BOSTON (CBS) - Some say it's hard to watch a handler appearing to force a camel to stand. Fairgoers who saw the viral video tell the I-Team, "I hate it, it's awful."
Getting tens of thousands of views on social media, the camel and a limping elephant giving rides at The Big E fair in Springfield have spurred more 100,000 people to sign an online petition to end wild animal acts in Massachusetts.
Patrons telling WBZ, "I don't think animals should be giving rides at all and standing on the pavement all day." Others say, "It's wrong to force animals to do acts for our amusement."
The animals are owned by Tim Commerford who tells the I-Team the pictures are misleading. "You can look at the picture and not get the picture," he said. "The MSPCA did come out and told us all of our animals are fine and healthy."
The MSPCA says it inspected the animals four times at the Big E and found in the case of the camel, "The actions of the handler do not rise to the level of felony animal cruelty." The agency also said the officers didn't see the elephant limping. Commerford tells the I-Team their "elephants have given rides for many years and we have three of the healthiest elephants you'd ever see."
USDA records reviewed by the I-Team found that in 2017, inspectors issues a violation to Commerford for failing to get proper veterinary foot care for Buehla, one of the elephants.
In the past three years, the USDA conducted 13 inspections, nearly all off-site, and during which they never saw all of the animals Commerford owns and found no violations.
Eugene Cassidy is the President of Eastern States Exposition which owns the Big E and says that the animals get very good care. Cassidy defended Commerford and the online pictures, telling WBZ in an email that the camel in the video is "young, somewhat lazy and stubborn."
In an interview with the I-Team Cassidy said, "The camel knew his bucket of marshmallows was on the other side of the tent wall. The camel sat down in protest. Like I want more marshmallows."
We asked if the animals should be fed marshmallows and candy. Cassidy said, "Given their size a few marshmallows won't hurt them."
When asked about the photo of the elephant eating red licorice, Commerford said, "What people don't know about elephants is that they have a sweet tooth and will go into a sugar cane patch and eat every piece."
The Big E and Commerford say they are unfazed by the pictures and the outcry on social media. Both are vowing to continue the wild animal acts at the fair. Cassidy said, "The agendas of certain groups will not be met at the Eastern States."
The Big E fair has dozens of corporate sponsors. Including Coca-Cola who told us in a statement: "The video we saw of a camel in distress is difficult to watch…we have expressed our concern to the organizers of the fair."
That concern not lost on state representative Lori Ehrlich who has proposed a law to ban traveling elephant acts. "It's just not appropriate to keep these animals in such unconscionable conditions," she said. "We need to start asking ourselves is this appropriate and is this in the best interest of the animal – and if the answer is no we just need to stop."
The MSPCA says it supports the elephant bill and is lobbying for a law to prevent the use of wild animals in traveling zoos.
For more information on the proposed legislation go to: https://malegislature.gov/Bills/190/H418
Link for information about the online petition: https://www.change.org/p/eugene-cassidy-president-and-ceo-end-the-use-of-wild-animal-acts-at-the-big-e
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