A proposal to allow elephant rides at circuses and fairs in certain cities has drawn criticism from a national animal rights group.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sent the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources a 19-page letter Wednesday, citing public safety as a chief concern.
“Allowing children to ride on the backs of abused elephants is like placing them on a ticking time bomb,” PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman said in a statement.
“At a time when experts recommend minimizing direct contact with these frustrated, 16,000-pound animals, the forces behind the proposed rule change are out of step with the times and are being wantonly careless about children's safety.”
KDFW supports the proposed changes, which would give local governments the authority to allow direct contact between Asian elephants and the public at events, namely circuses and fairs, KDFW spokesman Mark Marraccini said.
“The law to be unlawful is still going to be there, but it allows for local communities, if they want to allow this in their area, they can write an ordinance that makes it legal and outlines the conditions under which it would be legal,” Marraccini said.
Circuses, such as the Kosair Shrine Circus, want to offer elephant rides as an added attraction, he said.
Elephant rides have been banned across the state since 2005, but Kosair Shrine Circus has offered elephant rides during Louisville circuses, a violation of state regulations, PETA’s letter says.
Louisville made the rides illegal in the mid 1990s after a man visiting the Louisville Zoo was repeatedly picked up and dropped by an 8,000-pound elephant in 1994, significantly injuring his spleen and pancreas.
Louisville repealed the ordinance in 2005.
PETA highlighted this and other instances in its letter to KDFW of people injured after direct contact with elephants.
The animal rights group said the state’s current regulation “responsibly accounts for public safety” and putting the matter in the hands of local governments would “gravely endanger the young children such activities target and could also expose the state to liability.”
KDFW took public comment on the proposed changes at the agency’s headquarters Tuesday.
The updated regulation has “several stops” before it can be adopted, Marraccini said.