An exhibitor at the West End Fair is causing somewhat of a stir with local and national animal rights activists.
Brian Franzen Elephants, an entertainment company that holds performances featuring African and Asian elephants, will be conducting shows at the fairgrounds in Gilbert throughout the week. And while these spectacles delight some people, accusations of improper animal handling horrifies others.
Kunkletown resident April Alberts said she was furious when she heard about the elephant shows and read about Brian Franzen Elephants on the internet.
“People have known for many, many years now the state of animals in the entertainment industry, the fairs and the circuses,” she said. “I’m not happy, and I don’t think the general public will be either.”
Alberts said she found various accounts of animal abuse allegations against Brian Franzen Elephants, including reports from activist group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).
“He has a very long history of beating elephants, he has been cited for caging tigers outside in the rain, and for failing to provide animals with adequate veterinary care,” said Rachel Mathews, deputy director of captive animal law enforcement at PETA.
PETA has been known to challenge circuses, fairs and groups who exhibit animals for show, often citing cases of abuse and neglect.
The Ringling Bros. famously stopped using elephants in their shows starting in 2016, following accusations of abuse from PETA and other advocacy groups, before shutting down completely in 2017 due to waning public interest and low ticket sales.
Mathews provided numerous inspection reports and citations from the USDA targeting Brian Franzen Elephants, stretching from 1997 to 2013, in addition to a social media post from KKTV 11 News in Boulder Springs, Colorado concerning abuse allegations.
An official USDA warning detailing a violation of federal regulations dated Oct. 10, 2012, states that “on August 6, 2012, The licensee’s employee Casey Walker was observed by a citizen striking an elephant named Kosti with a bull hook multiple times about the eyes and ears.”
An inspection report detailed that an employee admitted to “tapping” Kosti, and that the licensee questioned how else to correct “bad behavior.” Issues regarding the elephants’ access to water and the limited number of employees with experience handling animals were also addressed in the report.
‘Where are the protestors?’
Trainer Greg Smyth said that the elephant shows have been attracting plenty of viewers over the past few days, though he had not seen any protestors. Smyth said that accusations of abuse are a politically motivated attack by PETA.
“They’re a lobbying organization. They have to make money. To get people to keep giving them money, they’ve got to keep alleging things, and they’ve got to keep the hype up,” Smyth said.
No reports of animal abuse have been submitted in relation to Franzen’s West End Fair performances. Pennsylvania’s Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals stated that the company would not be observed or investigated unless there were current or ongoing allegations of abuse.
During a Wednesday afternoon performance, a sizable crowd assembled at the elephant area near the main arena to watch the show and ride the elephants afterward. No protestors appeared to be present.
“It was really great, and the kids were really enjoying it,” Nazareth resident Gina Hertzog, who came to the fair with her grandchildren, said.
“I imagine there’s always a big concern for safety with animals, but I didn’t hear anything.”
Smyth said that abuse accusations tend to come from a very small faction of people involved with activist groups.
“That’s the opinion of just a couple people out of millions. Where are the PETA protestors? Do you see them out front? No, they didn’t bother to show up,” Smyth said.
Shillington-based entertainment company Anjoli Productions, which appears to book shows for Brian Franzen Elephants, did not respond to a request for comment.
“Brian Franzen comes from a very active circus family and has literally grown up with his elephants. Traveling throughout the United States with both African and Asian elephants, Franzen is able to perform up to 3 shows daily on the weekend and 2 shows during the week. Each show is both entertaining and educational and consists of the elephants’ balancing, sitting, lying down, and carrying both objects and people. Elephant rides are also offered at the end of each show,” the description page on the Anjoli website reads.
The West End Fair Association responded with no comment in regard to questions about Brian Franzen Elephants.
Both Alberts and Mathews said that they reached out to the Fair Association when they found that Franzen was exhibiting animals, but they both pointed out that there was no mention of Franzen’s involvement with the fair in previously released promotional pamphlets.
Alberts hopes that more people will get involved with protesting against those who exhibit animals, not by showing up with signs and chants, but by hitting them where it hurts most - the wallet.
“Maybe if people knew about the elephants, they wouldn’t go,” Alberts said.