continued imprisonment. Their GoFundMe fundraiser claims that Minnie is now “retired” at the Commerford Zoo’s farm and spends her days outdoors. At the same time as they misleadingly presented their property as a sanctuary for Minnie, the Commerford Zoo was planning to open their farm to the public to offer, among other things, elephant rides, as discussed during a May 26, 2020 Town of Goshen Planning & Zoning Commission Meeting.

Troublingly, they have moved forward with these plans. Earlier this month, the Commerford Zoo opened its farm to the public on weekends, charging people for the opportunity to hand-feed animals such as goats and a giraffe. Minnie has yet to be seen on their property since it opened to the public. We remain greatly concerned about Minnie, especially because the local, state, and federal agencies responsible for overseeing the Commerford Zoo—USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), and the Torrington Police Department’s Animal Control Division—have yet to take any action to ensure that Minnie’s basic needs are being met.

Beulah died as she lived—laboring in public for the Commerford Zoo’s financial benefit. Karen suffered out of sight on the Commerford Zoo property, which had been her prison for over 30 years. Minnie has the chance to avoid Beulah and Karen’s fates, and Beulah and Karen’s stories must not be forgotten. In their memory, please join us in urging the Town of Goshen Board of Selectmen to use its authority to request that the appropriate local and state agencies conduct an emergency inspection of the Commerford Zoo and investigate Minnie’s care and well-being.

TAKE ACTION to help #FreeMinnie by completing this action alert to the Town of Goshen Board of Selectmen. Thank you!

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