MOULTON — Nosey’s owner wants the elephant as well as his other animals back. He is ready to go home to Florida.
When Lawrence County authorities seized Nosey, a 35-year-old African circus elephant, and four small ponies, claiming animal abuse, Hugo Liebel said he was left without a livelihood because of what he called illegal actions.
Liebel, of Davenport, Florida, owns and operates The Great American Family Circus. He said he’s lost “thousands and thousands of dollars” because of contracts he signed for shows in Florida and can’t fulfill because his animals were taken away.
District Judge Angela Terry ordered Nosey's seizure Nov. 9 after hearing testimony from elephant experts from California and Texas, and county animal control officer Kim Carpenter.
Liebel, 65, told Lawrence County commissioners Friday morning he wants his animals released.
“All of my animals are healthy,” he said. “I don’t have millions of dollars to sue and the special-interest groups do, and (Carpenter) believed them. … I just want to take Nosey home and retire her. I have 25 acres there. She’ll live on it where she’s lived the past 34 years.”
Nosey was sent to the Tennessee Elephant Sanctuary, about 80 miles southwest of Nashville, to be examined, and the ponies were taken to a local undisclosed farm to be inspected by veterinarians.
Animal rights advocates worldwide, including comedienne and actress Carol Burnett, lauded Lawrence County for taking possession of Nosey, who has a strong following on social media.
“I was so thrilled to hear from my friends at PETA that Nosey has been transported to the Tennessee Elephant Sanctuary,” Burnett wrote in an email to Lawrence County commissioners last week. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart. … Her home on the road has been a dark, cramped trailer or the end of a chain. She deserves so much more — as do all elephants. ... I recorded (a public service announcement) mere weeks ago, when I didn’t think anyone in a position to help Nosey cared — so it warms my heart to see that Lawrence County does.”
Liebel, who grew up in a suburb of Budapest, Hungary, showed state documents at the commission meeting which he said demonstrated that he was in compliance with rules protecting the animals’ care and well being.
He said the county’s complaint “doesn’t cite any statute or rule of law supporting the county’s position to seize the elephant and ponies.”
He said district court was limited to civil disputes not exceeding $10,000. “Nosey, the subject of this hearing, is worth several hundred thousand dollars,” he wrote in a response to the seizure order.
He said as animal control officer, Carpenter didn’t have authority to judge the health of his elephant.
“(Her) job is created by statute and her powers are limited to dogs and cats,” he said. “She’s not an elephant expert. She should have contacted the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. She is a rogue employee who is going to cost the county a lot of money.”
On Friday afternoon, Carpenter said she’s never claimed to be an elephant expert.
“We did what we felt was right for the elephant,” Carpenter said. “We treated this case just like any other animal not being treated right. We didn’t know it was Nosey. PETA was not involved when we took the action. If I had to do it all over again, I would do it the same way.”
Last week, Carpenter said Liebel was abusing his animals by housing them in cramped conditions, and she saw signs of stress in Nosey.
Liebel said elephants, like horses, won’t lie down or turn around while being transported and there was ample space for his animals in his specially designed trailer.
Liebel said his truck needed its brakes repaired when he was traveling to Cherokee in Colbert County for a show. He stopped at a diesel business on Alabama 157 just outside Moulton and was told it would be a week before the brake parts would arrive.
“We went to Cherokee and then to Cullman for our shows before we came back to Moulton,” Liebel said. He said he left for Florida in another vehicle when his animals were taken by county authorities.
“This county is having some serious animal problems, and I feel I am a victim of that,” Liebel said. “My $750,000 Nosey and my four ponies are victims of that.”
Commissioner Bradley Cross said the county has plenty of issues to worry about other than Nosey.
“We’d be doing a good job if we can take care of our cats and dogs,” Cross said. “I think somebody stuck their nose in where it didn’t have any business. The man should have had the opportunity to get his brakes fixed and move on. We have enough problems in this county without adding an elephant problem.”
Commissioner Bobby Burch supports Carpenter and the district attorney's office’s actions. “I’m proud of them,” he said. “They did what was right.”
Liebel said his two employees also are losing money. Liebel said he is living in a motel in Muscle Shoals while he waits to get Nosey back. Carpenter said she expects another hearing to be held as early as this week.
“At the end of the day, you look in the mirror and you know who you are,” Liebel said. “I’m a proud man.”