A beautiful 2 year old African elephant, later named Nosey, was brought to the United States in 1984 with 62 other baby elephants on a Boeing 707 nicknamed “Jumbolair”. The government of Zimbabwe had conducted a cull of adult elephants, mostly females, leaving these 63 orphaned. The babies were rounded up, put on that plane, and flown to Ocala, Florida by an eccentric millionaire named Arthur Jones.
It seems his wife always wanted an elephant farm, and he was able to provide her with a big one.
Nosey lived with the Jones’s for a few years, but bit by bit, the orphans were sold off to terrible lives in circuses and zoos. A man named Hugo Liebel bought Nosey and moved her to his home in Davenport, Florida, with other animals that were part of his “Great American Circus”, AKA “Liebel Family Circus”, AKA “Liebling Family Circus”.
For the next 30+ years, this gentle, sentient elephant was beaten, electrocuted and forced to perform painful, stupid tricks for people who paid to see this little beat-up circus. It got worse when, along with the tricks, she was outfitted with a howdah (a contraption meant to hold people on her ill-equipped back) and made to carry people around a ring for a few dollars a ride as she walked in a circle, round and round and round – again and again and again – in all kinds of weather and under stressful, sometimes dangerous conditions for both herself and the public.
Elephants are strong and may look like they could carry the Empire State Building on their backs if they chose and still have enough strength left over to actually carry a whole city block. However, nature really did not build them for that. They push well, pull well and have thick strong legs to get themselves around, but their backs are not made to hold weight and their vertebra actually start to fracture if they are made to carry heavy things. Over time, the stress of this weight leads to deadly disease like osteoarthritis and foot problems, both of which are leading causes of death in captive elephants.
Year after year, ton after ton, of a heavy howdah filled with people riding on her back, along with the many unnatural and stressful circus tricks she was made to perform took a toll on Nosey. She visibly limped from the arthritis that developed, her skin became thick with infection, her eyes constantly discharged mucus, and she dribbled urine often. Her abusive owners hauled her in a small, dilapidated trailer from Florida to Maine, down to Texas and back, west to Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, and she was forced to perform stupid tricks and carry people around at every fair, private party, festival and flea market along the way, all for a paying public who had no idea what went on behind the scenes for this sad girl.
Female elephants in the wild live in matriarchal societies. The female leader, the matriarch, is most often the oldest of the group, the one with the most experience and wisdom, the one who knows the best feeding grounds and water sources. These extremely intelligent animals are highly social, but Nosey was denied family, independence and autonomy and was kept alone for over 30 years until a group of saviors heard about her story and a plan started to take shape.
The real power of social media showed its chops as more and more people learned about this beautiful, lonely little elephant. In 2014, a group called Save Nosey Now! was formed, and information about the sad, lonely, and painful life Nosey was living spread far and wide, especially on Facebook. This is where I first came to know her.
I was hosting a fun podcast called “The Dr. Briar Lee Mitchell Show” at the time, and had people from Save Nosey Now! on air a couple of times to talk about their plans for freeing Nosey from her abusive life and see her free in an elephant sanctuary. Like any good author or show host, I did research also, and still shake my head to this day when I read about all of the documented abuse this animal was made to suffer, and it was still happening.
Those were the operative words that haunted me – they were “still happening”.
During my research, I also learned about an elephant named Tyke, who, in Hawaii, finally snapped, and after decades of the exact same abuse as Nosey, had killed her owner, seriously injured his assistant, and smashed through the wall of an arena in downtown Honolulu. It took dozens of police and the National Guard to gun her down in the street, killing her. Her sad fate galvanized me and others to fight even harder.
Nosey’s nightmare needed to end, or she was going to die.
Over 3,000 people online came together in the Save Nosey Now! group. Through social media like Facebook and Twitter, the circus holding Nosey was followed from state to state, town to town. Her whereabouts was posted to the group pages and members of the group were advised to take actions such as contacting venues, chambers of commerce, city councils, and mayors, to educate and create awareness of her plight. Protests were formed at many sites, including fairs, flea markets, and out of the way parking lots where she was scheduled to perform. Members would document everything they could with video and pictures, creating a large portfolio of the use and abuse of Nosey. These people were, indeed, the front line, and truly were ‘boots-on-the-ground’.
I saw the gathered images of a sick and sad elephant with mucous and puss dripping from one eye and patches of rotten skin that needed medical attention. Video showed a bad limp, and I had to turn one off when I saw that her owner, Hugo Liebel, was hitting her with a bullhook. I could hear him laughing after he hit her.
A bullhook is used by elephant “trainers” and euphemistically referred to as “guides”. In reality, it is a solid metal pole that looks similar to a fireplace poker, and these “trainers” beat the elephants and hook them in sensitive parts of their bodies – behind or in their ears and especially inside their mouths. The pain is horrifying, and elephants, fearing and understanding the pain, back down every time. That is the secret to “training” an elephant – keep them so afraid and in so much pain they do not dare do anything to upset their “trainer”.
This is the absolutely deplorable life of a circus elephant.
Save Nosey Now! became our home base for all things “Nosey”. The group supplied the cache of knowledge maintained by the dedicated people who founded it. They would post where she was, where she was going, and many of the horrible photos and videos that were being collected to hopefully use in a court of law one day so that Nosey might be set free. They put together important pdf files with documented infractions by the Liebel’s and what they had done to her. They filed complaints with the United States Dept of Agriculture (USDA), researched state and local animal laws, and filed complaints where applicable with those authorities. They also prepared talking scripts to help us with conversations about Nosey and devised legal actions through animal rights attorneys.
I, like others in this online battalion, would reach out to the media, police, city council members, mayors and anyone who would listen to tell them about Nosey and to please boycott her appearance wherever she was to appear.
The giant snowball formed by this online group of people was gaining weight and speed.
Soon, not only were the boots-on- the-ground sending back photos and videos, but local news stations were also encouraged to interview Nosey’s owners and provide video of Nosey showcasing the many horrible things that were being done to her.
Hope was growing. Things were happening. Stick with it! Stay the course! Her life depended on what Save Nosey Now! could do.
Hugo Liebel started asking circus patrons to buy hay and apples for Nosey, because he could not afford to feed her out on the road. Apparently, the little abusive circus was actually spending nights in alleys since they could not afford a hotel.
By now, the work that the Save Nosey NOW! group was doing was making an impact and people were boycotting this little circus. And then one day, the miracle happened, a miracle born from car trouble in the great state of Alabama. In November, 2017, Nosey was traveling inside the old, rickety trailer, towed behind a dilapidated truck, but something happened that would change course for this entourage. Several individuals in the rural town of Moulton, Alabama then came upon an unusual sight – an elephant standing by the highway next to a truck and trailer, broken down and going nowhere.
Concerned individuals notified Save Nosey NOW! administrators by phone with this news. They recommended that the local Lawrence County Animal Control Officer be notified. This brave and compassionate individual took the time to assess the situation, saw the sickly elephant tied by her 2 feet to the ground, standing next to a ramshackle trailer filled with urine and feces, and called a judge who immediately granted permission for the elephant to be seized.
Save Nosey NOW! recommended that The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee be contacted to see if they could temporarily take Nosey. In response to the judge’s order, they sent a huge, sturdy, air-conditioned semi-trailer outfitted specifically for carrying elephants. She was ordered to remain in the custody of the Animal Control Officer who gave temporary custody of Nosey to the sanctuary. The Liebel’s appealed this ruling. They were arrested on a charge of animal cruelty, a charge that has still not been heard to this day.
It is hard to imagine holding your breath for over a year, but we did. In December of 2017, the court battle in Lawrence County, Alabama began. While this was slowly transpiring, Nosey was kept at the sanctuary where she received badly needed medical attention and her first taste of freedom. She was found to be suffering from severe osteoarthritis which limited her range of motion and caused excruciating pain. Other ailments included severe hyperkeratosis (a bacterial infection of the skin), abscesses of the eyes, a chronic urinary tract infection caused from gross lack of water, a positive TB antibody test, and severe muscle atrophy from the many hours riding in the unsuitable trailer.
Her chains were removed, and she was allowed to wander on her own through acres and acres of forest, fields, and play in mud wallows. Nosey was also communicating with the other African elephants at the sanctuary, something she had been deprived of doing since she was 2 years old. For the first time in decades, Nosey was not alone.
Would this tantalizing taste of freedom last? Too many times in history, the underdog has lost, and it was so tempting to imagine her permanently rescued! The Liebel’s were doing all they could to get her back, filing appeals, losing their credibility with each turn, and losing attorney after attorney for nonpayment of funds due. They then appealed to a higher court, the Circuit Court. Waiting was the hardest part after years of working to end her abuse. Then, on December 12, 2019, Alabama Circuit Court Judge, Mark Craig, dismissed Hugo Liebel’s appeal to regain custody of Nosey. The Alabama District Court would now have to discharge the case, but because of Covid 19, the case has not yet been handled through the court docket.
Nosey remains at The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee where she continues to receive excellent care in an independent and compassionate environment. She enjoys tearing down trees, foraging for food, and scratching on available branches. She is expected to live out her life in the freedom that only sanctuary can provide for captive elephants.
Getting her there took years of work by everyday people from all around the world who realized, she needed us. We became her voice, her advocate and cheered loudly the moment she was on the way to Tennessee. If you know an animal is hurting and in need, but feel like you cannot make a difference, just look at what we did for Nosey.
There are still so many elephants being abused horribly just to entertain you, and that isn’t right. If the circus or rodeo is coming to your town, please boycott those venues for the animal’s sakes. Direct action and boycott do work! Just look at Nosey’s story. These animals have a right to sanctuary, not imprisoned and hurt every single day of their lives for profit.
This video shows clearly how terrified she was of that horrible instrument.
The Elephant Advocacy Project – Formerly Savenoseynow.org
The dedicated people who founded Save Nosey Now! continue with their valuable work to help educate people about the plight of elephants forced to perform in circuses or imprisoned in zoos. Their mission is to build on the inspiration of one elephant to encourage advocacy for all captive elephants. The original nonprofit group, Save Nosey NOW!, still exists, and the group has grown to be more proactive and public by starting a new nonprofit called The Elephant Advocacy Project. Both groups can be found on Facebook and @SaveNoseyNow on Twitter, as well as the website, www.savenoseynow.org. Follow them for more updates on Nosey and other campaigns for circus and zoo elephants.
The beautiful Miss Nosey now, in her current home at The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee. She is flying now, soaring far above her old life and seeing the promise of a good life she so richly deserves.
Nosey, chained, and the Liebel’s, her owners, who were arrested for animal cruelty after their vehicle broke down in Alabama.
This is what she traveled in, a tiny space with poor light and ventilation – standing in her own waste for hours, sometimes days at a time, not able to lift her head, move around or even lie down to rest.
Her eye was infected, and Hugo Liebel was ever present with his bullhook (Photo on the right) to punish her if she did not do exactly what he wanted her to do.
This sordid life of pain and suffering were taking their toll on this beautiful girl.
Tyke’s last moments alive in Hawaii. She was deprived of a life, horribly abused for decades and met her fate in this manner. It is not right to use these animals, or any animal, for entertainment.
In Chains. Nosey would be chained up, front leg and back leg, so she could not move. She would be forced to stand like that, usually without adequate water or food, for up to 30 hours at a time. Her red water bucket, is out of her reach.
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