Exhausted Circus Elephant Gets Her First Taste Of Freedom In Decades

Nosey just went to a sanctuary — and people are fighting to make sure she can stay there.

Update 1/22/2018: A judge has ruled that Nosey will not be going back to her owner. Activists are celebrating the ruling as a victory. "Our focus was to offer and focus on actions that would lead to the rescue of Nosey — the poster child for all exploited and abused exotic animals," Karen Smith, organizer of Action for Nosey Now, told The Dodo. "Today marks success expressed in the best possible way: freedom for an abused animal ... Nevertheless, there are still too many Nosey’s that need us to speak for them — and we will."

Nosey, an elderly and arthritic elephant, was being carted through Alabama as part of a traveling circus act when something amazing happened.  

Nosey was shipped to the U.S. from the plains of Africa in the early 1980s after being taken from her mother. She was just 2 years old.

Since then, she has been performing in circus acts. For the last 34 years, she's been owned by Hugo Tommy Liebel, who runs the Liebel Family Circus (which has racked up its fair share of animal welfare violations over the years). Even though Nosey suffers from degenerative joint disease and other ailments, Liebel still hauls Nosey from performance to performance, renting her out to other circuses and local fairs, where she's forced to give rides, when she's not performing in his shows. 

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Nosey hasn't been allowed to walk free or socialize with other elephants in over three decades, despite countless petitions from people concerned for her welfare urging the government to revoke Liebel's USDA license for Nosey and send her to a sanctuary. The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee issued a standing offer to take Nosey in and give her the expansive natural fields and socialization with other elephants she's lacked for so many years.

But everything changed very quickly last week. The traveling circus act was stopped in Moulton, Alabama, to fix one of their trucks, when authorities started receiving calls from people concerned about Nosey's well-being. 

The trailer she was traveling in appeared to be too small for her to be able to even lie down and rest. And reports of Nosey being chained too tightly, by one front leg and one back leg, also surfaced.

Nosey was seized by Lawrence County officials, and a court held a hearing about whether the seizure of Nosey would be extended until another hearing about her future can take place in a couple of weeks. Officials took Nosey to the sanctuary while her fate is being determined.

“After so much hard work over the years by so many organizations and individuals, the end is hopefully in sight and Nosey will be able to live a long life and find some friends at the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee,” Ed Stewart, president and cofounder of the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), said in a statement. “We would also like to recognize the courageous government officials in Alabama that found Nosey’s existence in a traveling show so obviously unacceptable."

The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee shared some photos of Nosey exploring the expansive natural habitat, free from crowds and noise. "These photos of Nosey are what we all have been wishing for for her for so very long!" one commenter wrote on Facebook. "Let’s just pray that her happiness is forever!"

“I always try to do the right thing,” Liebel, who has maintained that he loves Nosey like a family member, said. "We have one more town to play and then we’re going to Florida. I got 22 acres there and we’ll let her loose and she’ll live happily ever after."

Four ponies were also seized from Liebel. A video clip shows them running and frolicking in a field.

"The sanctuary will be a temporary refuge for Nosey until the court makes a final ruling," The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee wrote in a press release.

The Dodo will keep following this story as it unfolds.

To show your support for Nosey, you can make a donation to The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee. You can also share this story to raise awareness about Nosey's plight.