“Impoverished” Commerford Zoo Can’t Afford Care for Elephant, Fundraiser Claims
Nonhuman Rights Project Urges Local, State, and Federal Agencies to Intervene
NhRP: “Minnie has a place waiting for her in a sanctuary, and it would cost [the Commerford Zoo] nothing to do the right thing and release her.”
July 29, 2020—Goshen, CT—Today the Nonhuman Rights Project sent letters to local, state, and federal agencies urging them to immediately investigate what a Goshen-based traveling circus has publicly acknowledged is its inability to provide basic care to the elephant in its custody as a result of the COVID-19 lockdowns.
“We were extremely worried about Minnie well before the COVID-19 crisis and are even more so now,” said Courtney Fern, the NhRP’s Director of Government Relations and Campaigns.
For over two years, the NhRP has been fighting in court and alongside local activists to free Minnie, a 48-year-old wild-born Asian elephant, to one of the two accredited elephant sanctuaries in the US, both of which have offered her lifelong care at no cost to the Commerford Zoo. Recently the NhRP learned of an online fundraiser set up by the family that sold Minnie (whom they call Mignon) to the Commerford Zoo in 1976. With the authorization of the Commerford Zoo, the GoFundMe page seeks to raise $2.4 million to enable them to meet Minnie’s most basic needs, including food and veterinary care, because COVID-19 has “impoverished the farm that supports them,” which is “in desperate need of support,” according to the fundraiser description. Created over a month ago and having raised only $1,345 to date, the fundraiser states that Minnie “has been directly affected” by the lockdowns: “When the humans cannot work, the animals suffer too.”
“We understand the Commerford Zoo is in dire straights,” Fern said. “For their sake and the sake of the many animals at their facility, they need to let Minnie go to a sanctuary. It is abhorrent for them not to do so immediately.”
The NhRP submitted a complaint online to the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and via email to the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) and the Torrington Police Department’s Animal Control Division, all of which have a responsibility to investigate animal welfare concerns pertaining to the Commerford Zoo.
The NhRP has repeatedly offered to drop its litigation against the Commerford Zoo—originally brought on behalf of Minnie and two elephants, Beulah and Karen, who have since died—if they agreed to release Minnie to The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee (TES) or the Performing Animal Welfare Society sanctuary (PAWS), both of which are vastly larger than the Commerford Zoo’s property and specially designed to meet elephants’ complex needs. The Commerford Zoo has ignored these offers.
The NhRP finds this fundraiser especially disappointing and egregious, said Fern, because the organizers, who’ve been in touch with the NhRP multiple times since 2018, and the Commerford Zoo “all know Minnie has a place waiting for her in a sanctuary, and it would cost them nothing to do the right thing and release her.”
Fern further stated: “That they now refer to the Commerfords’ property—where Minnie is controlled by a bullhook, confined most of the time to a dark, barren barn, and lacks the company of other elephants—as a sanctuary is an absurd ploy to solicit donations they wouldn’t need if they released her to an actual elephant sanctuary.”
Beulah and Karen both died in 2019, leaving Minnie the sole surviving elephant in the custody of the Commerford Zoo. As confirmed by the USDA in response to an inquiry from U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) after Beulah collapsed in public at the Big E fair, Beulah died as a result of blood poisoning caused by a uterine infection the Commerford Zoo was aware she had when they transported her to the Big E. Karen died of kidney disease.
Founded in Goshen, CT by Robert “Bob” W. Commerford, the Commerford Zoo (also known as R.W. Commerford & Sons and/or the Kids Fun Fair & Zoo) owns an elephant, camels, sheep, goats, llamas, donkeys, pygmy horses, ringtail lemurs, macaws, a kangaroo, a zebra, and an African Grey parrot, among other animals. The USDA has cited the Commerford Zoo over 50 times for failing to adhere to the minimum standards required by the Animal Welfare Act.
The NhRP is considering its next steps in its elephant rights litigation on Minnie’s behalf after the Connecticut Supreme Court declined to hear her case. The grassroots campaign to free Minnie to an accredited sanctuary has gained the support of Sen. Blumenthal, Connecticut State Representative David Michel, Representative Anne Hughes, and other lawmakers. The NhRP says it will continue to fight for as long as it takes for Minnie’s release to a sanctuary where her right to liberty will be respected.
To learn more about Minnie, the Commerford Zoo, and the NhRP’s elephant rights litigation on her behalf, visit this page. For images of and articles about her published over the course of her life in captivity, visit this page. To download the above image of Minnie, visit this page (credit: Gigi Glendinning).
About the Nonhuman Rights Project
The Nonhuman Rights Project is the only civil rights organization in the United States working through litigation, legislation, and education to secure fundamental rights for nonhuman animals.