Nonhuman Rights Project Fights To Save Minnie, A 48-Year-Old Elephant From The Commerford Zoo After Claims That They Can No Longer Care For Her

Earlier this week, the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) sent letters to local, state, and federal agencies urging them to immediately investigate after a Goshen-based traveling circus publicly acknowledged that its unable to provide basic care for Minnie, the elephant in its custody, as a result of the COVID-19 lockdowns.

“We were extremely worried about Minnie well before the COVID-19 crisis and are even more so now,” Courtney Fern, the NhRP’s Director of Government Relations and Campaigns, said in a statement.

For over two years, the NhRP has been fighting in court and alongside local activists to free Minnie, a 48-year-old wild-born Asian elephant, to one of the two accredited elephant sanctuaries in the United States; both of which have offered her lifelong care at no cost to the Commerford Zoo. Recently, the NhRP learned of an online fundraiser set up by the family that sold Minnie (whom they call Mignon) to the Commerford Zoo in 1976.

With the authorization of the Commerford Zoo, the GoFundMe page seeks to raise $2.4 million to enable them to meet Minnie’s most basic needs, including food and veterinary care due to COVID-19, which has “impoverished the farm that supports them,” and is “in desperate need of support,” according to the description of the fundraiser. Created over a month ago, the fundraiser has only raised $1,405 so far.

“We understand the Commerford Zoo is in dire straights,” continued Fern. “For their sake and the sake of the many animals at their facility, they need to let Minnie go to a sanctuary. It is abhorrent for them not to do so immediately.”

The NhRP submitted a complaint online to the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and via email to the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), and the Torrington Police Department’s Animal Control Division, all of which have a responsibility to investigate animal welfare concerns pertaining to the Commerford Zoo.

“Since the Commerford Zoo has acknowledged that they can’t afford to meet Minnie’s basic needs, including food and veterinary care, it’s the job of the USDA and the other agencies we contacted to immediately intervene and remove her,” NhRP Executive Director Kevin Schneider told WAN. “We felt it was imperative to raise the alarm about the life-or-death situation Minnie is in as we continue to fight for her release to an accredited sanctuary.”

The NhRP has repeatedly offered to drop its litigation against the Commerford Zoo on behalf of Minnie and two elephants, Beulah and Karen, who have since died—if they agreed to release Minnie to The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee (TES) or the Performing Animal Welfare Society Sanctuary (PAWS). Both facilities are vastly larger than the Commerford Zoo’s property and specially designed to meet elephants’ complex needs. The Commerford Zoo has ignored these offers.

The NhRP finds this fundraiser especially disappointing and egregious because the organizers and the Commerford Zoo are aware that Minnie has a place waiting for her in a sanctuary, and it would not cost them anything to do the right thing and release her.

Minnie is controlled by a bullhook, confined most of the time to a dark, barren barn, and lacks the company of other elephants.

Beulah and Karen both died in 2019, leaving Minnie as the sole surviving elephant in the custody of the Commerford Zoo. As confirmed by the USDA in response to an inquiry from U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) after Beulah collapsed in public at the Big E fair, Beulah died as a result of blood poisoning caused by a uterine infection that the Commerford Zoo was aware that she had when they transported her to the venue. Karen the elephant died of kidney disease.

Founded in Goshen, Connecticut, by Robert “Bob” W. Commerford, the Commerford Zoo (also known as R.W. Commerford & Sons (and or) the Kids Fun Fair & Zoo) owns Minnie the elephant, as well as, camels, sheep, goats, llamas, donkeys, pygmy horses, ringtail lemurs, macaws, a kangaroo, and a zebra, among other animals. The USDA has cited the Commerford Zoo more than 50 times for failing to adhere to the minimum standards required by the Animal Welfare Act.

The NhRP is considering its next steps in its elephant rights litigation on Minnie’s behalf after the Connecticut Supreme Court declined to hear her case. The grassroots campaign to free Minnie to an accredited sanctuary has gained the support of Senator Blumenthal, Connecticut State Representative David Michel, Representative Anne Hughes, and other lawmakers. The NhRP will continue to fight for as long as it takes for Minnie’s release to a sanctuary where her right to liberty will be respected.

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