Nosey the elephant: Judge to rule on abuse case

After listening to 10½ hours of testimony Friday about alleged abuse of an African circus elephant, Lawrence County District Judge Angela Terry said she will comb through about 45 pages of notes before making a ruling.

She did not say when to expect that ruling.

Terry ordered that Nosey, a 35-year-old elephant, and four ponies be seized from circus owner Hugo Liebel of Davenport, Florida, on Nov. 9, while Liebel’s vehicle was being repaired just west of Moulton on Alabama 157.

Nosey was transferred to the Elephant Sanctuary of Tennessee, southwest of Nashville, to be examined for alleged abuse.

Dr. Lydia Young, veterinarian for the sanctuary, said Nosey had severe hyperkeratosis, or excessive dry skin, a swollen left hind leg, roundworms and a narrow belly shape indicating a “primarily empty stomach” when the elephant arrived at the sanctuary in the early morning of Nov. 10.

Veterinarian Dr. Mark Wilson, a defense witness who is Nosey’s regular vet in Florida, disputed much of Young’s testimony, saying she made things appear more dire than they are.

Defense attorney Billy Underwood said after the hearing that Dr. Young said the elephant had no life-threatening issues.

“Just by that I think they ought to give us back the elephant,” Underwood said. “But we’ve got PETA, animal rights people, and … according to PETA and the Tennessee Elephant Sanctuary (no one) should be able to keep an elephant. So we may lose today, but the best thing is, we’re going to appeal this and go in front of 12 people in Lawrence County that know about raising cattle, standing in manure, and that your animal isn’t always perfect like it is at that elephant sanctuary where they have eight vets and 400 people attending 11 elephants.”

Underwood said footing the bill for Nosey’s care in the sanctuary “is a sad thing for the people of Lawrence County.”

“That elephant is eating up $1,000 a day in the sanctuary,” Underwood said. “So in one year, there’ll be about a $450,000 bill for the county (and) along with it, if the jury says my clients get their elephant back, citizens of Lawrence County will be paying that money and there will probably be a lawsuit against Lawrence County for the wrongful taking of the elephant.”

He said it could “cost the county $2 million before it’s over with. They may have to shut a school down.”

Underwood said if he loses in Circuit Court he will plead it to Montgomery.

Seven witnesses testified in front of a crowd of about 50, mainly animal rights activists from several states, during the hearing.

Liebel testified he has “never mistreated the animal.” He said he might take Nosey home and retire. “I’m getting old,” said the 64-year-old native of Hungary.

He showed frustration several times during his 40-minute testimony. “I’m guilty as charged because I own an elephant,” he said.

After the hearing, Denise Gaug, of Save Nosey Now Inc., from Satellite Beach, Florida, said Nosey is the proverbial poster child for exotic animals being held in captivity.


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