County granted custody of elephant

A 35-year-old female African elephant named Nosey eats oranges at The Elephant Sanctuary of Tennessee. The animal was seized by local authorities late last year.

A Lawrence County judge ordered Monday that custody of an allegedly abused circus elephant be given to  the county’s animal control officer.

After studying over 40 pages of notes from two separate hearings, District Judge Angela Terry electronically filed the following ruling:

“The custody of the elephant, more specifically described as “Nosey” which was seized by the animal control officer of Lawrence County, Alabama on November 8, 2017 shall be vested in said animal control officer, Kimberly Carpenter, in her official capacity. The animal control officer shall make decisions as to the continuing placement and treatment for the elephant.”

Nosey, a 35-year old female African elephant, was seized along with four miniature ponies by county authorities Nov. 9 due to suspected abuse at the hands of her owner of 33 years and traveling showman, Hugo Liebel. Animal control officer Kimberly Carpenter oversaw the operation. The first hearing to determine if the writ of seizure would be extended was held the same night.

After Terry extended the writ to allow time for Nosey to be medically evaluated, Nosey was transported to The Elephant Sanctuary of Tennessee in Hohenwald where she remains. The sanctuary is a private, donation-run organization dedicated to providing a home for former circus elephants. 

The second hearing on Dec. 15 featured testimony from numerous witnesses from both sides and lasted approximately 10 hours. Witnesses called by the plaintiff maintained there was sufficient evidence of abuse, while witnesses called by the defense largely disagreed with the allegations. Arguments centered around Nosey’s skin condition, bone health, restraints, housing and overall quality of life.

“I’m overjoyed to think Nosey will be able to spend the rest of her days in true sanctuary,” said Assistant District Attorney Callie Waldrep, who represented the plaintiff in the case. “It’s been a uphill climb that I’m sure isn’t over, but for the moment we will enjoy this mountaintop. And, should they appeal, we will continue to fight for the same result. It is our plan for Nosey to remain at the Tennessee Elephant Sanctuary. There is no other place around that’s even comparable to TES. They are willing and able to continue to provide Nosey with the daily care she so desperately needs.”

Carpenter could not be reached for comment before deadline, but Waldrep said Carpenter intends for Nosey to permanently remain at the sanctuary.

Hugo Liebel, who was contacted at his Florida home Monday morning by The Decatur Daily, reportedly said he had not heard the ruling before abruptly ending the call.

“It’s a sad day in this country when the news media finds out before I do,” he told the Daily. “Have a good day, sir.”

Hugo and his wife Franciszka Liebel are owners of the Great American Family Circus. Their ponies were returned after the second hearing when they were determined to be in good health.

Liebel’s attorney Billy Underwood was not available for comment, however, a member of the defense team, Whitney Fisher, said the Liebels plan to appeal. 

“We spoke to the Liebels yesterday and they are planning to appeal and request a jury trial,” Fisher said.

The judge’s ruling is seen as a major victory for animal welfare groups like the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals who say they have been disturbed by Nosey’s living conditions for years.

“Compassionate people the world over can breathe a sigh of relief with today’s ruling that Nosey the elephant will not return to the people who left her chained and swaying back and forth in her own waste with urinary tract, skin, and roundworm infections as well as painful osteoarthritis and signs of dehydration and malnutrition,” said Rachel Mathews, PETA Foundation Associate Director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement, in a press release. 

In November, Hollywood icon Carol Burnett, sent a letter to the Lawrence County Commission thanking county officials for their role in the seizure. Prior to sending the letter, she had filmed a video for PETA in support of Nosey.

Another organization, Save Nosey Now which gets its name from the famous elephant, says it is their primary mission to rescue elephants from a life of exploit and abuse. The Florida-based nonprofit group has been following Nosey and documenting her situation for decades. 

“All of us at SNN are absolutely ecstatic and will sleep better knowing Nosey is finally away from Liebel’s clutches after decades of abuse and neglect,” said Denise Gaug, founder of SNN. “We are grateful to all of the Lawrence County authorities for taking action and righting a seriously wrong situation. It is obvious from the 17-page decision that Judge Terry considered all of the evidence carefully.”

She said that even though a major battle was won with the judge’s ruling, the war against animal cruelty is far from over. 

“SNN will bask in the glory of Nosey’s freedom for now as she was the poster child for captive elephants,” Gaug said. “However, there are many more elephants in similar situations. The heart of our mission is to get all captive elephants to a sanctuary and we will not stop until that is accomplished. Eventually, good will win out over evil. We are currently planning our next campaign which will be made public soon.”

Waldrep said a contract will be written soon to transfer custody from Lawrence County to The Elephant Sanctuary.

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