Protest over elephant rides at Minnesota Renaissance Festival

- An animal rights group is planning a protest at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival on Saturday, asking people to stop paying for elephant rides at festival.

Animal Defenders International claims the elephants being used at the Renaissance Festival are being abused behind the scenes. But festival organizers say that's not the case, and they're defending the use of elephants, saying it's a tradition dating back more than 40 years.

“Elephants and being able to see elephants are important," said Carr Hagerman, artistic director of the Minnesota Renaissance Festival. “And if we want to save populations around the world, I think the best way to do that is to have an up close and personal experience, and that's why we plan on sticking with it.”

This week, Animal Defenders International re-released a video they say shows elephants supplied for this year’s festival, and others circuses and fairs across the country, being abused behind the scenes for decades.

“Human beings seem to have the idea that the rest of creation is for them, and it is not," said Barbara Stasz of the Animal Rights Coalition.

Animal rights advocates point out some other shows nationwide have caved to protest pressure and stopped using elephants, including the renaissance festival in Kansas, which is owned by the same company as the one in Shakopee.

“I think consciousness is shifting,” said Chelsea Youngquist of the Animal Rights Coalition. “People are starting to think, 'hmm, maybe we shouldn't take these giant creatures, put them in a train car or whatever and cart them around.'”

Hagerman said the Renaissance Festival has never had a confirmed case of cruelty against the elephants, even with many people watching for signs of abuse.

“We are not trying to make these animals do anything unnatural,” Hagerman said. “They already have been out of Africa their entire lives. They have lived with this family forever. Where are they gonna go? “

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