Have Trunk Will Travel was a ranch in Perris that provided elephants for films, television shows and rides at such attractions as the Santa Ana Zoo and Orange County Fair.
Was is the operative word because Have Trunk Will Travel essentially fell out of fashion with its Orange County clients and, according to animal-protection activists, the elephants and their embattled owners have now relocated to Texas.
Images of owners Kari and Gary Johnson remain on havetrunkwilltravel.com, which obviously hasn’t been updated for a while, but I couldn’t find their names or their photos on visitthepreserve.com, the website for the Preserve in Fredericksburg, Texas, which is about 80 miles west of Austin. Both the Preserve and Have Trunk Will Travel sites feature shots and names of the same performing elephants, however.
The Johnsons could not be reached for comment.
“Have Trunk Will Travel may have a new location and name, but for the animals, the suffering is just the same,” charges Jan Creamer, president of Animal Defenders International (ADI). “Snatched from the wild, elephants Tai, Dixie, Kitty, Rosie and Becky have endured a lifetime of abuse. Don’t buy into the cruelty—avoid the Preserve and join the call for their elephants to be given the sanctuary they need.”
The Preserve offers “intimate, meaningful experiences” with elephants, including bathing them, filing their nails, taking selfies with them and watching them paint pictures on canvases.
The elephants in Texas are also hired out for rides at weddings, according to ADI, which previously sent the Weekly photos from the Hyatt Regency Resort and Spa in Huntington Beach, where Tai the elephant was paraded during an Oct. 18, 2014, wedding ceremony. A city official vowed to get to the bottom of how the apparent violation of a city ordinance prohibiting wild-animal performances happened.
Tai, ADI and Have Trunk Will Travel have quite the history in Orange County. On May 9, 2011, I wrote about People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals urging the city of Santa Ana to break ties with its Santa Ana Zoo elephant-ride contractor because ADI posted a video that claimed to show Tai being shocked with a stun gun and beaten with bull hooks in 2005.
Have Trunk Will Travel denied the abuse, but after pressure from the animal-protection groups, Hollywood celebrities and online campaigns, its elephant-ride contracts eventually ended with the zoo and the Orange County Fair.
The move to Texas may coincide with the introduction of a California bull-hook ban. Because of guidelines preventing the use of bull hooks, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums no longer certifies Have Trunk Will Travel.
Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.