MOULTON — Nosey the elephant is in a sanctuary in Tennessee after Lawrence County's animal control officer said she saw signs of abuse and asked a judge to seize the animal from its owners.
Kimberly Carpenter, animal control officer, said the county was granted temporary possession of the animal by District County Judge Angela Terry at a three-hour hearing late Thursday afternoon.
“The goal is to prove (Nosey) is unhealthy,” Carpenter said Friday afternoon. She contacted the Tennessee Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, 80 miles southwest of Nashville. The sanctuary picked up the 35-year-old elephant Thursday night. “We didn’t have a means of transporting a 3-ton elephant. A horse trailer is just not adequate for hauling such a large, heavy animal.”
Four ponies also were seized and are at an undisclosed Lawrence County farm where they are to be examined by veterinarians, Carpenter said.
The owners of the animals, Hugo Liebel and Franciszka Liebel Rebisz of Florida, are fighting to get their animals back. The animals are part of their Great America Family Circus show.
They could not be reached for comment, and their attorney, Allen Stoner, of Decatur, did not return calls Friday.
Carpenter said she began receiving calls Tuesday about an unhealthy looking elephant at a business at 285 Lawrence County 286. The owners' vehicle apparently needed work on its brakes, and they were staying in Moulton until the parts could arrive, Carpenter said. She said they had been in Moulton since Monday.
“I visited for myself about 11 a.m. Wednesday and saw the elephant swaying from side to side,” she said. “That is a sign of stress. I knew there was a problem. I saw the tiny trailer the ponies and Nosey were being transported in.”
After seeing the animals and meeting one of the owners, Carpenter said she contacted Callie Waldrep, assistant district attorney, who helped get the court order to seize the animals.
Carpenter said when she and a sheriff's deputy arrived Wednesday night with the court order, the owners became combative. “(Rebisz) got verbally abusive with us,” she said. “I realize we were taking their livelihood, but the animals were being abused.”
Carpenter said Nosey has a large following on the internet. “We’ve already had some elephant organizations agree to help us financially.”
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Peace 4 Animals and One Green Planet, animal rights advocates, are lauding Lawrence County for taking Nosey and the ponies away from the owners.
“Nosey, the lame elephant found tightly chained, confined in her own waste, and without proper shelter, was removed from conditions very familiar to all who have tracked her abuse for years,” Delcianna Winders, PETA Foundation vice president and deputy general counsel, told The Decatur Daily on Friday afternoon in an email. “PETA thanks local authorities (in Lawrence County) for seizing Nosey, and the court for its decision to transfer this long-suffering elephant into caring hands. PETA pledges to continue working in her behalf until she's settled in a spacious sanctuary home at last.”
What’s next for Nosey and the ponies? After they are tested, Carpenter said she expects another district court hearing in about three weeks.
“We want (Nosey),” Carpenter said. “We want to give her to a sanctuary where she can live in dignity.”